Cartesian Spacetime: Descartes' Physics and Relational Theory of Space and Motion

Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer (2002)

Edward Slowik
Winona State University
Although Descartes’ natural philosophy marked an important advance in the development of modern science, many of his specific concepts of science have been largely discarded, and consequently neglected, since their introduction in the seventeenth century. Many critics over the years, such as Newton (in his early paper De gravitatione), have presented a series of apparently devastating arguments against Descartes' theory of space and motion; a generally negative historical verdict which, moreover, most contemporary scholars accept. Nevertheless, it is also true that most historians and philosophers of science have not sufficiently investigated the viability and effectiveness of the case against Cartesian space and motion. This book explores the success of the arguments against Descartes’ theory of space and motion by determining if it is possible to formulate a Cartesian theory of science that can avoid the problems raised by Newton, as well as by a host of other past and contemporary philosophers either sympathetic or hostile to the overall design of Cartesian science. In particular, if Descartes' theory of motion can be reconciled with his hypotheses on dynamics, then a Cartesian can successfully resolve the difficulties imposed by his critics. This book comprises, therefore, a sustained attempt to construct a consistent “Cartesian” spacetime theory: i.e., a theory of space and time that incorporates Descartes’ various theories of physics and nature without falling into the kinds of problems and contradictions as charged by, for example, Newton.
Keywords Descartes' physics  relational space  relational motion
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