Dark Matters: Pessimism and the Problem of Suffering by Mara van der Lugt - review by Steven Nadler

Steven Nadler

Strife on Earth

Dark Matters: Pessimism and the Problem of Suffering


Princeton University Press 450pp £28

Philosophy in the early modern period sometimes does not seem so modern. True, much of what now constitutes epistemology and philosophy of mind was initiated by René Descartes. He and his 17th-century colleagues Thomas Hobbes, Pierre Gassendi, Baruch Spinoza, Robert Boyle, John Locke, Nicolas Malebranche, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz and others, like Galileo shortly before them, all defended one version or another of the mechanistic philosophy of nature, the forerunner of contemporary physics. Yet the foundation of Descartes’s epistemology is a benevolent, non-deceiving God who guarantees the reliability of our rational faculties. Malebranche and Leibniz also appealed to God, in Malebranche’s case to provide a causal explanation for the dynamic behaviour of bodies, and in both cases to account for the ordinary correlation between mental states and bodily states in a human being. Perhaps most remarkable of all, quite a few of the ‘moderns’, like their medieval forebears, went to a great deal of trouble to rationally accommodate within their metaphysics such an important dogma of the Catholic faith as the ‘real presence’ of Christ in the Eucharistic host.

If there is one philosophical topic that qualified as ‘the hard problem’ in the 17th and 18th centuries,

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