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The Mechanism of the XVII Century: the philosophy of Descartes

The Mechanism of the XVII Century: the philosophy of Descartes

April 13, 2024

The XVII century It starts with a scientific revolution and ends with a political revolution in England (1688) from which the modern liberal state is born. The theocratic monarchy is replaced by the constitutional monarchy. Locke will philosophically justify the revolution, which places reason above tradition and faith.

The Mechanism of the seventeenth century: Locke and Descartes

The baroque dominates the century. The painting is filled with darkness, shadows, contrasts. In architecture the pure lines and Renaissance lines break, twist, balance gives way to movement, to passion. The baroque and the body. Presence of death, of double. The difference between reality and sleep. The great theater of the world, the world as representation (Calderón de la Barca). The genre of the novel is consolidated (The Quijote appears in 1605; during the XVII the picaresque novel triumphs). In painting, Velázquez (1599-1660).


The conception of the world becomes scientific, mathematical and mechanistic. Scientists demonstrated the mechanical nature of celestial and terrestrial phenomena, and even the bodies of animals (End of Animism ).

A scientific and intellectual revolution

The scientific revolution meant moving the earth from the center of the universe. It is possible to date the beginning of the revolution in 1453, with the publication of the Revolution of the celestial orbits, of Copernicus , who proposed that the Sun, and not the Earth, was the center of the solar system. The physics of Copernicus was, however, Aristotelian, and his system lacked empirical demonstration. Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was the most effective defender of the new system, supporting it with his new physics (dynamics), and providing telescopic evidence that the moon and other celestial bodies were no more "heavenly" than Earth. However, Galileo believed, like the Greeks, that the movement of the planets was circular, even though his friend Kepler showed that the planetary orbits were elliptical. The definitive unification of the celestial and the terrestrial physics took place in 1687 with the publication of the Newton's Principia Mathematica.


The laws of the movement of Isaac Newton They reaffirmed the idea that the universe was a great machine. This analogy had been proposed by Galileo and also by René Descartes, and became the popular conception at the end of this century.

As a result the idea of ​​an active and vigilant God, by whose express intention fell to the last leaf of a tree, was reduced to that of an engineer who had created, and maintained, the perfect machine.

From the very birth of modern science, two conflicting conceptions are present: an old Platonic tradition supported a pure and abstract science, not subject to a criterion of utility (Henry More : “science should not be measured by the help that can be provided to your back, bed and table”). Wundt and Titchener they will be supporters of this point of view for Psychology. In this century, however, an idea of ​​utilitarian, practical, applied science develops, whose most vigorous defender is Francis Bacon. In the following century this tradition is firmly entrenched in England and North America, orienting itself towards anti-intellectualism.


The scientific revolution, in either of the two concepts, reissues an old atomistic idea according to which some sensory qualities of objects are easily measurable: their number, weight, size, shape and movement. Others, however, are not, such as temperature, color, texture, smell, taste or sound. Since science must be quantifiable, it can only deal with the first type of qualities, called primary qualities, which the atomists had attributed to the atoms themselves. The secondary qualities are opposed to the primary ones because they exist only in human perception, resulting from the impact of the atoms on the senses.

Psychology would be founded, two centuries later, as a study of consciousness and, therefore, included in its object all sensory properties . The behaviorists, later, will consider that the object of psychology is the movement of the organism in space, rejecting the rest. Movement is, of course, a primary quality.

Two philosophers represent in this century the two classic tendencies of scientific thought: Descartes for the rationalist vision, with a conception of pure science, and Locke for the empiricist, with a conception of utilitarian or applied science.


What is MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY? What does MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY mean? MECHANICAL PHILOSOPHY meaning (April 2024).


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