Questions on the Cartesian View of Mechanical Explanation


1.  Give a complete list of what Descartes takes to be the fundamental properties of bodies.  How, according to Descartes, do we know that the list is complete?   (Think about the top of p. 16 in this regard.)

2.  It is very difficult to break some bodies into pieces.  What is Descartes' explanation?  (See page 5.)

3.  If two highly polished  flat pieces of stone are placed next to one another, it is difficult to pull them apart, yet it is quite easy to slide them against one another.  Is this a problem for Descartes' explanation of cohesion?  How would Descartes explain this phenomenon?  (Descartes does not discuss this in the assigned text -- I'm asking you to try to think about this as a Cartesian would.)

4.  Some bodies are heavy and some are light.  How would Descartes explain the difference in their weight? (Descartes does not discuss this in the assigned text -- I'm asking you to try to think about this as a Cartesian would.)

5.  How, according to Descartes, do we know that "the body of the flame that acts upon the wood is composed of little parts that move separately from one another, with a motion extremely quick and violent, and, moving so, push and move with themselves those parts of the bodies they touch which do not offer too great resistance" (p. 3)?

6.  What should we make of Descartes' claim (at the beginning of the last paragraph on p. 4), "I do not stop to seek the cause of their motions: for it is enough for me to think that they began to move as soon as the World began to be"?

7.  Why, according to Descartes, are there no vacuums?  What does this imply about motion?

8.  Reflect upon the following passage on page 11  "If you find it strange that, to explain these Elements, I make no use of the Qualities that one calls Heat, Cold, Moisture, and Dryness, as the Philosophers do: and that if I am not deceived not only these four Qualities, but all the others too, and even all the Forms of inanimate bodies, can be explained without our need to assume for the purpose, in the matter of these bodies, anything but the motion, size, shape, and arrangement, of its parts."   Compare here Nadler, pp. 514-18.

9.  According to Nadler, many medieval philosophers have accepted the view that "the ultimate and only possible explanation of observable property x in a body b is the intrinsic presence in b of the real quality or form x-ness.   Explanations of this sort were considered complete and satisfactory, 'the final answer to all queries'."  If this is so, how could this be unless medieval philosophers were stupid fools?  What has changed that makes these purported explanations appear so obviously empty to Descartes and to us?

10.  Are there any connections between the views of explanation defended by Aristotle and Descartes and their respective views of biology and of souls or spirits?