Three Traditions in Mechanism

Part of the Archimedes book series (ARIM, volume 17)

Within the traditions of mechanism, both strategies for legitimating claims to truth — the scientistic and the metaphysical strategy — appear to have been largely indifferent to content. Thus when I now distinguish, in terms of content, three different lines within mechanism, this does not suggest which legitimating strategy was involved in which line.

The defining criterion, which will be further differentiated later on, is the position held by each mechanistic concept of nature (mostly understood in the narrower sense) on the notions of matter and force: concepts that reject an independent notion of force, I call “materialist” and those concepts that conversely explain all properties of matter from effects of force, I call “dynamic”. An intermediate position between these two extremes is held by the “dual” mechanism, which views matter and force as irreducible fundamental ideas. This classification ideally typifies the lines and was historically effective for distinguishing the various theoretical strands. At least from the time of Newton's mechanics onward, forces were the central issue of debate in mechanistic philosophy of nature. The designations used for the various drifts, however, differ from mine. While the “materialist” line was normally considered the epitome of the “mechanistic” concept of nature, no unique name was associated with the dual line, although the literature rarely doubts its mechanistic character (in the broader sense). Only with respect to dynamic mechanism does my designation largely coincide with the term used historically, being the term introduced by Leibniz and taken up particularly by Kant and contrasted with the “mechanistic” concept of nature. While these kinds of dynamism adhered fairly closely to the notion of force used by mechanics, the ideas of force prevalent in romantic philosophy of nature following Schelling, likewise called “dynamic”, defined the essence of natural events as an immaterial and universal agent.


Dynamic Mechanism Natural Event Dual Mechanism Materialist Mechanism Infinite Divisibility 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2009

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