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Volume 31 • Number 1

January 2014



The Concept of Space and the Metaphysics of Extended Substance in Descartes

by Joseph Zepeda

There are long-standing debates in Descartes scholarship surrounding the metaphysics of extended substance. Some of the central topics involved are the real and modal distinctions, nominalism versus Platonism about the essence of extended things, and the unity or multiplicity (and divisibility or indivisibility) of extended substance. In the recent literature, a group of scholars—Thomas Lennon (2007), Kurt Smith (2010), and then Smith and Alan Nelson (2010)—favors a reading of Descartes as a monist about extended substance and an idealist (or even a transcendental idealist) about finite bodies. Other commentators, including Marleen Rozemond and Calvin Normore in recent papers, are loosely united by the claims that Descartes was a pluralist about extended substance and a realist about particular bodies (Rozemond 2011; Schmaltz 2009; Normore 2008; Slowik 2001; Stuart 1999; Des Chene 1996). My topic here is Descartes's account of the concept of space and its relationship to body. Because the discussion of place and space is closely connected with motion and divisibility, the texts concerning space are important for interpreting Descartes's metaphysics of the material world, and they show up frequently in that literature. My claim here is that a careful interpretation of the concept of space in Descartes's Principles of Philosophy supports the second kind of reading of the metaphysics of extension: there are many extended substances that are really distinct, and these particular parts of matter are real as opposed to phenomenal.

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ISSN: 2152-1026