Matter and motion

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A depiction of Isaac Beeckman (1616) developing his new corollaries of a matter and motion based mechanical philosophy, one that rejected the nature abhors a vacuum (Aristotle, 322BC) idiom and the premise that motion cannot occur in a vacuum.

In hmolscience, matter and motion (CR:4) (LH:3) (TL:7), or “matter in motion”, refers to the view that the universe, in a theistic sense, can be explained entirely via matter and movement (Beeckman, 1618; Descartes, c.1625); that matter alone, without the need for god, produces motion (Meslier, 1729); that the universe, defined atheistically, is a "vast assemblage of every thing that exists, presenting only matter and motion: the whole offers to our contemplation nothing but an immense, an uninterrupted succession of causes and effects" (Holbach, 1770); that "every thing in the universe is in motion" (Diderot, 1770); or that all of the order of nature, morality included, can be explained by "force and matter" (Buchner, 1855).



In 1616, Isaac Beeckman, being influence by Epicurus, and a student of Snellius and Simon Stevin, began to question the nature abhors a vacuum idiom; for example:

What is the reason that bodies are moved in any direction, so that a vacuum may not exist in nature? I answer: it happens that air, after the manner of water, presses, upon things and compresses them according to the depth of the super-incumbent air. But some things remain undisturbed, and are not perpetually moved about, because they are everywhere equally compressed by the air above them, just as our divers are pressed by the water. But things rush towards an empty space with great force, on account of the immense depth of the super-incumbent air, and in this way the weight of the air arises. But air must not be said to be heavy, because we walk in it without any pain, as indeed the fishes move in water, suffering no compression.”
— Isaac Beeckman (1614), Journal Notes[1]

In Sep 1618, Beeckman, completed his dissertation, for his MD, in the French city of Caen, wherein he added a number of corollaries of principles in respect to a new mechanical philosophy.[2] The following is a latter communication to this effect:

“You bring forth good arguments about the vacuum. Indeed, if a vacuum is said to exist in the pores of the air, water, lead, etc., or if all the space between the outermost bound of your atmosphere and the stars is said to be empty, nothing follows that is absurd. Really, although the philosophers babble about the necessity of ‘all things being united’, of the ‘propagation of accidents’ and visible appearances in the air, of the ‘impossibility of motion in a vacuum’, etc., these seem to me nothing but old wives’ tales; for I admit nothing in philosophy, unless it is represented to the imagination as being perceptible to the senses.”
— Isaac Beeckman (1629), “Letter to Marin Mersenne”, Oct 1[3]

Here, of note, we see the connection to the Mersenne circle, namely the connect to: Galileo (1632), Gasparo Berti (1639), Evangelista Torricelli (1844), Otto Guericke (1647), and Blaise Pascal (1648), who put this notion to the test. In this period, Beeckman, in short, had developed a view of the world in which everything, from the motion of the heavens to musical harmonies, is explained by reducing it to matter in motion.[4]


In Nov 1618, Beeckman, age 30, in the city of Breda, met Rene Descartes, age 22, then a young military officer, which followed in a series of stimulating conversations, which put Descartes into his matter and motion philosophical line of thinking.[2] A decade or so later, Descartes had come to boast that he had developed his mechanical philosophy enough that he could build the universe out of matter and motion; the following is an off-quoted statement to this effect:

“Give me matter and motion, and out of them I will build the universe.”
Rene Descartes (c.1630), Publication[5]; cited by Ludwig Buchner (1855) in Force and Matter (pg. 64)

Descartes, here, in a matter of key importance, kept god in the picture via "dualism", namely: every thing in the universe can be reduced to matter and motion, except for the motions of matter we call "human", wherein there exists a pineal gland, wherein the "soul" operates as the mover of the matter. Descartes model, in short, was theism-friendly.


In 1729, Jean Meslier, in §65 of his Testament, devotes the first hundred or so pages to so-called Christ cult debunking; for example:

“If our Christ-cultists say that their Jesus Christ was born miraculously from a virgin who had known no men, likewise the pagans had already said that Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were miraculously born of a vestal virgin (see: virgin birth) named Ilia, Sylvia, or Rhea Sylvia. They had already said that Mars, Vulcan, Argus, and others were born of Juno, who had no knowledge of men.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (pg. 129)

Later, after 360-pages of loose ridicule themed talk about how Christianity is a scam, the priests are all corrupt, and Moses and Jesus are all copycat myths, finally begins to digress on the deeper subject of "matter and motion" as the replacement for god:

