Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Robert Stainton


In this thesis, positive and negative tensions among the “unit-ideas” of New Science and empiricism are explored as they relate to explanations of aspects of mind in the Modern period. Some constellations of ideas are mutually supporting, and provide fruitful discussion on how mind can fit into the natural world. This project aims to clarify the adequacy of this type of framework in accommodating and explaining mind, and aspects of mind. I proceed by analyzing key texts via the “unit-ideas” of New Science and empiricism. The three central chapters are case studies, looking at Hobbes, Locke, and Hume. Each chapter analyses an aspect of the mental as it is explained within a version of the framework created by that thinker’s particular constellation of the New Science and empiricism.

In evaluating the adequacy of these frameworks to handle the problem presented to them, new insights appear about the historical figures and the texts. For example, in analyzing Hobbes’ framework for explaining mind, the impact of Hobbes’ view of mind on his political philosophy comes into relief, creating space for new research avenues. Identifying underlying tensions within Locke’s explanatory framework, it becomes possible to put to bed an old debate about whether Locke was a libertarian, a compatibilist, or a necessitarian. And in understanding clearly the ways in which Hume’s version of this constellation of ideas leads to his view of volition, at least one interpretation of Hume as a metaphysician can be decisively rejected.

This project is intended partly as an illustration of the significance of the historical dimension to adequately understanding contemporary issues in Philosophy of Mind. It is important to recognize that there are certain conditions for possibility of the emergence of philosophical concepts and views, and that the way problems can be resolved depends very much on the way they are posed or articulated. The fact that the way problems and solutions are framed means that present conceptions could always have been constituted otherwise. This project straddles the sub-fields Philosophy of Mind and History of Philosophy.