Robert Desgabets on the Physics and Metaphysics of Blood Transfusion

  • Patricia Easton
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 31)


Robert Desgabets (1610–1678), an early defender and teacher of the Cartesian philosophy, gives expérience a central role in metaphysics, physics, and theology. Desgabets’ Discourse on the Communication or Transfusion of Blood (1668) delivered 10 years earlier at a Montmor Conference describes his scientific work on blood transfusion. I show how Desgabets’ Cartesian conception of the body and its mechanistic functioning had important consequences for the Cartesian metaphysics and physics as well as scientific method. For Desgabets, experiments on blood transfusion were as much demonstrations of the truth of the Cartesian metaphysics as they were demonstrations of empirically known effects. The role of experiment was to provide demonstrations of the first principles or truths of physics and theology by connecting them to the way God actually made the world. I conclude that Desgabets’ treatment of expérience plays an essential role in the content and form of physical knowledge.


Blood Transfusion Physical Magnitude Real Presence Standard Story True Metaphysic 
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I gave an early version of this paper, “The Father of Cartesian Empiricism: Robert Desgabets on the physics and metaphysics of blood transfusion” at the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science (HOPOS), Panel on Cartesian Empiricism, Budapest, Hungary, June 24–27, 2010. The discussion in the session by the participants and audience, in particular Gideon Manning, was very helpful. I especially want to thank my fellow participants and editors of this volume, Tammy Nyden and Mihnea Dobre for our many discussions and their careful comments and suggestions. I also am grateful to Monte Cook for his written comments, which were enormously helpful. Finally, I thank Tom Lennon for transcribing for me the Extrait d’une Lettre de M. Denis, 1667 when he came upon it in the Bibliothèque Nationale many years ago. All errors remain my own, but I have benefitted much from the ideas and discussions of others. All translations are the author’s except where otherwise noted.


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyClaremont Graduate UniversityClaremontUSA

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