Mind, Nature, and Morality - A Conference in Honour of Lilli Alanen

September 2, 2016 - September 4, 2016
Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki

Fabianinkatu 22

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Many debates in contemporary philosophy can be traced directly back to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. In the wake of the marvelous developments of applied mathematics and mechanistic physics at the time, thinkers such as Descartes and Spinoza sought to develop new comprehensive theoretical frameworks for understanding human beings as both participants in, and students of, the natural world. Different responses to the mind–body problem (with its associated puzzles about the nature of matter and of consciousness and of other minds) has since helped shape the philosophical landscape, and traditional topics such as that of free-will is nowadays most often introduced invoking a mechanistic conception of causation. 

The research of the last few decades has shown that the philosophers of the sixteen-hundreds were both less and more revolutionary philosophically than earlier historians has led us to believe: On the one hand, while the early-moderns’ lack of references may give the (perhaps intended) impression that they operated in a vacuum, they can be shown to respond to problems handed down from the ancients and the medievals. Historians have here benefited from new research on scholastic and late-scholastic philosophy. On the other hand, while Descartes’ and Spinoza’s arguments about matter, soul, nature and substance may lend themselves to a simplistic dogmatic reading, careful philosophical study by various eminent scholars has revealed their views to be both philosophically rich and subtle.

The purpose of the conference is to consolidate recent historical work on theories of mind, rationality and of human nature and the philosophical presuppositions that made possible and guided the metaphysical and ethical projects of early-modern philosophy. The participants of the conference all share the conviction that we have a lot to learn from the great minds of the past. The aim is thus not only to set the historical record straight, but also to find new ways to refine our understanding of the development of the various philosophical presuppositions that are in place today.

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