A Vitalist Shoal in the Mechanist Tide: Art, Nature, and 17th-Century Science

Philosophies 7 (5):111 (2022)
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Abstract

This paper reconstructs Margaret Cavendish’s theory of the metaphysics of artifacts. It situates her anti-mechanist account of artifactual production and the art-nature distinction against a background of Aristotelian, Scholastic, and mechanist theories. Within this broad context, it considers what Cavendish thinks artisans can actually do, grounding her terminological stipulation that there is no genuine generation in nature in a commitment to natural and artistic production as the mere rearrangement of bodies. Bodies themselves are identified, in a conceptually Ockhamist manner, with their figures, so that the resulting theory of mere rearrangement is Scholastically respectable. The paper also offers literal interpretations, focused narrowly on the philosophical content of her theories of art and artifacts, of her claims that art concerns only “nature’s sporting or playing actions”, that its products are “deformed and defective”, and that they are “at best …mixt or hermaphroditical."

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