Mechanism Displaces the Soul

  • Lucas John Mix


After Aquinas, the Aristotelian concept of souls, carefully tended for two millennia, started to unravel. William of Ockham introduced nominalism and voluntarism, necessitating observation and leading to empiricism. Luther and Calvin questioned the dual creation and the power of human intellect. In the seventeenth century Gassendi and Descartes introduced the mechanical philosophy, pushing formal and final causes out of the natural world. The mechanical philosophers embraced a machine metaphor, an ontological elimination (materialism), and an etiological reduction. Only the last proved useful for advancing biology. Physiological and psychological accounts of life took on distinct and irreconcilable vocabularies, with the term “soul” frequently reserved for the latter. Biology lacked a unifying principle for the next two centuries.


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lucas John Mix
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Organismic and Evolutionary BiologyHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA

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