27 February 2004
The Metaphysics of Rest in Cartesian Physics
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
There has been considerable discussion in the literature on Descartes
concerning the ontological status of the "force of rest"
that he posited in his physics. I claim, against certain occasionalist
readings of Descartes, that he identified this force with modes
of the duration of resting bodies. My main concern is to show how
Descartes's view, on this interpretation, is related to the later
Cartesian rejection of the appeal to a force of rest. I consider
in particular the very different arguments against such an appeal
in the work of two French Cartesians, the occasionalist Nicolas
Malebranche and his anti-occasionalist opponent Pierre-Sylvain Regis.
For Malebranche, no force of rest is required since rest is a mere
privation, and thus nothing that requires a power in God beyond
what is involved in his creation of matter. This view in Malebranche
calls into question a popular reading of his occasionalism. Though
Regis initially accepted the existence of a force of rest, he also
suggested something close to Malebranche's position that there is
no force or power responsible for rest as such. However, in his
mature writings Regis went beyond Malebranche in arguing that, Descartes's
position to the contrary notwithstanding, rest bears only an indirect
relation to the duration of bodies.