Descartes' Natural Philosophy

Descartes' Natural Philosophy

Descartes' Natural Philosophy

Descartes' Natural Philosophy

Synopsis

This comprehensive collection of essays on Descartes' scientific writings offers a reassessment of Descartes' scientific work and its bearing on his philosophy. It covers topics as diverse as optics, cosmology and medicine.

Excerpt

This volume gathers together a number of new studies of Descartes' natural philosophy. We have not concerned ourselves with the textbook image of Descartes in philosophy or the history of ideas, as father of modern philosophy, or as the inventor of modern epistemology, mind/body dualism, or advocate of a universal method. Rather, we focus on Descartes in the context of his times as a pioneer of the mechanical philosophy and leading practitioner of mathematics and a number of the then existing specialised traditions of scientific endeavour, such as mechanics, optics, anatomy, and physiology (including psycho-physiology). We view Descartes, moreover, as a natural philosopher whose aims and agendas were not independent of the social and intellectual contexts within which he was working; and as someone who, over time, not only achieved numerous remarkable successes, but who also endured several deflections of aim, tactical retreats and outright failures.

The theme of our volume is not entirely new. In recent years a small but growing body of research has examined aspects of Descartes' natural philosophy as part of a reassessment of his role in the history of Western thought. Our aim here is to represent and consolidate some of the present concerns in the area of Descartes' natural philosophy and to bring to light a number of new possibilities for its study. How these aims are viewed will inevitably depend in large measure upon how the term 'natural philosophy' is understood, both in general, and in the particular case of Descartes.

The term 'natural philosophy' has often been used, particularly in the literature in the history of science, in two ways: either it is used in an anachronistic way as a synonym for 'science' - an anachronism, since 'science' as a term denoting the presumed unity, methodological and institutional, of all inquiry into nature, is a nineteenth-century coinage. Or, with more justification it is used as a synonym for 'the sciences', meaning the set of narrower traditions of intellectual practice that existed in the early modern period on the basis of classical models, such as astronomy, optics, mechanics, anatomy, music theory, and the like. Strictly speaking, however, in the early modern period the term 'natural

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