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date: 28 November 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Descartes is commonly characterized as the arch-mechanist who rejected the syllogistic demonstrations sought in Scholastic Aristotelian physics, and instead aimed at purely “mechanistic explanations” of natural phenomena. Typical accounts of physical phenomena found in his scientific works, such as that of the properties of salt, are thus interpreted as no more than structural explanations that posit one of many possible arrangements of variously shaped microscopic particles to account for the observed effects. By examining Descartes’s own statements about the different ways in which his physics is “mechanical”, and by placing these in the context of the Renaissance revival of the geometrical demonstrations found in the Aristotelian Questions of Mechanics, this chapter shows that, and in what way, Descartes aimed at mathematical and mechanical, but not mechanistic, demonstrations of physical phenomena like salt.

Keywords: mathematical demonstration, mechanism, Plempius, Renaissance mechanics, scientia

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