Cartesianism and the Kinematics of Mechanisms: Or, How to find Fixed Reference Frames in a Cartesian Space-time

Noûs 32 (3):364-385 (1998)
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Abstract

In De gravitatione, Newton contends that Descartes' physics is fundamentally untenable since the "fixed" spatial landmarks required to ground the concept of inertial motion cannot be secured in the constantly changing Cartesian plenum. Likewise, it is has often been alleged that the collision rules in Descartes' Principles of Philosophy undermine the "relational" view of space and motion advanced in this text. This paper attempts to meet these challenges by investigating the theory of connected gears (or "kinematics of mechanisms") for a potential Cartesian method of positing the permanent reference frames necessary to uphold Descartes' conservation law for the quantity of motion. In particular, the insights gained from an examination of the kinematics of mechanisms will provide the Cartesian with much needed resources to counter the two threats posed above.

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Edward Slowik
Winona State University

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