Volume 92, Issue 1, January 2015
The 11th Robert J. Henle Conference
Descartes among the Novatores
In the Discours de la méthode, Descartes presents himself as a heroic figure, standing up against the current Aristotelian orthodoxy in philosophy, and offering something new, a mechanist physics and the metaphysics to go along with it. But Descartes was by no means the only challenger to Aristotelian natural philosophy: by Descartes’s day, there were many. Descartes was read as one of this group, generally called the novatores (innovators) in Latin, and often severely criticized for their advocacy of the new. Descartes himself wanted to separate his philosophy from that of the novatores, who were thought to seek novelty rather than truth. But it was not so easy to distance himself. Many contemporary commentators, like Charles Sorel, put Descartes squarely in their camp, but at exactly the moment when novelty and innovation in natural philosophy was changing from being worthy of scorn to being praiseworthy.