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Mechanical Philosophy

Background, Major Advocates Of The Mechanical Philosophy, Later Developments, Bibliography

The mechanical philosophy was a philosophy of nature, popular in the seventeenth century, that sought to explain all natural phenomena in terms of matter and motion without recourse to any kind of action at a distance (cause and effect without any physical contact). During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many natural philosophers rejected Aristotelianism, which had provided the form of and foundations for natural philosophy at least since the thirteenth century. The mechanical philosophy, which was rooted in ancient Greek atomism, was one candidate for a new philosophy. Atomism was the theory that everything in the material world consists of imperceptible, solid, indivisible bits of matter—atoms—that move about in empty space. Not all mechanical philosophers were strict atomists, but they attempted to explain all natural phenomena in terms of the configurations, motions, and collisions of small, unobservable particles of matter. A central doctrine of the mechanical philosophy was the theory of primary and secondary qualities, according to which matter is really endowed with only a few primary qualities and all others (such as color, taste, or odor) are the result of the impact of the primary qualities on human sense organs. Nature was thus mechanized and most qualities were considered subjective.

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