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Descartes and CartesianismEssays in Honour of Desmond Clarke$
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Stephen Gaukroger and Catherine Wilson

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198779643

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.001.0001

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Did Descartes Teach a ‘Philosophy of Science’ or Implement ‘Strategies of Natural Philosophical Explanation’?

Did Descartes Teach a ‘Philosophy of Science’ or Implement ‘Strategies of Natural Philosophical Explanation’?

Chapter:
(p.3) 1 Did Descartes Teach a ‘Philosophy of Science’ or Implement ‘Strategies of Natural Philosophical Explanation’?
Source:
Descartes and Cartesianism
Author(s):

John Schuster

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198779643.003.0001

Desmond Clarke’s 1977 paper, ‘Descartes’ Use of Demonstration and Deduction’, elucidated the conjoint roles of empirical evidence and metaphysical constraint in Descartes’ construction of scientific explanations. This was a major step forward in understanding Cartesian science, but it focused on examples of single explanations in isolation, rather than exploring how such one-off instances of explanation relate to each other across ranges of differing explananda. I argue that Descartes’ systematic natural philosophizing aimed precisely at producing detailed explanations of ranges of new and old facts, and the ‘systematization’ of the resulting suite of explanations into interrelated sets. Accordingly, this chapter proposes a ‘post-Clarkean’ model of how explanation worked across Descartes’ natural-philosophical system. The model also brings to light certain inherent limitations and tensions involved in such system building; that is, it explains why Descartes’ system of natural philosophy could never realize the rhetorical claims about systematic unity made its favour.

Keywords:   Descartes, René, natural philosophy, Cartesian science, Cartesian system, Cartesian optics

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