Margaret Cavendish is known to have been born at around the year 1623. She was born in Colchester, England (Women-philosophers.com, 2011). She was born to a rich and royal family. She did not however have time with her father because he died when Margaret was at the age of two years. The father had left the family with enough money. After his death, the mother was the one to control the money that the father had left behind. Mother did not use the money to take Margaret to school. Margaret herself wanted to be in school, but unfortunately her mother was not seeing any reason for her to go to school. From a very early age, Margaret loved writing. She loved to have her words be seen in the books. She wrote many of her baby books at a very young age (Atherton, 1994).
Some political events led her to run away from her country, and she went to France. But even there, she was still known to have been from a royal family. She was treated with respect. In the country of France, she developed a friendship with a man named William Cavendish (Atherton, 1994). William was also from a ruling royal family. They got married soon, while still in France. Their marriage was celebrated in the year 1645 in Paris (Women-philosophers.com, 2011). William was a man, who loved sciences of nature and natural things. He was hence receiving visitors who were teachers and scholars in the natural sciences. While in France, William and his wife Margaret invited senior natural scientists and philosophers to their home, among whom were Descartes, Huygens, Gassendi and Hobbes (Atherton, 1994).
While interacting with these great natural scientists and philosophers, Margaret developed a keen interest in writing informative manuals, especially on the topic of philosophy behind nature and natural things. She even began to publish her writings. William was of great support to her in this writing passion. With his support, Margaret’s works came to be known as great manuals of philosophy. Around the time when she was in exile, Margaret wrote and published many books of poetry, stories, plays and autobiography (Atherton, 1994). She begun by first writing her own story life. This was her autobiography, which later became popular. She followed her life story with her husband’s story, his autobiography.
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By the time she was about to go back to England, she had establised as a strong writer on philosophy of analyzing and critiquing what had been done by other philosophers, such as Descartes. Her return to England was in the year 1660 (Women-philosophers.com, 2011). When she went back to her county of England, Margaret moved to the countryside, where she stayed. She was making constant visits to London to have her writings published, as well as to further her contact with philosophical works. Her death came in the year 1673 (Atherton, 1994).
The philosophical ideas which were expressed by Margaret Cavendish were well shown in the letter she was writing. These letters, which are called philosophical letters, expose her reactions or response to what had been written by other philosophers (Atherton, 1994). The letters also present her philosophical views. Throughout all her philosophy, she uses nature to understand and interpret things.
Nature in Interpreting Perceptions
The philosophy around nature was Margaret’s major focus. In her philosophical writings, she looked at nature not as staying at one place (static) but as moving from one place to another all the time. In her view, nature was everything and everything was nature (Atherton, 1994). She held that nature was not just in one way or form. Her point was that nature can be in many different ways. The different ways she talked about was matter. In her view, the many ways in which nature can exist is when it was in different forms or ways of matter. According to her, different matters were the small units of nature. In her philosophy, the different forms of matter, which form nature, are not equal. She held that there was superior matter and inferior matter. According to her, the superior matter is rational and sensitive (Atherton, 1994). The superior matter is easy to see because it is the matter, which is seen to be living and moving. She called this kind of matter animate nature, while the one that does not live is the inanimate nature.
Margaret applied the discussion above to the lives of people. She begins by putting human beings in the class of animate nature. Having discussed such, Margaret wonders why people believe in a supernatural world. She wonders why people see things moving very fast in front of their eyes and think these are supernatural beings (Atherton, 1994). In the view of Margaret, these things, which move very fast in front of someone, are not from another world, but are just matter or nature that is moving all the time. According to her, people who believe in supernatural because they see things moving in front of them are just trying to be like God and not the human beings they really are (Atherton, 1994).
Her philosophy here is clear. She holds that perception of people differs because they tend to look at things in the way these things are really not. She believes that the perceptions of people differ because each one does not look at things in the natural way they are. She questions the reasoning, sensing and knowing abilities of man. She believes people see things differently because they decide to sense, reason and thus know things differently from the way they are in nature.
Knowledge and Skills as Nature
Margaret was very good in analyzing the work of the philosophers she interacted with or read the work of. From the works of Descartes, she developed her own philosophy on the idea of motion. Motion to her was not as Descartes discussed it. Descartes had defined motion to be a mode. This definition meant that motion was a system, which was separate from the object that used the system. Margaret disagreed with this. In her view there was nothing like a mode without the object. As she identified, motion and the object are moving are the same (Atherton, 1994).
