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2016-2017: II Semestre: Conatus and inertia between metaphysics, physics and social theory in the 17th century  

Phd School in Philosophy and Human Sciences

A.A. 2016-2017


Conatus and Inertia between Metaphysics, Physics and Social Theory in the 17th Century

Lecturer: dott. Tzuchien Tho (Università degli Studi di Milano)


The goal of this seminar is to address the multi-directional trajectory that the concept of conatus (from the Latin root cōnor) has played in the emergence of modern philosophy. The word had wide currency in Latin philosophical works since the Hellenistic period and was used in relation to notions of appetition, tendencies or strivings. In the physical contexts of the late scholastics, the term became associated with physical impetus. Given its general and non- technical use, the “conatus” was both widespread and equivocal in the early modern period but, at the same time, claimed by various thinkers in a semantically precise and narrow ways. It was in the early modern period that this notion of “striving” was associated with its conceptual opposite, “inertia” (a tendency to rest). Through this and a series of other historical shifts, early modern thinkers developed conatus qua inertia vis-a-vis the notion of a motion, matter, force or property persisting in its state through time and space. Whether we understand this concept as perdurance or endurance, unity or synthesis, the problem of conatus and inertia cuts through fields across natural science, metaphysics, and political theory.

What is highlighted here is obviously how the early modern period provided new concepts for the understanding of identity through change in different domains. With the waning of Scholastic substance concepts, physical notions of identity required different metaphysical grounds. At the same time, the conatus concept reached beyond physics to involve problems of organic unity, individual consciousness, metaphysical objecthood and the coherence of individual and collective action. Across these wide-ranging issues, the notion of conatus provides a tool of reduction and individuation. We shall examine the classical accounts of this concept in this seminar. Moving from the birth of modern astronomy with Kepler and Galileo, shall examine Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Newton. Along the way, we will touch on the importance of this concept for contemporary thought. 


122 May

Kepler, New astronomy; Galileo, Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems 

Sala Seminari 
223 May

Descartes, The world; Principles of philosophy II and III ; Newton, Principia Mathematica 

Sala Seminari 
324 May

Hobbes, On body; Leviathan 

Sala Seminari 
425 May

Spinoza, Metaphysical thoughts; Ethica 

Enzo Paci

Guest lecture by F. Silvestri entitled: “From motion to conatus: Spinoza and Hobbes on individuation” 

526 May

Newton, De Gravitatione; Leibniz, Mechanical principles 

Sala seminari 

You may find all the readings at the link below: 

Info: Tzuchien.Tho@gmail.com

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