Writing to Samuel Hartlib on 19th April 1661, John Worthington announced:
There is lately publish’d, The Vanity of Dogmatizing or Confidence in Opinions … It is a little book in 8vo. The author Jos. Glanville, Master of Arts of Oxford. He is a great valuer of Des-Cartes and Dr. More, whom he often mentions in his book; having been a great reader of his books. He is a young man, and abating some juvenile heat, there are good matters in his book. (Diary and Correspondence, vol.1, p.300)
Joseph Glanvill (1636–80) studied at Oxford during the 1650s. There he may have met members of the Wadham group of experimental philosophers. Certainly, The Vanity of Dogmatizing, which was an attack on scholastic philo sophy, drew on the writings of Wilkins as well as those of the Cambridge Platonist, Henry More (1614–87), in its presentation of the virtues of a new natural philosophy. Glanvill was partic ularly taken by the power of Descartes’ sceptical approach to natural philosophy, which he probably learned about initially through More’s works. With Hartlib’s assistance, More had corresponded with Descartes from 1648. Glanvill was, however, more enthusiastic than More about the possible practical benefits of experimental natural philosophy, and was also influenced by the writings of Bacon (to whose New Atlantis he later composed a sequel). Thus, The Vanity of Dogmatizing suggested that ‘the turning of the now comparatively desert world into a Paradise, may not improbably be expected from late Agriculture’ (p.182).
As well as sharing the conviction of many Interregnum agricultural improvers that the earth could be restored to its pristine fertility, Glanvill believed that advances in philosophy might recreate the perfect knowledge of things which Adam had enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. Then, ‘Adam needed no Spectacles. The acuteness of his natural Opticks (if conjecture may have credit) shew’d him much of the coelestial magnificence and bravery without a Galilaeo’s tube’ (p.5). Contemporary optical inventions could restore human senses to their original perfection, but the restoration of the Edenic state required human philosophical and spiritual perfectibility also: ‘The Woman in us, still promotes a deceit, like that begun in the Garden; and our understandings are wedded to an Eve, as fatal as the Mother of our miseries’ (p.118). It was this deceit which Glanvill hoped to cure through the practice of a mitigated scepticism.