Pedro Pricladnitzky New Voices Research Profile

The philosophy of nature occupies a central place in Margaret Cavendish’s highly diversified body of work, making up most of her philosophical output. In the search for the establishment of the causes of all natural phenomena, we find three aspects that represent Cavendish’s approach: materialism, vitalism, and  panpsychism. Cavendish was committed to materialism from the beginning. She states, both in the Philosophical Fancies (1653) and in the Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1655), that nature is a thing, or a substance, that is material and infinite. This substance is composed of an infinite number of material parts that have movement. Cavendish is explicit: everything that exists is material and corporeal. She does not recognize the existence of any immaterial natural entities, affirming that the mind is also something which has extension. Although Cavendish’s conception of materialism seems to waver, starting out from an atomism that would come to be rejected in her mature works, this perspective is constant in her thinking; being deeply treated in the later works Observations Upon Experimental Philosophy (1666) and Grounds of Natural Philosophy (1668). Cavendish’s materialism has peculiarities that distinguish it from the materialism customarily associated with 17th-century philosophers of nature. For her, the corporeal nature is moving, alive and has cognitive abilities. Matter, therefore, has the intrinsic ability to move. Motion, as a property of matter, cannot be transferred without the matter that supports it also being transferred. For Cavendish, motion is not obtained by something external to matter, nor is it something independent. She rejects the mechanistic model of motion which assumes the transfer of a quantity of motion between one part of matter and another through collision. If a part of matter has a certain amount or a certain degree of motion, that characteristic cannot be lost or communicated without changing the unity of that part.


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