From naturalism to mechanism: Ambiguities and contradictions in Descartes' mechanistic physiology.

Title: From naturalism to mechanism: Ambiguities and contradictions in Descartes' mechanistic physiology.
Authors: Collier, Carol.
Date: 2001
Abstract: The thesis provides an analysis of the metaphysical and epistemological shift from naturalism to mechanism in the seventeenth century, specifically in relation to the human body, and the evolution of the notion of the body-machine in Cartesian philosophy. The thesis starts from the position that Descartes' metaphysical dualism is a fundamental presupposition of both his method and his physics, including his physiology. It supports Jean-Luc Marion's thesis of the 'grey ontology' of the Regulae and argues against the position of Alquie, Gaukroger and others that Descartes' science and metaphysics are distinct aspects of his work, with the latter arriving only after the former had been fully formulated. Then, using Lenoble's thesis that the development of mechanism in the seventeenth century was more a reaction to the naturalism of the Renaissance than to Scholasticism, it traces the rejection of certain 'occult' notions of the Renaissance conception of nature and body, in particular, the notions of world-soul and final causes. It then analyses the application of the principles of mechanism to the human body as elaborated by Descartes in his principal work on the body, L'Homme, and shows how his mechanistic physiology created a rupture not only between mind and body but also between body and nature, resulting in a changed anthropology. At the same time it brings out ambiguities and contradictions inherent in Descartes' mechanistic, explanation of body, particularly in relation to animal perception and sensation; and it shows, further, that his mechanistic explanation relies, in its turn, on 'occult' concepts, in the form of animal spirits and continuous creation, metaphysical supports that weaken the effectiveness of the mechanistic explanation. Finally, the thesis looks at Descartes' notion of mind-body union and, analysing Gueroult's interpretation of the Cartesian position, demonstrates that this notion does not result in a modification of his mechanism of the body. The thesis concludes that Descartes' application of a unified method of science to the human body suffered from an inherent and irreconcilable ambiguity: his mechanistic physiology could not yield an anthropology while, at the same time, his emphasis on mind-body union in his later writings could not yield a science. It proposes a re-examination of mechanistic physiology in the light of other models of mechanism in the seventeenth century (e.g. Leibniz, Hobbes) and a re-assessment of the anthropology displaced by the rupture between body and nature, body and mind.
CollectionTh├Ęses, 1910 - 2010 // Theses, 1910 - 2010
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