The Concept of Space and the Metaphysics of Extended Substance in Descartes

History of Philosophy Quarterly 31 (1):21-40 (2014)
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Abstract

This essay offers an interpretation of Descartes’ treatment of the concepts of place and space in the Principles of Philosophy. On the basis of that interpretation, I argue that his understanding and application of the concept of space supports a pluralist interpretation of Descartes on extended substance. I survey the Scholastic evolution of issues in the Aristotelian theory of place and clarify elements of Descartes’ appropriation and transformation thereof: the relationship between internal and external place, the precise content of the claim that space and body are really identical, and the way we conceptually distinguish space from body. Descartes applies his concept of space in ways that illuminate the metaphysical structure of extension. In particular, he uses the concept to specify the degree to which finite parts of matter are independent of each other. I argue that for Descartes, conceiving extension as indivisible is an artifact of conceiving it as a space. That is, pace the monistic reading of Cartesian extended substance, regarding extension as indivisible is an artifact of conceiving it in a way more removed from its real nature.

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Joseph Zepeda
Thomas Aquinas College

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