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Descartes's history of nature: method and experiments in the study of particular bodies

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  • UserFabrizio Baldassarri (Ca' Foscari University in Venice)
  • ClockMonday 07 November 2022, 13:00-14:00
  • HouseZoom.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Silvia M. Marchiori.

After having described the principles of his philosophy in Parts 1 and 2 of the Principia philosophiae (1644), Descartes investigated nature through a short history of natural phenomena in Parts 3 and 4. By means of this original natural history, he attempted to combine a universal, demonstrative science – whose method is a mathesis universalis – with the study of particular bodies. Not an easy task indeed. Descartes buttressed this enterprise by means of observations and experiments, as well as through the exchanges and collaborations with his peers. His correspondence testifies to Descartes’s engagement with particular objects at large, from floating and magic stones to brutes and diverse kind of animals. In this paper, Fabrizio Baldassarri will explore the ways Descartes dealt with such a various, rare, and curios whole of natural bodies, which attracted the attention of his contemporary and the curiosity of patrons. While challenging the disordered curiosity of scholars, Descartes reduced these bodies within the rational order of his method, aiming at encompassing the whole nature within a geometrico-mathematical pattern as he did with the rainbow. In particular, Baldassarri will focus on some specific case studies, the sensitive herb, the Bologna stone, fossils, and various animals. Although Descartes failed to provide a complete mechanization and mathematization of nature, he however engaged with the curiosities of his time that composed the cabinets des curiosités from a scientific perspective and proving the universal ability of his method to order nature and attain certainty.

This talk is part of the Cabinet of Natural History series.

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