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Descartes, corpuscles and reductionism : mechanism and systems in Descartes' physiology

(2015) PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY. 65(261). p.669-689
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Abstract
I argue that Descartes explains physiology in terms of whole systems, and not in terms of the size, shape and motion of tiny corpuscles (corpuscular mechanics). It is a standard, entrenched view that Descartes’s proper means of explanation in the natural world is through strict reduction to corpuscular mechanics. This view is bolstered by a handful of corpuscular-mechanical explanations in Descartes’s physics, which have been taken to be representative of his treatment of all natural phenomena. However, Descartes’s explanations of the ‘principal parts’ of physiology do not follow the corpuscular–mechanical pattern. Des Chene (2001) has identified systems in Descartes’s account of physiology, but takes them ultimately to reduce down to the corpuscle level. I argue that they do not. Rather, Descartes maintains entire systems, with components selected from multiple levels of organisation, in order to construct more complete explanations than corpuscular mechanics alone would allow.
Keywords
Descartes, mechanism, reductionism, systematicity

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Citation

Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

MLA
Hutchins, Barnaby. “Descartes, Corpuscles and Reductionism : Mechanism and Systems in Descartes’ Physiology.” PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY 65.261 (2015): 669–689. Print.
APA
Hutchins, B. (2015). Descartes, corpuscles and reductionism : mechanism and systems in Descartes’ physiology. PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, 65(261), 669–689.
Chicago author-date
Hutchins, Barnaby. 2015. “Descartes, Corpuscles and Reductionism : Mechanism and Systems in Descartes’ Physiology.” Philosophical Quarterly 65 (261): 669–689.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Hutchins, Barnaby. 2015. “Descartes, Corpuscles and Reductionism : Mechanism and Systems in Descartes’ Physiology.” Philosophical Quarterly 65 (261): 669–689.
Vancouver
1.
Hutchins B. Descartes, corpuscles and reductionism : mechanism and systems in Descartes’ physiology. PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY. Oxford University Press (OUP); 2015;65(261):669–89.
IEEE
[1]
B. Hutchins, “Descartes, corpuscles and reductionism : mechanism and systems in Descartes’ physiology,” PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY, vol. 65, no. 261, pp. 669–689, 2015.
@article{8547642,
  abstract     = {I argue that Descartes explains physiology in terms of whole systems, and not in terms of the size, shape and motion of tiny corpuscles (corpuscular mechanics). It is a standard, entrenched view that Descartes’s proper means of explanation in the natural world is through strict reduction to corpuscular mechanics. This view is bolstered by a handful of corpuscular-mechanical explanations in Descartes’s physics, which have been taken to be representative of his treatment of all natural phenomena. However, Descartes’s explanations of the ‘principal parts’ of physiology do not follow the corpuscular–mechanical pattern. Des Chene (2001) has identified systems in Descartes’s account of physiology, but takes them ultimately to reduce down to the corpuscle level. I argue that they do not. Rather, Descartes maintains entire systems, with components selected from multiple levels of organisation, in order to construct more complete explanations than corpuscular mechanics alone would allow.},
  author       = {Hutchins, Barnaby},
  issn         = {0031-8094},
  journal      = {PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY},
  keywords     = {Descartes,mechanism,reductionism,systematicity},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {261},
  pages        = {669--689},
  publisher    = {Oxford University Press (OUP)},
  title        = {Descartes, corpuscles and reductionism : mechanism and systems in Descartes' physiology},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pq/pqv042},
  volume       = {65},
  year         = {2015},
}

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