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Primary and Secondary QualitiesThe Historical and Ongoing Debate$
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Lawrence Nolan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199556151

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199556151.001.0001

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Gassendi and the Seventeenth-Century Atomists on Primary and Secondary Qualities

Gassendi and the Seventeenth-Century Atomists on Primary and Secondary Qualities

Chapter:
(p.62) 3 Gassendi and the Seventeenth-Century Atomists on Primary and Secondary Qualities
Source:
Primary and Secondary Qualities
Author(s):

Antonia LoLordo

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199556151.003.0004

Gassendi explicates the various qualities of bodies in atomist terms. But unlike most of his contemporaries, he does not distinguish primary and secondary qualities or argue that the size, shape, and motion of macroscopic bodies have a privileged metaphysical status their colors and tastes lack. This is because all qualities, for Gassendi, are textures—structures of atoms vibrating in locked patterns. Qualities like motion and taste are only epistemically different: we have a better grasp on what texture of bodies constitutes macro-level shape than taste. This chapter suggests that this epistemic difference is not the primary quality–secondary quality distinction—although this does depend on what philosophical work you expect the distinction to do. The chapter also suggests that Gassendi does not distinguish primary and secondary qualities because his physics is qualitative rather than quantitative. Hence, macro-level size, shape, and motion are mere explananda.

Keywords:   Gassendi, Charleton, atomism, corpuscularianism, mechanism, primary qualities, secondary qualities, powers, appearances, texture

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