What the Body Can Do: A Comparative Reading of Descartes’ Treatise on Man and Spinoza’s Physical Interlude
The means of exposition and the content of Descartes’ Traité de l’homme and Spinoza’s Physical Interlude are quite dissimilar. One is a long treatise meticulously exploring a number of functions of a machine exactly resembling to vital and sensitive functions of a human body. The other looks like a short digression about physical aptitudes of bodies which aren’t specifically mentioned as living bodies. These two texts have yet an approach in common: proposing a physical explanation of body’s functions, taking notice of what a body can by itself, independently of any animation or deliberate set in motion. I propose in this paper to explain the dissimilarity between these two texts by their taking root in different philosophical plans. Spinoza’s Physical Interlude takes place in a book which has ethical aims; it induces Spinoza to regard physical aptitudes of human bodies as conditions of the possibility of an ethics progression.