An Empire Divided: French Natural Philosophy (1670–1690)
For some 30 years, historians of science and philosophy working on the seventeenth century have endeavored to blur the edges of an opposition that had until then been generally accepted, namely, between the “new philosophy” on [the] one hand and an “old philosophy” on the other. In a nutshell, this generally received opposition was based on the idea that there had been a Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century that consisted not only of the appearance of new sciences or of the discovery of new results in old sciences, but also of a change in the very principles of natural philosophy. From an ontological viewpoint in particular, the “new philosophers” had the right idea of substituting the clear principles of matter and motion for the old obscure entities that were the various occult qualities, substantial forms and virtues of all sorts. And thanks to these new ontological principles, which earned the new philosophers who defended them the title of “mechanical philosophers,” it became possible to begin truly to explain natural phenomena and the triumphal road to modern physics was opened.