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A highly reductive theory of the structure of the world, in which all things are made of an infinite number of randomly moving indivisible cells (corpuscles).

This is also known as mechanical philosophy, and was a philosophy of nature popular during the seventeenth century. It sought to explain all natural phenomena in terms of the configuration, motions and collisions of small unobservable particles of matter, or atomies, later known as ‘atoms’.

This philosophy has its roots in the writing of the ancient Epicurus and his Roman disciple, Lucretius. These two men sought to explain all phenomena in terms of the chance collisions of material atoms in empty space. Epicurus believed that atoms have always existed and are infinite in number.

By the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the atomism of Epicurus seemed particularly compatible with the spirit of the new astronomy and physics, rather than the doctrines of Platonism, Stoicism or Aristotelianism. During this period some of its advocates included Sebastian Basso (1550-1600), Walter Warner (1570-1642) and the Dutch schoolteacher Isaac Beeckman (1588-1637), who was influential on later mechanists like Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650).

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Contributed by: Richard P Whaite

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