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By Joseph J. Kockelmans (Editor)

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As Descartes’s metaphysics unfolds, this idea of some properties being referred to others which are ‘principal’ comes to echo the Aristotelian schema according to which some properties ‘flow from’ and are explained by reference to others. The impenetrability of material bodies is (as in chapter 4) supposed to follow from their being extended, and (as in chapters 5 and 6) all the phenomena of nature are explicable in terms of extended matter in motion. In explanation of the second of his examples of the substance/ principal property/mode schema Descartes says that whatever we find in the mind ‘is simply one of the various modes of thinking….

He must at some point have begun with various things we all know, and then worked backwards in an attempt to explain those things. But what he presents is first, the things that explain and make sense of other things, and then the things he is making sense of. It is not clear why Spinoza chose this synthetic method of presentation for the Ethics; he said himself that it is ‘cumbersome’ (4P18S). It perhaps has some appropriateness to its subject matter, for when we follow it we are following the order of things, and our mind, as Spinoza says, ‘reproduce[s] completely the likeness of Nature’ (C 20).

10)14 The fact that lead comes in chunks and not in ‘leads’ does not mean that there is only one lead; it means that there is only lead as such. Strictly speaking, therefore, Descartes’s view that there are not many corporeal substances does not mean that there is only one, but that there is only corporeal substance as such. As Leibniz remarked, ‘When Descartes and others say that “there is one substance for all corporeal beings”, they mean one similar nature, and do not, I think, intend that all bodies together make one substance’ (L 537).

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