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Classics/Philosophy guest lecture

  • Wednesday, September 30, 2015
  • 3:30 PM–5:00 PM
  • Meeter Center Lecture Hall

Come listen to Professor Gregory Smith, Department of History, Central Michigan University as he lectures on Demons, Dualism, and Descartes: Material Paradigms From Augustine to Einstein.

Professor Gregory Smith, Department of History, 

Demons, Dualism, and Descartes:
Material Paradigms From Augustine to Einstein


How thin is your mind? And is it more or less dense than the moon? If you think these are silly questions (and you do) you can thank René Descartes. Even though he didn’t, Descartes should have thanked Augustine of Hippo, who invented not just Descartes’ most famous argument, the cogito (“I think, therefore I am”) but also the idea that we have an “inner self” in the first place. By way of Descartes, we have all inherited from Augustine the concept of a radically immaterial soul or mind, a private inner place more or less mysteriously connected to—or emerging from—our physical bodies, and especially the brain. Even when we try to avoid it, we take this model for granted all the time. But it wasn’t always so.

In pursuit of the history of what we now call substance dualism, scholars have naturally focused on the philosophy of mind as it appears in Augustine, Descartes, and other seminal thinkers. This lecture will change the subject, so to speak, by focusing on the “body” part of the infamous mind-body problem. It sketches the little-known history of fine-material or “pneumatic” mechanics in the ancient world, and shows how difficult it was even for Platonists to think in non-material ways about soul or mind—or at least to think in the Cartesian sort of non-material ways that most of us take for granted. Finally, it offers new conclusions about some of Augustine’s most radical and far-reaching innovations, especially as evident in his developing thought on demons’ bodies. 

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