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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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Sensible Qualities and Material Bodies in Descartes and Boyle

Sensible Qualities and Material Bodies in Descartes and Boyle

(p.109) 5 Sensible Qualities and Material Bodies in Descartes and Boyle
Primary and Secondary Qualities

Lisa Downing

Oxford University Press

Descartes and Boyle were the most influential proponents of strict mechanist accounts of the physical world, accounts which carried with them a distinction between primary and secondary (or sensible) qualities. For both, the distinction is a piece of natural philosophy. Nevertheless the distinction is quite differently articulated, and, especially, differently grounded in the two thinkers. For Descartes, reasoned reflection reveals to us that bodies must consist in mere extension and its modifications, and that sensible qualities as we conceive of them based on sense perception can pertain only to the mind. Just how we are supposed to arrive at this realization is, this essay will argue, a deep puzzle that brings us to the basic assumptions of Descartes' metaphysics. For Boyle, by contrast, while reflection can reveal the unique explanatory status of mechanism, and, thus, the primary/secondary quality distinction, only experience can confirm its truth.

Keywords:   Descartes, Boyle, sensible qualities, secondary qualities, primary qualities, qualities, mechanism

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