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CARTESIANISM AND CHYMISTRY

Keywords: Descartes , chymistry , natural philosophy , Rohault , chymical principles , matter theory

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Abstract:

One of the most difficult, yet interesting change in theseventeenth-century natural philosophy was that of chemistry. This essayfocuses upon Cartesian re-evaluation of the philosophical disciplines,arguing that, from a systematic perspective, chemistry cannot find a place innatural philosophy. Chemistry, in its seventeenth-century form of“chymistry” shares a number of common features with other traditions andpractices. Descartes and his first-generation of followers discussed in thisessay – Jacques du Roure, Robert Desgabets, and Jacques Rohault – willreact precisely to this discipline of “chymistry,” opposing it to their physicsbuilt on a combination between theory of matter and mechanicalexplanations. The very restrictive Cartesian theory of matter will come intotension with any intermediate explanatory entity, such as the chymicalprinciples. This essay will investigate such tensions, arguing that they arecaused by both ontological and epistemological commitments. For example,the principles of the chymists contradict the one material extension of theCartesian world. At the same time, Cartesians require a more thoroughreductive process then the one provided by chymical explanations. In thissense, chymistry is good for practical purposes, but fails in providing anexplanation in natural philosophy and, hence, to represent a science

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