Anne Conway

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I say, life and figure are distinct attributes of one substance, and as one and the same body may be transmuted into all kinds of figures; and as the perfecter figure comprehends that which is more imperfect; so one and the same body may be transmuted from one degree of life to another more perfect, which always comprehends in it the inferior.

Anne Conway, Viscountess Conway and Killultagh, born Anne Finch (14 December 163118 February 1679) was an English philosopher, cited as an influence by Leibniz, and an early convert to Quakerism.

Quotes[edit]

The creature is always capable of a farther and perfecter degree of life, ad infinitum, and yet can never attain to be equal with God; for he is still infinitely more perfect than a creature, in its highest elevation or perfection…

The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (1690)[edit]

Composed in English between 1671 and 1675; first published posthumously in 1690 in Latin as Principia philosophiae antiquissimae et recentissimae de Deo, Christo et Creatura id est de materia et spiritu in genere; an English edition was published in 1692, based upon this Latin version, because the original manuscripts were lost.
  • I say, life and figure are distinct attributes of one substance, and as one and the same body may be transmuted into all kinds of figures; and as the perfecter figure comprehends that which is more imperfect; so one and the same body may be transmuted from one degree of life to another more perfect, which always comprehends in it the inferior. We have an example of figure in a triangular prism, which is the first figure of all right lined solid triangular prism, which is the first figure of all right lined solid bodies, where into a body is convertible; and from this into a cube, which is a perfecter figure, and comprehends in it a prism; from a cube it may be turned into a more perfect figure, which comes nearer to a globe, and from this into another, which is yet nearer; and so it ascends from one figure, more imperfect to another more perfect, ad infinitum; for here are no bounds; nor can it be said, this body cannot be changed into a perfecter figure: But the meaning is that that body consists of plane right lines; and this is always chageablee into a perfecter figure, and yet can never reach to the perfection of a globe, although it always approaches nearer unto it; the case is the same in diverse degrees of life, which have indeed a beginning, but no end; so that the creature is always capable of a farther and perfecter degree of life, ad infinitum, and yet can never attain to be equal with God; for he is still infinitely more perfect than a creature, in its highest elevation or perfection, even as a globe is the most perfect of all other figures, unto which none can approach.

Quotes about Conway[edit]

My philosophical views approach somewhat closely those of the late Countess of Conway, and hold a middle position between Plato and Democritus …that everything takes place according to a living principle and according to final causes — all things are full of life and consciousness, contrary to the views of the Atomists. ~ Gottfried Leibniz
Scarce any thing to be found like her since the Primitive times of the Church. ~ Henry More
  • The framework of Conway's system is a tripartite ontological hierarchy of ‘species’, the highest of which is God, the source of all being. Christ, or ‘middle nature’, links God and the third species, called ‘Creature’. God as the most perfect being is infinitely good, wise and just. A principle of likeness links God and creation. Since God is good and just, his creation too is good and just. Created substance, like God, consists of spirit, but, unlike God, is constituted of particles called monads. All created substance is living, capable of motion and perception Anne Conway denies the existence of material body as such, arguing that inert corporeal substance would contradict the nature of God, who is life itself. Incorporeal created substance is, however, differentiated from the divine, principally on account of its mutability and multiplicity even so, the infinite number and constant mutability of created monads constitute an obverse reflection of the unity, infinity, eternity and unchangeableness of God. The continuum between God and creatures is made possible through ‘middle nature’, an intermediary being, through which God communicates life, action, goodness and justice. ‘Middle nature’, partakes of the nature of both God and creation, and is therefore both a bridge and a buffer between God and created things. Thus, although she conceives of created substance as a continuum, and understands mutability as capacity for increased perfection, she sought to avoid the charge of pantheism.
  • She explains evil as a falling away from the perfection of God, and understands suffering as part of a longer term process of spiritual recovery. She denies the eternity of hell, since for God to punish finite wrong-doing with infinite and eternal hell punishment would be manifestly unjust and therefore a contradiction of the divine nature. Instead she explains pain and suffering as purgative, with the ultimate aim of restoring creatures to moral and metaphysical perfection.
  • My philosophical views approach somewhat closely those of the late Countess of Conway, and hold a middle position between Plato and Democritus, because I hold that all things take place mechanically as Democritus and Descartes contend against the views of Henry More and his followers, and hold too, nevertheless, that everything takes place according to a living principle and according to final causes—all things are full of life and consciousness, contrary to the views of the Atomists.
    • Gottfried Leibniz, in a letter to Thomas Burnet (1697), as quoted in Platonism, Aristotelianism and Cabalism in the Philosophy of Leibniz (1938) by Joseph Politella, p. 18
  • I perceive and bless God for it, that my Lady Conway was my Lady Conway to her last Breath; the greatest Example of Patience and Presence of Mind, in highest Extremities of Pain and Affliction, that we shall easily meet with: Scarce any thing to be found like her since the Primitive times of the Church.
    • Henry More, in the preface to The Principles of the Most Ancient and Modern Philosophy (1690)
  • She distinguishes three distinct kinds of being, God, Christ, and creation, which are differentiable from each other chiefly with respect to changeability — God is utterly unchangeable, Christ is changeable only for the better, and hence forms a necessary mediation between God and creation, and creatures are changeable for better or for worse. With respect to creatures, this feature has the result than any creature could in principle be transformed into any other. Lady Conway goes so far as to claim that there is no difference in kind between body and spirit, that even though in each creature there is a passive principle and an active one, the difference is only in degree not in kind.
  • Anne Conway embraces the fundamental tenet of the occult philosophers that God was not a vindictive Father who wanted to punish his children for their failings. God damned no one; at most, people damned themselves by turning their backs on God, whose infinite love was freely available to everyone. From the end of the seventeenth century, occultists like Lady Conway and Jane Lead, representative of early modern occultism, were extending this belief into universal salvation. God not only wanted to save everyone, eventually he would succeed in doing so.
  • Some pre-Socratic “Greek” thinking conceived of the world as a composite whole made up of indivisible parts (atoms) and so searched for a basic “stuff” at bottom. Conway suggests that the distinctions composite/indivisible, whole/part be collapsed without abandoning the pre-Socratic process of division. Divide a whole and you are left not with parts, but with wholes. In this sense, nothing is more “basic” than anything else. Plato and Parmenides began with the One not “at bottom,” but “at top.” The problem is not how to get a whole out of a bunch of parts, but how to account for the diversity of “wholes” without sacrificing unity.
    Perfect freedom would consist in perfect determination — perfect identification of wholes: hence, the idea of “conformity to God’s will” and the Quaker ideal of simplicity. Sequentially, there is a time and place where/ when “simpler” structures exist and more “complex” structures do not — but atemporally (and from the perspective of the whole) all simply exists. Reading back from that perspective (as Plato and Parmenides attempt to do), the“end” may be seen as informing the “beginning” and the “middle.” If Plato worked backward from the “end” and Democritus worked forward from the “beginning,” Conway worked outward from the middle — and this is the place Leibniz mapped in his comment to Burnett. Since the middle is the one place we can be, it is most assuredly a more secure place to start than the“end” or the “beginning,” where we cannot.

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