Charles Wolfe


Ghent University

Early Modern Mechanism and the Contemporary Mechanisms Debate

Recent work on mechanisms (e.g. Machamer, Darden and Craver 2000, Glennan 2002, Bechtel and Abrahamsen 2005, and Nicholson 2012) has been intended primarily to effect a shift in contemporary discussions in the philosophy of science. Nonetheless, it may also impact our insights into the nature of early modern mechanism (EMM) in its historical diversity. Indeed, many of the prominent papers in the contemporary mechanisms literature make explicit (but often general or ambiguous) connections to cases of EMM. How should we think of these suggested connections?

Mechanism, capital m and mechanisms, little m: ontological considerations, heuristics and analogies

A brief consideration of some of the contemporary ‘mechanisms’ literature reveals that it occasionally engages with early modern forms of mechanism (which ones is never made extremely clear: Galileo? Descartes? Boyle? Hobbes? Spinoza? Etc.), sometimes in order to find historical support for a claim, sometimes on the contrary to distinguish its newer, 21st-century claims from those of early modern philosophy and the Scientific Revolution.