As background for the assignment, remember Descartes’ method, based on the certainty of pure idea; he dismisses sense evidence as uncertain. ………..


As background for the assignment, remember Descartes’ method, based on the certainty of pure idea; he dismisses sense evidence as uncertain. Also, remember that his view of the universe, based on the notion of particle impact as the basis of all, argues that the sun (and other stars) is the center of a whirling vortex of invisible particles, and that this vortex carries the earth and other planets around the sun like floating balls in a whirlpool. Consider the fact that while Descartes depends heavily upon god in his philosophy, his ideas of a purely material universe left to run by a creator god lead to fears of atheism, especially in England after 1650.

In addition, remember our discussion of Robert Boyle yesterday: Boyle is a supporter of experimental method, and he does experiments to examine discover the basic particles of matter. he believes that the world is made up of indivisible atoms, bound together in tight groups (and then into bigger groups). He also believes that the study of nature gives us better understanding of the Creator, and he goes on at great length about how such study tells us of god’s POWER, WISDOM, and GOODNESS. Below is a short passage from the beginning of his “Sceptical Chymist” (1662). Note that he discusses “atoms”; groups of atoms, or “concretes”; and groups of concretes, or “mix’t bodies.” Note also the mixture of divine creation and particulate chemistry in his discussion of the origins of the world:

To proceed then to my Propositions, I shall begin with this.

Propos. I.It seems not absurd to conceive that at the first Production of mixt Bodies, the Universal Matter whereof they among other Parts of the Universe consisted, was actually divided into little Particles of several sizes and shapes variously mov’d.

Generation, Corruption, Nutrition, and wasting of Bodies, that which we discover partly by our Microscopes of the extream littlenesse of even the scarce sensible parts of Concretes; and partly by the Chymical Resolutions of mixt Bodies, and by divers other Operations of Spagyrical Fires upon them, seems sufficiently to manifest their consisting of parts very minute and of differing Figures. And that there does also intervene a various local Motion of such small Bodies, will scarce be denied; whether we chuse to grant the Origine of Concretions assign’d by Epicurus, or that related by Moses. For the first, as you well know, supposes not only all(38) mixt Bodies, but all others to be produc’d by the various and casual occursions of Atomes, moving themselves to and fro by an internal Principle in the Immense or rather Infinite Vacuum. And as for the inspir’d Historian, He, informing us that the great and Wise Author of Things did not immediately create Plants, Beasts, Birds, &c. but produc’d them out of those portions of the pre-existent, though created, Matter, that he calls Water and Earth, allows us to conceive, that the constituent Particles whereof these new Concretes were to consist, were variously moved in order to their being connected into the Bodies they were, by their various Coalitions and Textures, to compose.

Keep the above background in mind when reading the two short pieces by Isaac Newton attached to this email. One deals with Newton’s rules for doing natural philosophy; the other, the “General Scholium” is a piece added to the second edition of his major work on physics. In it, he discusses the difficulty of Descartes views of the universe. He also discusses the role of god in his universe.

PAPER TOPIC (finally):

After reading the Newton pieces, write 4-5 pages on English responses to Descartes’ method, his views of Nature, and god’s place in Nature. Draw on both Boyle and Newton. Consider issues of method (pure contemplation, observation, experiment). You may also choose to discuss issues of matter itself if you like. Definitely consider issues of god’s relationship to the natural world — is god active in nature, or is god detached from it?

Preferred language style   US English


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