Chapter

Gassendi and the Seventeenth-Century Atomists on Primary and Secondary Qualities

Antonia LoLordo

in Primary and Secondary Qualities

Published in print April 2011 | ISBN: 9780199556151
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725548 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199556151.003.0004
Gassendi and the Seventeenth-Century Atomists on Primary and Secondary Qualities

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Gassendi explicates the various qualities of bodies in atomist terms. But unlike most of his contemporaries, he does not distinguish primary and secondary qualities or argue that the size, shape, and motion of macroscopic bodies have a privileged metaphysical status their colors and tastes lack. This is because all qualities, for Gassendi, are textures—structures of atoms vibrating in locked patterns. Qualities like motion and taste are only epistemically different: we have a better grasp on what texture of bodies constitutes macro-level shape than taste. This chapter suggests that this epistemic difference is not the primary quality–secondary quality distinction—although this does depend on what philosophical work you expect the distinction to do. The chapter also suggests that Gassendi does not distinguish primary and secondary qualities because his physics is qualitative rather than quantitative. Hence, macro-level size, shape, and motion are mere explananda.

Keywords: Gassendi; Charleton; atomism; corpuscularianism; mechanism; primary qualities; secondary qualities; powers; appearances; texture

Chapter.  9655 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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