Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews
Peter R. Anstey (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of British Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century, Oxford University Press, 2013, 651pp., $150.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199549993.
Reviewed by Timothy Yenter, University of Mississippi
This volume continues the high level of scholarship expected of the Oxford Handbooks. The articles are without exception careful, detailed, and (both on controversial and non-controversial points) well supported. The largest drawback is the selection of topics covered, a side effect of the emphasis on natural philosophy.
Three of the most pressing issues facing a person considering purchasing a handbook such as this are (a) how well it orients the reader to philosophy as it was done in the period, (b) how well it orients the reader to the current scholarship, and (c) whether the individual articles lean toward surveying important interpretive positions or toward arguing for a particular interpretation, historical narrative, or reconstruction of an argument or position. My review will focus primarily on these three issues. I will begin with the first two questions and then use the third to frame the discussion of the individual essays, with more attention given to the articles that push the secondary literature forward.
As editor Peter Anstey describes in his introduction, the volume has two goals: that it provide a “comprehensive overview of the current issues that are informing research in the field” and that it not just offer “a review of the latest research in the subject” but also, “carry the debate forward in the interpretation of leading philosophical texts and arguments” (1). Three new developments that Anstey uses to shape the volume include “a wider appreciation of the different and somewhat fluid nature of the disciplinary boundaries that prevailed in the century” (within philosophy and between philosophy and other disciplines) (2), “heightened historiographical awareness” (this includes down-playing the rationalist-empiricist distinction and up-playing the experimental-speculative distinction) (3), and “a reassessment of the philosophical canon” (contextualization can lead us to realize a work is less impactful than previously thought, and can help us recognize those whose work has been improperly ignored) (3). Anstey notes philosophy of language and (some parts of) philosophy of religion receive less attention than would be ideal. Continue reading