Early Modern Cosmology Between “Mosaic Physics” and Mechanical Philosophy (1650-1713)

Project Code: PN-III-P1-1.1-TE-2016-0710

Principal Investigator: Mihnea Dobre

Abstract. This project explores the intermixture of several disciplines in the formation of “the new science” in the early modern period, spanning from Descartes’s death in 1650 up to the second edition of Newton’s Principia in 1713. It aims to show how philosophy, physics, and theology grounded new cosmologies and mingled in one coherent enterprise. Our proposal challenges the current focus on the Newtonian critique of Descartes’s vortex-model of the world. It argues that a new perspective upon the relations between Cartesianism and Newtonianism emerges by looking at early modern reconstructions of the Biblical account of Creation in mechanical terms. We analyse Descartes’s justificatory accounts in his correspondence, where he states that his physics is compatible with the Creation story from Genesis. Furthermore, we explore how these statements were developed by his early followers who were seeking to formulate a “Mosaic physics.” Our project examines this neglected episode of the publication and reception of several treatises comparing the Mosaic history of Creation with the new Cartesian philosophy. Beyond filling this gap in the study of early modern cosmology, our approach has a twofold advantage. First, it offers a source-oriented analysis of the “Mosaization” of Cartesian philosophy, bringing into the spotlight a series of currently lesser-known cosmological treatises which were very successful at their time and, thus, contributed to the spread of Cartesian philosophy. Second, it shows how Cartesianism – broadly understood – was a source of inspiration for cosmogonical and cosmological speculations even for figures who otherwise abandoned the Cartesian system, such as the early Newtonians. Thus, the project has a broader scope and our study of early modern cosmologies opens novel prospects for understanding the intricate early modern debates about religion, natural philosophy, and metaphysics.

Research Team:


Mihnea Dobre (Principal Investigator) is teaching and doing research at the University of Bucharest. He has a PhD in philosophy (Radboud University Nijmegen and University of Bucharest), and his research interest is in the history of philosophy and science. He works on the various aspects of the early modern period, with a focus on the relations between philosophy, science, and religion. He is the author of a monograph on Descartes and Early French Cartesianism: between metaphysics and physics (Zeta Books, 2017) and co-editor of the Cartesian Empiricisms volume (Springer, 2013). For a list of Dobre’s publications and conference papers, see his page. He is book review editor at the Centaurus, An International Journal of the History of Science and its Cultural Aspects. Dobre is the PI of this project.


Grigore Vida is a historian of the philosophy and science of the early modern period, member of the Research Center “Foundations of Modern Thought” and of the Center for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science (both at the University of Bucharest). He has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Bucharest with the thesis Metaphysics and Natural Philosophy in Isaac Newton (2011). He has worked within a team on a Romanian edition of Descartes’ complete correspondence, and has also contributed to translations from the works of Francis Bacon. His main interest is the relation between metaphysics, natural philosophy and mathematics in the works of scientifically minded philosophers of the 17th century. In this project, he will investigate the interaction between Cartesianism and Newtonianism, the debate between Descartes and Henry More, and the cosmological project of Thomas Burnet.


Ovidiu Babeș is PhD student at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, writing a dissertation on the relation between mathematics and natural philosophy in Descartes’s works. His main area of research interest is in the history of early modern science (including here natural philosophy, history of mathematics, the rise of experimental philosophy). He has worked on topics such as early modern doctrines of demonstration, the status of mixed-mathematical disciplines within the Aristotelian division of sciences, Descartes’s optics and mechanics, the establishment of the Royal Society, and John Wilkins’s cosmology.

Bogdan Deznan

Bogdan-Antoniu Deznan is a PhD candidate at the University of Bucharest. He is also a research associate of the Cambridge Centre for the Study of Platonism (University of Cambridge). The topic of his doctoral dissertation is the concept of deification in the thought of the Cambridge Platonists (primarily Benjamin Whichcote, John Smith, Henry More, and Ralph Cudworth) and how this issue relates to the larger early modern theological and philosophical contexts. His primary research interests concern the history of theological and philosophical ideas in the early modern period, the appropriation of Patristic and Platonic/Neoplatonic sources in the seventeenth century, the theological underpinnings of natural philosophy, and the interplay between metaphysical and theological discourses.

