Machines, Souls, and Vital Principles

Justin E. H. Smith

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Early Modern Europe

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199556137
Published online May 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

Machines, Souls, and Vital Principles

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This article examines the debate among natural philosophers during the early modern period which concerned whether living beings could be understood as biological machines that did not require a distinct principle of life or soul to explain their complex functioning. It suggests that these innovations can be seen collectively as a gradual substitution of the categorial framework of Aristotle by one derived from the experimental and mathematical sciences. The traditional epistemic relationship between natural philosophy and metaphysics thereby began a long-term reversal. This article also discusses the sources of the early modern machine concept, animal spirits, and the problem of intermediate principles.

Keywords: living beings; natural philosophers; early modern period; biological machines; Aristotle; mathematical sciences; metaphysics; machine concept

Article.  9551 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy

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