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Cover for the book Idea and Ontology

Idea and Ontology

An Essay in Early Modern Metaphysics of Ideas Marc A. Hight
  • Copyright: 2008
  • Dimensions: 6 x 9
  • Page Count: 296 pages
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-271-03383-9
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-271-05877-1
“Marc Hight’s book deals in great depth with the ontology of ideas in the early modern period, concentrating principally on Descartes, Malebranche, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. He shows that there is a great deal still to be learned on this traditional topic as it concerns each of these great philosophers. Hight’s insightful and very well-defended interpretations will likely excite important new interest and debate on this central topic.”
“A wide-ranging study of the ‘way of ideas’ and its metaphysics, culminating in a bold reinterpretation of Berkeley.”
Idea and Ontology is an important book that should change our thinking about the development of philosophy in the pre-Kantian period. With care, attention to detail, and philosophical rigor, Hight systematically demolishes the popular ‘early modern tale’ about an epistemological turn and shows the ineliminability of the question ‘What kind of thing is an idea?’ Hight’s sympathetic and sophisticated interpretation of Berkeley is rightly placed center stage in his account of the progress from Descartes to Hume and gives us a new insight into his relation to his predecessors and especially to Locke. While Locke shied away from ontological questions in favor of the epistemological, Hight’s Berkeley sees the importance of taking ontology as seriously as epistemology if he is to save the ordinary commitment to naïve realism from the skeptical threat posed by the theory of ideas.”
“Hight’s book is a very interesting and original inquiry into the difficulty early modern philosophers had in reconciling the central concept of ‘idea’ with traditional ontological categories like substance and mode. Hight’s point is that the claim of some early moderns to avoid those categories has significant difficulties, since the notion of ‘idea’ in some ways has the properties of a mode and in other ways the properties of a substance.”
“Well written and clearly argued.”

The prevailing view about the history of early modern philosophy, which the author dubs “the early modern tale” and wants to convince us is really a fairy tale, has it that the focus on ideas as a solution to various epistemological puzzles, first introduced by Descartes, created difficulties for the traditional ontological scheme of substance and mode. The early modern tale depicts the development of “the way of ideas” as abandoning ontology at least by the time of Berkeley. This, in turn, fostered an antimetaphysical bias as modern philosophy developed further, elevating epistemology to its current primary status in the field.

Marc Hight challenges this account by showing how, though the conception of ideas changed over time, the ontological status of ideas remained a central part of the discussion about ideas and influenced how even later thinkers like Locke, Berkeley, and Hume thought about them. By his reading of important texts in early modern philosophy, Hight aims not only to provide a more accurate history of philosophy for this period but also to resuscitate the value of metaphysics for philosophical analysis today.

Marc A. Hight is Elliott Associate Professor of Philosophy at Hampden-Sydney College.



List of Abbreviations

Introduction: Idea Ontology and the Early Modern Tale

1. The Traditional Ontology

1.1 Substance

1.2 Modes

1.3 What Is an Idea?

1.4 Stretching Idea Ontologies

2. Descartes

2.1 Representation

2.2 Perception, Ideas, and Images

2.3 Innate Ideas, Dispositions, and Causes

2.4 The Complications of the Passions

3. The Cartesians: Malebranche and Arnauld

3.1 Malebranche’s Theory of Ideas

3.2 Substantializing Ideas

3.3 Attacking Modes

3.4 A New Ontology?

3.5 Arnauld’s Theory of Ideas

3.6 Critique of Malebranche

3.7 The Cartesian Debate

4. Locke

4.1 Locke “Deontologized”

4.2 Lennon’s Locke

4.3 Locke’s Contemporaries

4.4 Locke’s Implicit Ontology

5. Leibniz

5.1 Resolving a “Tension”

5.2 Ideas as Dispositions

5.3 Reading Leibniz

5.4 Ideas: Being One vs. Having One

5.5 Innate Ideas

5.6 Difficulties with Dispositions

5.7 Ideas as Modes

6. Berkeley

6.1 Minds and Ideas

6.2 Ideas as Objects

6.3 Ideas as Modes

6.4 Qualities

6.5 Unperceived Existence

6.6 Phenomenalism

6.7 Berkeley and the Early Modern Tale

7. Divine Ideas

7.1 Divine Ideas and Archetypes

7.2 “In” the Mind of God

7.3 Permutations

7.4 Defending Berkeley’s Theory of Divine Ideas

7.5 Fleeting Ideas

8. Abstraction and Heterogeneity

8.1 Abstract Ideas

8.2 Kinds of Abstraction

8.3 Berkeley’s Attack

8.4 Berkeley’s Solution: General Ideas

8.5 Perceptual Heterogeneity

8.6 The Molyneux Thought Experiment

8.7 The Argument from Difference in Content

8.8 Adding Visible and Tangible Lines

8.9 Heterogeneity and the Nature of Ideas

8.10 Ontology to Heterogeneity

9. Hume and Idea Ontology

9.1 Perceptions as Substances

9.2 Dependent Perceptions

9.3 Concluding Remarks: The Demise of the Early Modern Tale



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