SU’s annual SPAWN conference, Aug. 9-11, focuses on causation, teleology in Early Modern philosophy
SU’s annual SPAWN conference, Aug. 9-11, focuses on causation, teleology in Early Modern philosophyJuly 31, 2009Rob Enslinrmenslin@syr.edu
Causation and teleology, central themes of Early Modern philosophical discussion, are at the heart of the Syracuse Philosophy Annual Workshop and Network (SPAWN) conference, running Aug. 9-11 at Syracuse University. This year’s conference is titled “Nature and Purpose in Early Modern Philosophy” and involves more than 40 distinguished participants and attendees from North America, including keynote speaker Daniel Garber of Princeton University.
Debates related to causation and teleology were common in the 17th century, and their outcomes shaped how we think about these notions today. Disagreement arose over shifting conceptions of the nature of causality. Aristotle, whose philosophical framework was dominant in the Middle Ages, identified four different types of cause: material, formal, efficient and final. The material cause is the stuff out of which a thing is made. The formal cause is its shape or structure. The efficient cause is the source of a change (e.g., fire burns wood or a spider spins a web). The final cause is the end, purpose or goal of an activity, organism or artifact. Final causality is also teleological; “telos” being Greek for “end,” “purpose” or “goal.”
Early Modern philosophers, including Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Locke, rejected or modified aspects of Aristotle’s account of causality, especially his use of final causes in physics. Their reasons for doing so, and the competing alternatives they offered, are the focus of current research in the history of Early Modern philosophy. Participants in this year’s SPAWN conference include several scholars whose work challenges previous accounts of causality from this period. Their work illuminates understanding of the nature of causal relations and the scope and purpose of causal explanation.
One of SPAWN’s distinguishing features is the unique interplay between junior and senior speakers. At most conferences, the senior speakers give major addresses, while junior speakers provide commentary; here, it’s the other way around. This year’s event includes seven senior speakers, eight junior speakers and Garber, an expert on philosophy, science and society during the Scientific Revolution. Garber is currently researching Aristotelianism and its opponents in 17th-century France.
Founded in 2005 by Tolley Professor and former philosophy chair Robert Van Gulick, SPAWN is an invitation-only conference made possible by the Alice Hooker ’34 Endowed Fund for Philosophy. Past themes have been perception (2008), practical reason (2007), value (2006) and consciousness (2005). Major funding for this year’s event is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Central New York Humanities Corridor, an interdisciplinary partnership with SU, Cornell University and the University of Rochester that is also a major initiative of the SU Humanities Center.
For more information and updates about SPAWN, contact Kara Richardson and Melissa Frankel, co-organizers and assistant professors of philosophy, at (315) 443-4501, or visit https://papresco.mysite.syr.edu/SPAWN2009/HOME.html.
SU’s nationally recognized philosophy department is one of the crown jewels of The College of Arts and Sciences. More information about The College, is available at http://thecollege.syr.edu/.