Cartesian Empiricisms


Mihnea Dobre and Tammy Nyden (eds.), Cartesian Empiricisms (Dordrecht: Springer, 2013), ISBN 978-94-007-7690-6, xiii, 326 pp.

Alberto VANZO*

Cartesian Empiricisms is a collection of twelve essays on seventeenth-century and early eighteenth-century authors – mostly natural philosophers – who were active in France, the Netherlands, Germany and England. The editors present them as “Cartesian thinkers heavily involved in the practice, pedagogy, and theory of experiment” (2). Except Antoine Le Grand, none of them was a strict follower of Descartes. However, they all endorsed some Cartesian doctrines – often not the same doctrines – while engaging with a wide set of issues, from the technique of blood transfusion to the denial of demonic action in the world. The volume labels these authors as empiricists not because they rejected innate ideas or substantive a priori knowledge (several of them accepted both), but because they gave “observation, experience, and/or experiment a key role for knowledge acquisition in their natural philosophy” (12). One may prefer to speak of key roles as these authors had varied attitudes toward experience and experiments. The connection between them is “not a
shared set of core principles, but a family resemblance” (12-13).

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