“The system of the natural formation of things, made by the matter itself of which it is composed, contains no contrast or contradiction and, consequently, it can be assured that it contains nothing impossible. We only have to suppose, e.g., that matter is eternal, that it is what it is of itself and that it moves by itself, which assumption is very simple and natural, and we see clearly enough that there is nothing impossible in this assumption. Firstly, we see that matter exists and that it is not an imaginary and chimerical being. Secondly, we clearly see that a certain portion of matter is capable of division and that all matter is capable of movement and even that matter really is moved: we cannot doubt any of these things. So why could we not suppose that matter is indeed eternal and that it does indeed move by itself, seeing that we see nothing offensive in this and we do not and even cannot see anything that could have created it or given it movement.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§65, pg. 362-63)[6]
Matter is what it is of itself, it moves itself, and is the first cause of all things.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§67, pg. 369)
“All things in the end are reduced to material being, i.e. to matter itself.”
— Jean Meslier (1729), The Testament (§68, pg. 372)

Meslier's work, as some have commented, ignited enlightenment in France, e.g. influencing: Voltaire, Julien Mettrie, Denis Diderot, and Baron Holbach.


In 1770, Baron Holbach, in his The System of Nature: Laws of the Moral and Physical World (AB:1), building Descartes and Meslier, presented through-going out and open atheism-based model of matter and motion. Of note, whereas Meslier had devoted the first half of his Testament to myth debunking and Christianity debasing, and the latter half to matter and motion theory as replacement for god theory, Holbach did the reverse, devoting volume one to matter and motion, and volume two to discussion of the incorrectness of Christianity myth debunking. The Holbach method was a more agreeable-to-the mind method of presentation.[7]

The following are examples:

“The universe, that vast assemblage of every thing that exists, presents only matter and motion: the whole offers to our contemplation nothing but an immense, an uninterrupted succession of causes and effects; some of these causes are known to us, because they strike immediately on our sense; others are unknown to us, because they act upon us by effects, frequently very remote from their original cause.”
Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pg. 15)[8]

Holbach, moreover, added chemical affinities and chemical bonding, into the picture, via Newton's Query 31 (1717), a logic that had not yet been invented at the time of Beeckman and Descartes, from which we begin to see mentions of "energy" in respect to motion and "manner of being":

“Thus, when a body is ponderous, it must fall ; when it falls, It must come in collision with the bodies it meets in its descent ; when it is dense, when it is solid, it must, by reason of this density communicate motion to the bodies with which it clashes; when it has analogy or affinity with these bodies, it must unite with them; when it has no point of analogy with them, it must be repulsed. From which it may be fairly inferred, that, in supposing, as we are under the necessity of doing, the existence of matter, we must suppose it to have some kind of properties, from which its motion, or modes of action, must necessarily flow. To form the universe, Descartes asked but matter and motion: a diversity of matter sufficed for him; variety of motion was the consequence of its existence, of its essence, of its properties: its different modes of action would be the necessary consequence of its different modes of being. Matter without properties, would be a mere nothing: therefore, as soon as matter exists, it must act; as soon as it is various, it must act variously; if it cannot commence to exist, it must have existed from all eternity; if it has always existed, it can never cease to be: if it can never cease to be, it can never cease to act by its own energy. Motion is a manner of being, which matter derives from its peculiar existence.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pg. 22)


Holbach's publication was fortified by footnotes added by Denis Diderot; such as:

“This truth—that every thing in the universe is in motion; the essence of matter is to act: if we consider its parts attentively, we shall discover that not a particle enjoys absolute repose; those which appear to us to be without motion, are, in fact, only in relative or apparent rest; they experience such an imperceptible motion, and expose it so little on their surfaces, that we cannot perceive the changes they undergo—which is still denied by many metaphysicians, has been conclusively established by the celebrated Toland, in a work which appeared in the beginning of the eighteenth century, entitled Letters to Serena. Those who can procure this scarce work will do well to refer to it, and their doubts on the subject, if they have any, will be removed.”
— Denis Diderot (1770), note (pg. 18) to Holbach’s §2: Of Motion and its Origin in System of Nature

Diderot, himself, also drafted his "Philosophical Principles on Matter and Motion", in response to a request for frank review of Holbach's System of Nature; which was published posthumously in 1792.