Ioana Bujor

Ioana Bujor  is a PhD student at the Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, University of Bucharest. For her doctoral dissertation she is working on a translation (from Latin into Romanian) of Baruch Spinoza’s Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae, focusing on the implications of Hebrew language in Spinoza’s thought.She has previously worked on the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, dealing with translation or interpretation of some key-chapters concerning hermeneutics of the Bible. Her primary research interests include early modern philosophy, philosophy of religion, Biblical exegesis, and Jewish philosophy.

Project development

October 2018

  • Research seminars

November 2018

  • Research seminars

December 2018

January 2019

  • Research seminars

February 2019

  • Research seminars

March 2019

  • Research seminars
  • Translation seminar (Cordemoy).

April 2019

May 2019

  • Research seminars
  • Translation seminar (Cordemoy).

June 2019

July 2019

  • Translation seminar (Cordemoy).
  • Deznan, Bogdan-Antoniu. “The God of the Platonists in 17th Century England – Ralph Cudworth and the Metaphysics of Difference,” in the conference on The Cambridge Platonists at the Origins of Enlightenment: Texts, Debate, and Reception (1650-1730) (Cambridge, 18-19 July).

August 2019

  • Babeș, Ovidiu. “Individuating scientific practices: Anscombe and action descriptions,” in the conference on From φ-science to practical realism: an international conference in honour of Rein Vihalemm (1938–2015) (Tartu, Estonia, 13-14 August 2019).

September 2019

October 2019

  • Research visit at the University of Cambridge (Bogdan Deznan).
  • Research visit at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin (Mihnea Dobre).
  • Dobre, Mihnea. “Early Modern Textbooks and Digital Tools: exploring the transmission of knowledge” in the seminar Brown Bag Lunch in Digital Humanities (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, 01.10.2019).
  • Dobre, Mihnea. “Géraud de Cordemoy on the Cartesian Theory of Animal Machines and the Use of Scripture” in the series of Premodern Conversations (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, 17.10.2019).
  • A complete translation draft (in Romanian) of Cordemoy’s Copie d’une lettre écrite à un sçavant religieux de la Compagnie de Jésus (Paris, 1668).

November 2019

  • A new member joined the research team: Ioana Bujor.
  • Dobre, Mihnea. “Religion and Philosophy: Cartesian cosmology in the late seventeenth century” in the conference on Eclecticism and Eclectic Philosophy in the 17th and 18th Centuries (ICUB-Humanities and New Europe College, Bucharest, 04-05.11.2019).
  • Outreach: Dobre, Mihnea. Interview for “Radio Cultural” (04.11.2019).
  • Research seminars.

December 2019

January 2020

February 2020

March 2020

  • Online collaborative work – Research seminars (discussion of drafts prepared within the project).
  • Due to the current pandemic, some of our planned activities have been canceled (in March: 2 conferences in Belgium and Bulgaria). We are currently exploring various ways to discuss and disseminate our research results, including open access venues.

April 2020

  • Online collaborative work – Research seminars (discussion of drafts prepared within the project).
  • Conferences scheduled for the next few months have either been postponed or canceled. For example, one conference scheduled in March (19-21 March) has been rescheduled in October (15-17 October). Mihnea Dobre prepared a paper on Depicting Cartesian Cosmology in the Seventeenth Century, but the event will take place after the end date of the project (9 October 2020).
  • In order to replace the traditional working environment with virtual work, we are currently switching to online collaborative work. A result is the exhibition on Cartesian cosmological illustrations, which is available here (currently in a test phase, with some updates scheduled for the end of April and significant changes in mid-May): https://cartesian.unibuc.ro/s/cosmologicalillustrations/page/welcome.
  • Outreach activity include a blog-platform (in Romanian) hosted on the same online platform as the Cartesian cosmological illustrations collection: https://cartesian.unibuc.ro/s/cosmologii-carteziene/page/home. We’ll post once per month. The text for April is Cosmologia carteziană și fizica mozaică (by Mihnea Dobre).

May 2020

  • Online collaborative work – Research seminars (discussion of drafts prepared within the project).
  • Expanded the online platform:

June 2020