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Descartes on Forms and Mechanisms


  • Page extent: 246 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.52 kg
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 (ISBN-13: 9780521518925)

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$103.00 (C)

The modern view of causation can be traced back to the mechanistic science of Descartes, whose rejection of Aristotelian physics, with its concept of substantial forms, in favor of mechanical explanations was a turning-point in the history of philosophy. However the reasoning which led Descartes and other early moderns in this direction is not well understood. This book traces Descartes' groundbreaking theory of scientific explanation back to the mathematical demonstrations of Aristotelian mechanics and interprets these advances in light of the available arguments for and against substantial forms. It also examines how Descartes' new theory led him to develop a metaphysical foundation for his science that could avoid skeptical objections. It will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in the philosophy and science of the early modern period.


Introduction; Part I. Resurrecting the Substantial Form: 1. Descartes' arguments against the substantial form; 2. Aquinas' introduction of the substantial form; 3. Suarez's defense of the substantial form; Part II. Challenging the Substantial Form: 4. Sanchez's skeptical humanist attack; 5. The mechanical alternative to substantial forms; 6. Cartesian science and the principles of mechanics; Part III. Eliminating Substantial Forms: 7. Atoms, modes and other heresies; 8. Descartes' metaphysical alternative to substantial forms; Conclusion.


"...This detailed and nuanced study of Descartes and mechanism is rooted in careful scholarship aiming at an “excavation of the context surrounding Descartes’ rejection of Aristotelian material substantial forms” (p. 221). The result is an enlightening study of the intellectual background to Descartes mechanism, and one that is certain to be of great use and interest to anyone seeking to understand just what is involved in characterizing Descartes as a mechanist... "
--Douglas Jesseph, University of South Florida, Perspectives on Science

"This is a subtle and learned book, and sheds light on a narrow… Hattab provides important context for Descartes’s arguments against Scholastic forms and adds detail to our understanding of both the object and motivation of his attack. She offers a stimulating reading not only of Descartes’s relationship to contemporary Scholasticism, but also of his scientific method and metaphysical commitments at various stages in his career… Hattab makes her case with careful scholarship, and this book, which suggests a more nuanced view of philosophical schools and relationships in the period, will be of great interest to anyone working in early modern philosophy."
--Steven Nadler, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"....Descartes on Forms and Mechanisms is a work of high scholarly order. Hattab has written an important book, based on a careful and judicious analysis of primary sources.... elegantly argued.... It should be of primary interest to scholars of Descartes and students of early modern Scholastic philosophy, but also to all historians of early modern science, philosophy, and ideas."
--Victor D. Boantza, University of Sydney, Philosophy in Review

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