Descartes’ Healthy Machines and the Human Exception

  • Gideon ManningEmail author
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 282)


In responding to Libertus Fromondus’ criticism of Les météores as “excessively gross and mechanical [mechanica],” Descartes made the now-famous concession that in natural philosophy he utilized “shapes, sizes and motions, as happens in mechanics [Mechanica],” and even went so far as to characterize his work as a “mechanical philosophy [mechanica philosophia].” On reflection it seems likely that Fromondus and Descartes were speaking past one another in their exchange, as Alan Gabbey has persuasively argued, with each meaning something rather different by mechanica. Still, one wonders why, notwithstanding Descartes’ concession, the medical claims from Discourse Five did not prompt Fromondus’ “mechanical” accusation. In Discourse Five we are told, for example, that (1) “laws of mechanics are … the same as those of nature,” (2) we should regard the human body—a natural object—“as a machine” and (3) the heart beat follows “just as necessarily as the motion of a clock from the force, position and shape of its counterweights and wheels.” Although Discourse Five does not draw equally on these three claims, their presence surely warrants calling Discourse Five “mechanical.” It may even be the most mechanical of all the parts of the Discours and its companion essays.


Natural Philosopher Supporting Talk Philosophical Writing Medical Question Theoretical Medicine 
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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Division of the Humanities and Social SciencesCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA

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