Thinking (about) Automata in Descartes, Shaftesbury, and Diderot – 20 May 2019

Lecture by Dr. James Fowler

Thinking (about) Automata in Descartes, Shaftesbury, and Diderot

6 -7.30pm, Monday 20 May 2019

Keynes Library, School of Arts, 43 Gordon Square. WC1H 0PD

The Birkbeck Eighteenth-Century Research Group is delighted to announce a forthcoming lecture by James Fowler, Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Kent.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, discussions of the soul in the secular sphere involved thinking about automata, and whether they might think. Breaking with Aristotle, Descartes uses the cultural phenomenon of automates (such as those he viewed at Saint-Germain-en-Laye) to suggest that, quite simply, all non-human animals are ‘bêtes-machines’. Shaftesbury is strongly opposed to this: refuting Descartes and Malebranche, he argues that all animals – including humans – should only be viewed as ‘clockwork’ when they are seized by fits. By contrast, Diderot (an admirer of Vaucanson) argues, in support of materialism, that humans can usefully be imagined as animal-machines – or indeed as living statues. This tendency in Diderot can be traced in his early (1747) translation of Shaftesbury, in which the automaton, as ‘automate’, is introduced where it least belongs: in the English Earl’s thought experiment concerning a ‘solitary creature’.

 

All are very welcome! Please note: this event is part of Birkbeck Arts Week 2019.

To reserve your free place, and to see the full programme of events, please go to:

http://www.bbk.ac.uk/annual-events/arts-week/arts-week-2019

 

For further information, please contact Dr Ann Lewis: a.lewis@bbk.ac.uk

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