Birthplace: Plymouth, Devon, England
Location of death: Bath, Somerset, England
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: The Vanity of Dogmatizing
English philosopher, born at Plymouth in 1636, and was educated at Exeter and Lincoln colleges, Oxford, where he graduated as M.A. in 1658. After the Restoration he was successively rector of Wimbush, Essex, vicar of Frome Selwood, Somersetshire, rector of Streat and Walton. In 1666 he was appointed to the abbey church, Bath; in 1678 he became prebendary of Worcester Cathedral, and acted as chaplain in ordinary to King Charles II from 1672. He died at Bath in November 1680. Glanvill's first work (a passage in which suggested the theme of Matthew Arnold's Scholar Gipsy), The Vanity of Dogmatizing, or Confidence in Opinions, manifested in a Discourse of the shortness and uncertainty of our Knowledge, and its Causes, with Reflexions on Peripateticism, and an Apology for Philosophy (1661), is interesting as showing one special direction in which the new method of the Cartesian philosophy might be developed. Blaise Pascal had already shown how philosophical skepticism might be employed as a bulwark for faith, and Glanvill follows in the same track.
The philosophic endeavor to cognize the whole system of things by referring all events to their causes appears to him to be from the outset doomed to failure. For if we inquire into this causal relation we find that though we know isolated facts, we cannot perceive any such connection between them as that the one should give rise to the other. In the words of David Hume, "they seem conjoined but never connected." All causes then are but secondary, i.e. merely the occasions on which the one first cause operates. It is singular enough that Glanvill who had not only shown, but even exaggerated, the infirmity of human reason, himself provided an example of its weakness; for, after having combated scientific dogmatism, he not only yielded to vulgar superstitions, but actually endeavored to accredit them both in his revised edition of the Vanity of Dogmatizing, published as Scepsis scientifica (1665, ed. Rev. John Owen, 1885), and in his Philosophical Considerations concerning the existence of Sorcerers and Sorcery (1666).
The Considerations appears to have been based on the story of the drum which was alleged to have been heard every night in a house in Wiltshire (Tedworth, belonging to a Mr. Mompesson), a story which made much noise in the year 1663, and which is supposed to have furnished Joseph Addison with the idea of his comedy, The Drummer. At his death Glanvill left a piece entitled Sadducismus Triumphatus (printed in 1681, reprinted with some additions in 1682, German translation 1701). He had there collected twenty-six relations or stories of the same description as that of the drum, in order to establish, by a series of facts, the opinion which he had expressed in his Philosophical Considerations. Glanvill supported a much more honorable cause when he undertook the defense of the Royal Society of London, under the title of Plus Ultra, or the Progress and Advancement of Science since the time of Aristotle (1668), a work which shows how thoroughly he was imbued with the ideas of the empirical method.
Besides the works already noticed, Glanvill wrote Lux orientalis (1662); Philosophia pia (1671); Essays on Several Important Subjects in Philosophy and Religion (1676); An Essay concerning Preaching; and Sermons.
University: BA, Exeter College, Oxford University
University: MA, Lincoln College, Oxford University (1658)
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