Holbach, in his bold advance of his through-going all things reduced to matter and motion theory, by repercussion advanced a frontal attack on religion, and the culturally extant belief in the energy of a sun god as the cause of all motion. Holbach specifically declares that we must become knowledgeable about nature in order to destroy gods and belief in gods:

“If the ignorance of nature gave birth to such a variety of gods, the knowledge of this nature is calculated to destroy them.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), The System of Nature (pg. 174) (Ѻ); employed by Percy Shelley (1811) in The Necessity of Atheism (pg. #)

Moreover, advises Holbach, we must banish the "chimeras" (Meslier, 1729) from the mind of the man of genius, which are but wastes of his or her time:

“Let us banish from the man of genius, the ‘chimera’ which makes him waste his time.”
— Baron Holbach (1770), The System of Nature (pg. 298)
“Abandon your chimeras; occupy yourselves with truth; learn the art of happy living; perfect your morals, your governments, and your laws; look to education, to agriculture, and to the sciences that are truly useful; labor with ardor. If you must have chimeras, permit your fellow-creatures to have theirs also; and do not cut the throats of your brethren, when they cannot rave in your own manner. If the infirmities of your nature require an invisible crutch, adopt such as my suit your humor, select those which you may think most calculated to support your tottering frame. Do not let these ‘imaginary beings’ detract from or upset your relations with the ‘real beings’ around you.” — Baron Holbach (1770), System of Nature (pgs. 298-99); note: "chimeras" is a Jean Meslier chapter title; cited by Jennifer Hecht (2003) in Doubt: a History (pgs. 353-54)

To facilitate this banishment of chimeras and imaginary beings, Holbach, and Diderot, are forced to devote much of his foot note side commentary related to the historical debunking the myths of religion; for example:

“Timaeus of Locris (Ѻ), who was a Pythagorean, admits that the doctrine of future punishments was fabulous, solely destined for the imbecility of the uninformed, and but little calculated for those who cultivate their reason.”
— Denis Diderot (1770), "Note", in: The System of Nature (pg. 129)

In addition, the last two chapters to volume one are: §1.18: The Origins of Man’s Ideas upon the Divinity and §1.19: Of Mythology and Theology, and nearly all of volume two is devoted to the "confused and contradictory ideas of theology.


In 1840s, "matter and motion" theory, amid the with the rise of the conservation of force, turned conservation of energy models, began to become usurped by "force and matter" (Buchner, 1855), then "monster of energy" (Nietzsche, 1888) and "energetics" (Ostwald, 1907), prior to themselves being subsumed into the new thermodynamics paradigm.


In 1855, Ludwig Buchner, in his Force and Matter: Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe, with a System of Morality Based Thereon (AB:2), building on Descartes and Holbach, and keeping with Holbach in has atheism position, attempted to expand via digression on the "force" behind the motion, or rather the "force" that produces the motion.[9] Hence, Buchner reduced all things in the universe to "force and matter" instead of "matter and force". Buchner's effort, while commendable, e.g. he begins to discuss Clausius, comparatively, amounted to a watered-down or rather less-powerful version of what Holbach produced in greater form.


In 1880s, Friedrich Nietzsche, building on Buchner and Holbach, and all the other materialism authors, attempted to climb higher, but in the end left a scattering of notes to a "will to power" manuscript, that touched on the newly developed models of thermodynamics, e.g. those of William Thomson, conservation of energy, and head death, which concluded that the universe was a "monster of energy". This was the last attempt at a materialism based theory of everything.


In 1907, Wilhelm Ostwald was promoting he "energetics" model as the new replacement for matter and motion theory; for example:

“It must be restated from its very foundation, because, as I have been maintaining for the last ten years, the matter-and-motion theory (or scientific materialism) has outgrown itself and must be replaced by another theory, to which the name ‘energetics’ has been given. The question therefore takes the form: what has energetics to say about immortality?”
Wilhelm Ostwald (1906), Individuality and Immortality (pg. 7) [10]

In 1909, Ostwald, who, to note, had been under the belief, for the previous three decades, that “matter is only a mirage, which the mind creates to comprehend the workings of energy” (Ostwald, 1887), was forced to recant, following evidenced proofs by Joseph Thomson and Jean Perrin, and admit that "matter" does indeed exist:

“I am now convinced that we have recently become possessed of experimental evidence of the discrete or grained nature of matter, which the atomic hypothesis sought in vain for hundreds and thousands of years. The isolation and counting of gaseous ions, on the one hand, which have crowned with success the long and brilliant researches of Joseph Thomson, and, on the other, agreement of the Brownian movement with the requirements of the kinetic hypothesis, established by many investigators and most conclusively by Jean Perrin, justify the most cautious scientist in now speaking of the experimental proof of the atomic nature of matter, the atomic hypothesis is thus raised to the position of a scientifically well-founded theory, and can claim a place in a text-book intended for use as an introduction to the present state of our knowledge of general chemistry.”
— Wilhelm Ostwald (1909), Textbook of General Chemistry, 4th edition (preface)[11]

Energetics thereafter became thermodynamics, and thermodynamics applied to chemical phenomena, of the kind Ostwald refers to, became chemical thermodynamics, after Lewis (1923).

