Cordemoy, Géraud de (1626–1684)

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Géraud de Cordemoy, a French lawyer, historian, and philosopher, was born in Paris. From about 1657 on, he frequented Cartesian circles and soon developed some distinctive (but seemingly un-Cartesian) theses, such as atomism and occasionalism. He met Bishop Jacques Bénigne Bossuet in October 1668 and through him became lecteur ordinaire to the dauphin in 1673. During this period he was engaged, at Bossuet's order, on a biography of Charlemagne, which was understood as involving a complete history of the French monarchy. He did not finish the work, though it was completed and published posthumously in two volumes by his oldest son, Louis-Géraud, along with other unpublished manuscripts and a three-volume collection of his works. Cordemoy was elected to the Académie Française in 1675. His fame rests on his attempts to extend Cartesian philosophy to the fields of language and communication, in Discours physique de la parole (1668), and on his advocacy of Cartesian orthodoxy, such as the doctrine of animal-machines and the consistency of Cartesianism with Genesis in Lettre écrite à un scavant religieux (1668), but above all, Cordemoy is known for the views he defended in Le discernement du corps et de l'ame (1666).

For René Descartes, the principal attribute of body is extension and that of mind is thought. The first half of this tenet was thought to entail the impossibility of both atoms and the void: atoms, because extension was considered indefinitely divisible, and the void, because space was identified with the extension of bodies. Cordemoy offered a variation of Cartesian mechanical philosophyeverything in the physical world is explained in terms of the size, shape, and motion of particlesbut one that required atoms and the void. He rejected the indefinite division of body and the Cartesian identification of space with extension. He distinguished body and matter, matter being an assemblage of bodies, and claimed that bodies as such were impenetrable and could not be divided or destroyed.

He even criticized the Cartesian principle of individuation of bodies as shared motion, pointing out that a body at rest between other bodies would have to constitute a single body with the other bodies, even though one has a clear and natural idea of a body at rest between other bodies. Cordemoy proposed that shape, rather than motion, distinguishes the indivisible atoms. Cordemoy further reduced all forms of motion to local motion, arguing that no body has motion by itself. The prime moverultimately Godis necessarily a mind, though one's mind is not capable to begin, stop, or accelerate a motion; it can only change its direction. According to Cordemoy, this change of direction or "determination" of motion is not a change in the quantity of motion. The application of this analysis to the problem of the union of the soul and body led Cordemoy to occasionalism: Changes in the soul occur on the occasion of motions in its body, and vice versa.

Cartesians, such as Robert Desgabets and Nicolas Malebranche, criticized Cordemoy's atomism, though others, such as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, praised it. Leibniz rejected Cordemoy's physical atoms, but spoke of Cordemoy as recognizing something of the truth when he tried to save the substantial unity of bodies; according to Leibniz, something lacking extension is required for the substance of bodies, otherwise there would be no source for the reality of phenomena. Other aspects of Cordemoy's philosophy were options generally discussed at the time; Cartesians, such as Johannes Clauberg and Louis de La Forge, had already proposed versions of occasionalism. But Cordemoy produced a more systematic treatment, starting from the physics of motion, which anticipated a number of Malebranche's theses, including the soul knowing itself directly by consciousness, but without a clear idea, and the existence of the body being known only indirectly, as the object of faith.

See also Cartesianism.


works by cordemoy

Le monde de Mr Descartes ou le traité de la lumière et autres principaux objets des sens, avec un discours de l'action des corps et un autre des fièvres, composés selon les principes du même auteur. Paris: Jacques le Gras, 1664. The Discours de l'action des corps is the second discours of Le discernement du corps et de l'ame.

Le discernement du corps et de l'ame, en six discours. Paris: F. Lambert, 1666, with editions in 1670, 1671, 1679, 1680, and 1683.

Discours physique de la parole. Paris: F. Lambert, 1668, with editions in 1671, 1677, and 1704. English translation: A Philosophical Discourse concerning Speech. London: John Martin, 1668.

Copie d'une lettre écrite à un scavant Religieux de la Compagnie de Jesus: pour montrer, I. que le Systeme de Monsieur Descartes & son opinion touchant les bestes n'ont rien de dangereux, II. et que tout ce qu'il en a écrit semble estre tiré du premier Chapitre de la Genese. Paris: N.p., 1668. English translation: A Discourse Written to a Learned Friar. London: Moses Pitt, 1670.

Tractatus physici duo: I, de corporis et mentis distinctione; II, de loquela. Geneva: J. Pictetum, 1679. This is a Latin translation of Le discernement du corps et de l'ame and Discours physique de la parole.

Histoire de France. 2 vols. Published by Louis-Géraud de Cordemoy. Paris: J.-B. Coignard, 16851689.

Dissertations physiques sur le discernement du corps et de l'ame. 2 vols. Paris: Veuve D. Dion, 168990. This contains Le discernement du corps et de l'ame, Discours physique de la parole, and Lettre écrite à un scavant religieux.

Divers traitez de métaphysique, d'histoire et de politique. Published by Louis-Géraud de Cordemoy. Paris: Veuve de J.-B. Coignard, 1691.

Les oeuvres de feu monsieur de Cordemoy. 3 vols. Published by Louis-Géraud de Cordemoy. Paris: C. Remy, 1704.

Oeuvres philosophiques, edited by Pierre Clair and François Girbal. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1968.

works about cordemoy

Balz, Albert G. A. Cartesian Studies. New York: Columbia University Press, 1951.

Battail, Jean-François. L'avocat philosophe Géraud de Cordemoy (16261684). The Hague: Nijhoff, 1973.

Nicolosi, Salvatore. Il dualismo da Cartesio a Leibniz: Cartesio, Cordemoy, La Forge, Malebranche, Leibniz. Venice, Italy: Marsilio, 1987.

Prost, Joseph. Essai sur l'atomisme et l'occasionalisme dans la philosophie cartésienne. Paris: Henry Paulin, 1907.

Scheib, Andreas. Zur Theorie individueller Substanzen bei Géraud de Cordemoy. New York: Peter Lang, 1997.

Roger Ariew (2005)

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Cordemoy, Géraud de (1626–1684)

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