The intelligibility of motion and construction: Descartes' early mathematics and metaphysics, 1619–1637

I argue for an interpretation of the connection between Descartes’ early mathematics and metaphysics that centers on the standard of geometrical intelligibility that characterizes Descartes’ mathematical work during the period 1619 to 1637. This approach remains sensitive to the innovations of Descartes’ system of geometry and, I claim, sheds important light on the relationship between his landmark Geometry and his first metaphysics of nature, which is presented in Le monde . In particular, I argue that the same standard of clear and distinct motions for construction that allows Descartes to distinguish ‘geometric’ from ‘imaginary’ curves in the domain of mathematics is adopted in Le monde as Descartes details God’s construction of nature. I also show how, on this interpretation, the metaphysics of Le monde can fruitfully be brought to bear on Descartes’ attempted solution to the Pappus problem, which he presents in Book I of the Geometry. My general goal is to show that attention to the standard of intelligibility Descartes invokes in these different areas of inquiry grants us a richer view of the connection between his early mathematics and philosophy than an approach that assumes a common method is what binds his work in these domains together.Keywords: René Descartes; Geometry; Mathematics; Intelligibility; Metaphysics
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsa.2009.03.003
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Daniel Garber (1988). Descartes and Method in 1637. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1988:225-236.

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