Descartes' image of the tree of knowledge from the preface to the French edition of the Principles of Philosophy is usually taken to represent Descartes' break with the past and with the fragmentation of knowledge of the schools. But if Descartes' tree of knowledge is analyzed in its proper context, another interpretation emerges. A series of contrasts with other classifications of knowledge from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries raises some puzzles: claims of originality and radical break from the past do (...) not seem warranted. Further contrasts with Descartes' unpublished writings and with school doctrines lead to the ironic conclusion that, in the famous passage, Descartes is attempting to appeal to conventional wisdom and trying to avoid sounding novel. (shrink)
Descartes and the last Scholastics: objections and replies -- Descartes and the Scotists -- Ideas, before and after Descartes -- The Cartesian destiny of form and matter -- Descartes, Basso, and Toletus: three kinds of Corpuscularians -- Scholastics and the new astronomy on the substance of the heavens -- Descartes and the Jesuits of La Fleche: the Eucharist -- Condemnations of Cartesianism: the extension and unity of the universe -- Cartesians, Gassendists, and censorship -- The cogito in the seventeenth century.
I discuss some of Leibniz's pronouncements about fringe phenomena__various monsters; talking dogs; genies and prophets; unicorns, glossopetrae, and other games of nature__in order to understand better Leibniz's views on science and the role these curiosities play in his plans for scientific academies and societies. However, given that Leibniz's sincerity has been called into question in twentieth-century secondary literature, I begin with a few historiographical remarks so as to situate these pronouncements within the Leibnizian corpus. What emerges is an image of (...) Leibniz as a sober, cautious interpreter, a skeptic one might say, but one who is prepared to concede the possibility of many strange phenomena. Leibniz expects these fringe phenomena to take their place among the natural curiosities catalogued as part of a hoped for empirical database intended as means toward the perfection of the sciences. (shrink)
No single text could be considered more important in the history of philosophy than Descartes' Meditations. This unique collection of background material to this magisterial philosophical text has been translated from the original French and Latin. The texts gathered here illustrate the kinds of principles, assumptions, and philosophical methods that were commonplace when Descartes was growing up. The selections are from: Francisco Sanches, Christopher Clavius, Pierre de la Ramee, Francisco Suárez, Pierre Charron, Eustachius a Sancto Paulo, Scipion Dupleix, Marin Mersenne, (...) Pierre Gassendi, Jean de Silhon, François de la Mothe le Vayer, Charles Sorel, and Jean-Baptiste Morin. (shrink)
There is a popular view that Descartes and Pascal were antagonists. I argue instead that Pascal was a Cartesian, in the manner of other Cartesians in the seventeenth century. That does not, of course, mean that Pascal accepted everything Descartes asserted, given that there were Cartesian atomists, for example, when Descartes was a plenist and anti-atomist. Pascal himself was a vacuuist and thus in opposition to Descartes in that respect, but he did accept some of the more distinctive and controversial (...) aspects of Cartesianism, including his mechanistic philosophy and the consequent view that animals are automata. (shrink)
It would seem that there are enormous differences between strict hylomorphism and Cartesianism on form and matter: for a strict hylomorphist, matter and form cannot be separated, but for a Cartesian, matter and form are really distinct ; for a strict hylomorphist, form is the principle of being and matter the principle of individuation, but for a Cartesian, the mind-a form-is the principle of individuation for persons, if anything is. However, these breaks are not as severe as might have been (...) thought, if seventeenth century scholastics are taken into account. For a variety of reasons, the late Aristotelians broke with Aristotle and accepted the reality of matter without form, form without matter, and form as the principle of individuation. In addition, the intellectual landscape of seventeenth century philosophy was not limited to the properly scholastic ; there were anti-Aristotelian options available before Descartes. Given that the gulf between the schoolmen and novatores like Descartes was not so great, the way was open for certain compromises. These were sought in a variety of scholastic restatements of Cartesianism from more or less Cartesian positions. Thus, it can be said that some varieties of Aristotelianism in the seventeenth century prepared the ground for the acceptance of Cartesianism and the eventual attempts at their reunification. (shrink)
Some philosophers of science suggest that philosophical assumptions must influence historical scholarship, because history (like science) has no neutral data and because the treatment of any particular historical episode is going to be influenced to some degree by one's prior philosophical conceptions of what is important in science. However, if the history of science must be laden with philosophical assumptions, then how can the history of science be evidence for the philosophy of science? Would not an inductivist history of science (...) confirm an inductivist philosophy of science and a conventionalist history of science confirm a conventionalist philosophy of science? I attempt to resolve this problem; essentially, I deny the claim that the history of science must be influenced by one's conception of what is important in science — one's general philosophy of science. To accomplish the task I look at a specific historical episode, together with its history, and draw some metamethodological conclusions from it. The specific historical episode I examine is Descartes' critique of Galileo's scientific methodology. (shrink)
We examine Duhem's critique of Maxwell, especially Duhem's complaints that Maxwell's theory is too bold or not systematic enough, that it is too dependent on models, and that its concepts are not continuous with those of the past. We argue that these complaints are connected by Duhem's historical criterion for the evaluation of physical theories. We briefly compare Duhem's criterion of historical continuity with similar criteria developed by "historicists" like Kuhn and Lakatos. We argue that Duhem's rejection of theoretical pluralism (...) was a primary factor preventing him from recognizing Maxwell's work as an autonomous tradition. (shrink)
Descartes. An Intellectual Biography by Stephen Gaukroger, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1995. xx + 499pp. 25.00 ISBN 0-19-823994-7 Descartes. Biographie by Gen vieve Rodis-Lewis, Calmann-L vy, Paris, 1995. 371pp.