Chemical thermodynamics

In 1923, Gilbert Lewis published Thermodynamics: and the Free Energy of Chemical Substances, which subsumed and overthrew all previous models, according to which chemical thermodynamics became the new "matter and motion" theory, albeit structured in a much more difficult framework to explain and extrapolate to the social level.

Matter, Motion, and Reaction

See main: Matter, motion, and reaction

In 1995, Libb Thims, via the spontaneity criterion of chemical thermodynamics, which yields a sort of compass for reaction direction in nature, began to build on Beeckman, Descartes, Holbach, Buchner, and Nietzsche, much of which can be read in the articles of Hmolpedia, the aiming-to-be culmination being a finalized treatise on human chemical thermodynamics, which as of 65AE has been worked up though Watt, in manuscript form.[12]

End matter


  1. (a) Beeckman, Isaac. (1614). Journal published from 1604 to 1634 with introduction and notes by Cornelis de Waard (Journal tenu par lui de 1604 a 1634 publie avec une introduction et des notes par Cornelis de Waard) (4 volumes, La Haye, Martinus Nijhoff, 1939-1953), Volume One (pg. 36). Publisher.
    (b) Middleton, William E. (1964). The History of the Barometer (pg. 6) (Amz). Publisher.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ngeerdink. (2017). “CFP: Isaac Beeckman in Context”, Seventeenth Century Study Group, WordPress, Dec 21.
  3. Middleton, William E. (1964). The History of the Barometer (pgs. 6-7) (Amz). Publisher.
  4. Berkel, Klaas. (2013). Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion: Mechanical Philosophy in the Making. JHU Press.
  5. Anon. (1899). “Quotes” (pg. 140), Planets and People, 5(1):#, Jan-Mar.
  6. Meslier, Jean. (1729). Testament: Memoir of the Thoughts and Sentiments of Jean Meslier (translator: Michael Shreve; preface: Michel Onfray). Prometheus Books.
  7. Note: Thims, presently, is caught between these two methods of presentation: i.e. the Holbach method (pure theory presented straight away; myth later) or the Meslier method (myth first; pure theory later), in respect to his Human Chemical Thermodynamics?
  8. (a) Holbach, Baron. (1770). The System of Nature: Laws of the Moral and Physical World (notes: Denis Diderot; translator: H.D. Robinson). Mendum, 1889.
    (b) System of Nature – Hmolpedia 2020.
  9. (a) Buchner, Ludwig. (1855). Force and Matter: Principles of the Natural Order of the Universe, with a System of Morality Based Thereon (15th German edition; 4th English edition). London: Asher and Co, 1891.
    (b) Force and Matter – Hmolpedia 2020.
  10. Ostwald, Wilhelm. (1906). Individuality and Immortality. Houghton.
  11. (a) Ostwald, Wilhelm. (1909). Texbook of General Chemistry, 4th edition (Lehrbuch der allgemeinen Chemie) (preface, pgs. iii-iv). Leibzig.
    (b) Vihalemn, Rein. (2005). “Ostwald and the Methodology of Chemistry”, in: Wilhelm Ostwald at the Crossroads between Chemistry, Philosophy, and Media Culture (editors: Britta Görs, Nikolaos Psarros, Paul Ziche) (§1:1-12, pg. 6). Leipzig University.
  12. Thims, Libb. (2020). Human Chemical Thermodynamics — Chemical Thermodynamics Applied to the Humanities: Meaning, Morality, Purpose; Sociology, Economics; History, Philosophy, Government, Anthropology, Politics, Business, Jurisprudence; Religion, Relationships, Warfare, and Love (pdf). Publisher.

Further reading

  • Maxwell, James. (1876). Matter and Motion (notes: Joseph Larmor). Dover, 1991.
  • Author. (2015). Lettere 1619-1648: Rene Descartes, Isaac Beeckman, Marin Mersenne (Amz). Publisher.

External links

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