Monday, January 26, 2009

Locke and the idea of the void

In the seventeenth century, the two dominant forms of mechanistic philosophy were Cartesianism and corpuscularianism. The former denied the possibility and hence existence of the void, and the latter affirmed the existence of the void, since matter was ultimately discrete.

Locke, being much in favor of corpuscularianism over Cartesianism (though withholding belief about whether corpuscularianism delivers scientia about natural bodies), surely must have wondered how it is that one can have an idea of a void.

I’ve wondered whether this passage from the Essay could have been deployed by Locke to explain the idea of a void.

“If it were the design of my present undertaking to enquire into the natural causes and manner of perception, I should offer this as a reason why a privative cause might, in some cases at least, produce a positive idea, viz. that all sensation being produced in us only by different degrees and modes of motion in our animal spirits, variously agitated by external objects, the abatement of any former motion must as necessarily produce a new sensation, as the variation or increase of it; and so introduce a new idea, which depends only on a different motion of the animal spirits in that organ (II.viii.4).”
Post a Comment