Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 29, number 85, abril 1997
El atomismo y las sustancias en Descartes
Claudia Lorena García
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Abstract: I argue that Descartes’ doctrine concerning the indefinite divisibility of any piece of matter amounts, for him, to the view that any such piece is actually composed of indefinitely many corporeal substances, each of which is really distinct from the others —something that no Seventeenth Century atomist could accept. Then, I distinguish and examine three concepts of substance in Descartes and argue that he cannot unproblematically assert that finite bodies —all of which are aggregates— are substances in either of the three senses of ‘substance’. Finally, I examine the different characterizations of the real distinction that, according to Descartes, exists among substances, and argue that he cannot claim that any two finite bodies are really distinct substances; hence, that he cannot support his contention that any piece of matter is indefinitely divisible. I conclude (1) that, ultimately, Descartes cannot sustain a convincing position against the atomist; and (2) that an examination of the notions of substance and of the real distinction in Descartes allow us to understand clearly some of the intellectual shifts that occur from Descartes to Spinoza and Leibniz.

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