, Volume 20, Issue 2, pp 287-290
Date: 07 Sep 2010

From form to mechanism

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Drawing on far-flung sources, especially the Jesuit Aristotelian Suarez, the skeptical physician Sanchez and the Dutch atomist Gorlaeus, Hattab charts Descartes’ rejection of the core scholastic notion of substantial form in favor of the mechanical philosophy epitomized in his mature writings. Hattab’s study is more concerned with the decline of forms than the ascendance of mechanisms, and only with material forms rather than intellectual forms or souls. She maintains, contrary to received scholarly opinion, that Descartes abandoned the forms only during the ‘metaphysical’ (post-Discourse) phase of his career and that the path to this conceptual revolution was cleared, unwittingly, by the thought of reformist philosophers like Suarez as well as by radicals like Sanchez and Gorlaeus.

Hattab divides her study into three sections each comprising two or three chapters. The first section examines Descartes’ specific objections to substantial forms—which he conveniently summarized in a 1642 l