Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion
Mechanical Philosophy in the Making
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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This book has been long in the making. It goes back to my student days at the University of Groningen in the 1970s, when as a research assistant I was to asked to take a quick look at what Isaac Beeckman’s printed Journal might reveal about his relationship with René Descartes. The material was so over-whelming that I decided to write a Ph.D. thesis at Utrecht University on Beeck-...
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The so- called scientifi c revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is and will forever remain one of the major episodes in modern history. The more we know about it, the harder it becomes to say exactly what happened in the century and a half between Copernicus and Isaac Newton, but we do know that the new science that emerged in that period had a tremendous impact. It ...
1 The Making of a Natural Philosopher, 1588–1619
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To the modern visitor, Middelburg, the capital of the Dutch province of Zee-land, appears quiet and friendly, perhaps even picturesque. Compared to the bustling city of Rotterdam, an hour away by car or train, Middelburg is a small city frozen in time. The medieval abbey with its cloister and the slender church steeple, the city hall in late Gothic style, and the weather- beaten ware houses ...
2 Schoolteacher and Craftsman, 1619–1627
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While Beeckman and Descartes discussed natural philosophy in Breda, farther north, in Holland and Utrecht, the great religious conflict of the Twelve Years’ Truce entered its fi nal phase. In the summer of 1618, Maurice of Nassau, the military leader of the Dutch Republic, took the side of the Counter- Remonstrants, the hard- liners among the Dutch Reformed. In his oﬃ cial ...
3 Among Patricians and Philosophers, 1627–1637
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Dordrecht, as the oldest city in the province, enjoyed many privileges in the as-sembly of the States of Holland. The city had the right to appoint the state pensionary— the highest administrator of the States— who also acted as the leader of the delegation of the States of Holland to the States General, the gen-eral assembly of the Dutch Republic. As such, the pensionary sometimes func-...
4 Principles of Mechanical Philosophy I: Matter
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Isaac Beeckman’s ideas about the natural world come to us in a chaotic, disor-dered manner, even in the printed pages of the Centuria and the Journal. How-ever, these ideas themselves were not chaotic and confused. Beeckman’s notes and speculations present a remarkably coherent though not systematically de-veloped philosophy of nature. Although Beeckman’s philosophy appears frag-...
5 Principles of Mechanical Philosophy II: Motion
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Given that the mechanical philosophy begins with the assumption that matter is purely passive, what then is the cause of change in matter? Change cannot be the result of any inherent tendency in matter to change, which would contra-dict the assumption that there are no inherent qualities or powers in matter. Change always arises from external forces that compel matter to change. Such ...
6 Sources for a Mechanical Philosophy
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As a mechanical phi los o pher, Beeckman claimed to be self- taught. He wrote in 1620 that “in philosophy and medicine I have had no teacher whosoever, and in mathematics I had a nonacademic teacher for three months only, thirteen years ago.”1 Earlier, he had admitted to Descartes that he had never spoken with any-one else about his way of integrating physics and mathematics.2 But Beeck-...
7 Beeckman and the Scientific Revolution
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Is the Ramist inspiration for Beeckman’s mechanical philosophy important? Such an assessment ultimately depends on Beeckman’s place in what historians still refer to as the scientifi c revolution of the seventeenth century. Was his an isolated case with minimal historical impact, or did his ideas play an important role in early modern natural philosophy? For a long time, historians minimized ...
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The obvious place to begin any research on Isaac Beeckman’s natural philosophy is the Journal tenu par Isaac Beeckman de 1604 à 1634, publié avec une introduction et des notes par C. de Waard, 4 vols. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoﬀ , 1939– 53). This excellent edition in-cludes scientifi c and technical notes as well as remarks of a more personal nature. In addition to Beeckman’s correspondence, the fourth volume comprises almost all archi-...
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Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 9 line drawings
Publication Year: 2013