The uses of mechanism: Corpuscularianism in drafts a and B of Locke's essay

In William Newman, John Murdoch & Cristoph Lüthy (eds.), Late Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscularian Matter Theory. E.J. Brill. pp. 515-534 (2001)
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Abstract

That corpuscularianism played a critical role in Locke’s philosophical thought has perhaps now attained the status of a truism. In particular, it is universally acknowledged that the primary/secondary quality distinction and the conception of real essence found in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding cannot be understood apart from the corpuscularian science of Locke’s time.1 When Locke provides lists of the primary qualities of bodies,2 the qualities that “are really in them whether we perceive them or no,” those lists show strong resemblances to Robert Boyle’s views about the “primary affections” of matter, as expressed in such influential programmatic works as On the Origin of Forms and Qualities.3 Moreover, Locke’s conception of the real essences of bodies, the inner constitutions which serve as the causal sources of all their properties, typically appears to be a corpuscularian one.4 Nevertheless, the question of the nature of Locke’s philosophical allegiance to corpuscularianism remains a controversial one.5..

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Lisa Downing
Ohio State University

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