Philosophy 2006 Lecture Notes - Great Machine

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15 Apr 2012
Unit IV Lecture V March 13, 2012
Boyle & Mechanism
Nature As A Machine
17th c. new approach to understanding natural objects and processes emerged
Nature was conceived as a great machine
This means that, when we give an explanation of something in nature, we would explain
how it works the same way we would explain how a machine of our own making would
Distinctions Between Mechanism & What Came Before
o Aristotle many different kinds of principles (forms, qualities, souls, natures);
many different kinds of motion (substantial change, quantitative, qualitative, etc.)
o Mechanists only two things: matter & motion
The Natural & The Artificial
o Aristotle distinction between the natural and the artificial; natural things have an
internal principle of motion and rest; artificial things are made by human
o Mechanists no difference; we are simply machines, operating according to
natural, mechanical laws that govern all behaviour
The Clock
According to Boyle, the world “is, as it were, a great piece of clockwork”
o Meaning nature is a machine, can be fully understood just like a machine
o Do not need to think of living things as organisms, and no longer need to think of
the cosmos as a living thing
Clock’s behaviour is regular, just like natural phenomena
In many cases, the mechanisms in a clock are hidden from plain viewjust as in nature,
those mechanisms are hidden
Clocks and machines can appear to be alive and to act purposively, but we know that they
are notwe can explain all the movements of a machine just with reference to its parts
Coined the phrase “mechanical philosophy” in the 1660’s – consists of two “grand
principles” matter and motion
All physical objects, properties, processes, etc will be ultimately explained by appeal to
matter and its motion
ALL changes will ultimately be the result of change of place—called “local motion”
Characterization Of Matter
For Boyle, the only (mechanical) characteristics of matter are:
o For Individual bits of matter:
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