Academic Fencing: Review and Counterreview.


Margaret J. Osler‘s recent review of Catherine Wilson‘s new book – Epicureanism at the Origin of Modernity – is feisty to say the least. According to Osler,

A good history of Epicureanism in early modern thought would be a welcome addition to the existing literature. Unfortunately, this is a gap that Wilson’s book does not fill. It suffers from a number of problems — some systemic and some detailed — that undermine its reliability. Her view of seventeenth-century issues is blinkered because she restricts her analysis to an account of philosophers who hold a place in the modern canon of the history of philosophy. This limitation coupled with a tendency to make anachronistic judgments prevents her from examining the abundance of alternatives that competed with Epicureanism in seventeenth-century philosophy. Further, she neglects to consider other traditions — such as late Scholasticism, alchemy, Renaissance humanism, Copernican astronomy, and Galileo’s new science of motion — that contributed directly to the development of a corpuscularian philosophy and an empirical and experimental approach to natural knowledge. Her own patently intolerant attitude towards theology prevents her from understanding that theological presuppositions were virtually axiomatic for most of the philosophers of the period.

That’s pretty rough, don’t you think? “She neglects to consider other traditions” is the most annoying move in the above citation – the book clearly limits itself to Epicureanism, therefore the charge that one neglects other traditions is preposterous, but let’s read on. Continue reading

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