She looks at this from the example of man. She first identifies man as nature. She then uses the example of a man moving from one place to another. As she explains, this man cannot come back using the same steps, direction, conditions, and time (Atherton, 1994). Her conclusion here is that the steps taken by the man have no system or mode available to make possible the man moving back use the same factors of steps, direction, conditions and time. Thus, motion is about things getting involved in something (Atherton, 1994). Her points here are many. She sees the man as the same. She concludes that motion cannot destroy nature. She also sees the man being transformed to another place. She concludes that motion causes changes in the level or state of nature.
Margaret then applies her points to knowledge and skills. According to her, skills and knowledge are also matter, similar to humans, hence nature. She views them as being able to move as humans. In her view, this means that knowledge and skills cannot be destroyed when they move (Atherton, 1994). In her discussion, she identifies the process of transferring skills and knowledge from one persons to another as a motion. She says that when the knowledge is transferred, it will remain what it was because motion does not destroy nature (Atherton, 1994). She sees the knowledge in the receiver (student) and knowledge and skills in the sending person (teacher) as the same when moving (teaching) has been done.
Using a Picture to Interpret Existence
Reality is the topic she also discusses in her philosophy. She uses many examples. Margaret explains that when an object is put in snow, it will tend to leave its image in the snow. According to her, this does not mean that the image left is that of the object which was put in snow. She claims that the image is still snow. She says the image is just snow, which has another shape. She views the snow as nature which has transformed to another thing, but is not destroyed to make another thing. She also talks of a picture of a man (Atherton, 1994). According to her, a man can be drawn in many pictures. An artist can have the best picture of a man showing all his physical appearance. In the view of Margaret, this does not, however, mean that the man is in the picture. She holds that, on the opposite, the man is the natural man and the picture is the paint distributed in patterns on a wall of painting (Atherton, 1994). To her, the man and the picture show no things which are the same because the man is moving and living (animate nature) and the picture is not (inanimate nature). Margaret applies this to many other things. She holds that in this world, there will be only one form of natural thing. She holds that anything, which exists and is not the natural thing is not even a copy, but is another thing.
The Body/Mind and Rational/Irrational Decisions
Margaret identifies that the mind exists in the body both as separate and as a part of the body. According to her, it is separate because it is matter in the natural thing, which is the body. This separation means that the mind does its actions willfully without being directed by the body. As Margaret states, the mind cannot exist outside the body on its own because it is a part of what is called the body. In her view, both mind and body are rational animate. She holds that not all body parts are rational. She believes that there are other body parts, which are not rational. The view of Margaret is that the rational has to cause motion of the irrational. She identifies that the mind as the rational causes movement in the body parts, which are not rational (Atherton, 1994). She believes whenever irrational actions are done, it is when the irrational parts of the body operate on their own without waiting to have the instruction come from the brain. Her conclusion here is clear. Her view is that people act badly when they do not think about what they are about to do (Atherton, 1994).
Margaret Cavendish in her philosophy holds that people know, reason about, and see things differently because they do not see them the way they naturally are. To me, this is very true. There are many examples to illustrate this. I imagine people in classroom doing the same examination paper. They will reason, think and know differently. Those, who think of something the way it is, will get the exam right. Those, who think other ways of looking at it, will get it wrong. This is why people from the same class cannot be exactly the same. There are, however, students who will write correct and almost the same idea. These must be ones thinking naturally.
Margaret holds that people do not think of things as natural as they are because they want to be like God. I hold that this is not true. I believe people have many factors, which influence the way they think. What they have seen in the past, what they think of the future and what they are going through now are some of the things, which make people think differently. Margaret holds that there is only one natural thing. I think that this as very true. I believe there can never be two things or persons who are exactly the same. Even identical twins have shown that they will differ in something. I consider this to be the case for all things. I hold that even with the best science, no one can make a particular natural thing from another. This is because the material, which made the first one, will not be the same. Margaret says that the natural copy is one and only one, and I believe it is very true.
I do agree with Margaret that irrational actions are done without or with little of thinking. We often see people say they were not thinking when they did something bad or wrong. I believe them. It can also be seen in case of people abusing others or break the law when they are drunk or very angry. It is true that at the time of doing these bad actions, they are likely to not be thinking because the anger or alcohol would have prevented them from thinking clearly of what they do. Margaret labels it as not thinking.