The Body Politic before and after the Scientific Revolution

Part of the The University of Western Ontario Series in Philosophy of Science book series (WONS, volume 58)


Ever since the great revolution which produced modern science, there has been a hope that a science of society would be created on a par with the sciences of nature.1 This new science of society, it has been supposed, would make use of the concepts, principles, theories, and methods of the physical and biological sciences. In this presentation2I shall explore some attempts to achieve this goal in relation to the body politic and, more generally, the organismic conception of the state.


Natural Science Fundamental Form Rational Mechanic Scientific Revolution Neoclassical Economic 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    The research on which this chapter is based has been generously supported by the Richard Lounsbery Foundation of New York City. In making this acknowledgement, I should like particularly to take cognizance of the sympathetic and enthusiastic personal support given to me by the Foundation’s president, Mr. Alan McHenry.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    This presentation draws heavily on two chapters (ch. 1, “An Analysis of Interactions between the Natural Sciences & the Social Sciences”; ch. 4, “The Scientific Revolution and the Social Sciences”) from a book I have edited, The Natural Sciences & the Social Sciences: Some Critical and Historical Perspectives, published in 1993 in Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1993). My contributions to this volume have been published as Interactions: Some Contacts between the Natural Sciences and the Social Sciences (Cambridge, Mass./London: The MIT Press, 1994) and have appeared in translation as Scienze delia Natura e Scienze sociale (Rome/Bari: Editori Laterza, 1993).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    See, notably, David George Hale, The Body Politic: A Political Metaphor in Renaissance English Literature (The Hague/ Paris: Mouton, 1971; and Judith Schlanger, Les Métaphores de l’Organisme (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1971).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Some published results of this research, in addition to the work cited in note 2, include my forthcoming book on Science and the Founding Fathers: Science in the Political Thought of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Madison (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1995); “Newton & The Social Sciences, with Special Reference to Economics, or, The Case of the Missing Paradigm,” in Natural Images in Economic Thought: “Markets Read in Tooth and Claw,” ed. Philip Mirowski (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and “Analogy, Homology, and Metaphor in the Interactions between the Natural Sciences & the Social Sciences, Especially Economics,” History of Political Economy 25 (1993) supplement: 7-14, volume edited by Neil de Marchi.Google Scholar
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    William Harvey, An Anatomical Disputation Concerning the Movement of the Heart and Blood in Living Creatures, trans. Gweneth Whitteridge (Oxford/London: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1976), p. 3.Google Scholar
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  7. 7.
    Ibid., from the translation by Kenneth J. Franklin (Oxford: Black-well Scientific Publications, 1962).Google Scholar
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    From “The Prologue to the Reader,” in John Halle, comp., A Very Frutefull and Necessary Briefe Worke of Anatomie, or Dissection of the Body of Man …, with a Commodious Order of Notes, Leading the Chirurgien’s Hande from all Offence and Error … Compiled in Three Treatises (lLondon: Thomas Marshe, 1565), published as part of A Most Excellent and Learned Worke of Chirurgerie, Called Chirurgia parva Lanfranchi…, (London: Thomas Marshe, 1565). See Hale, Body Politic. Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    The difference between the status assigned to the heart by Harvey in his two major work— De Generatione and De Motu cordis — is set forth by Gweneth Whitteridge, William Harvey and the Circulation of the Blood (London: Macdonald; New York Elsevier, 1971).Google Scholar
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    The Anatomical Exercises of Dr. William Harvey …: The First English Text of 1653, ed. Geoffrey Keynes (London: The Nonesuch Press, [1928]) ch. 17, p. 115.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. In De Motu cordis Harvey was almost exclusively concerned with the function of the heart as the primary agent producing the circulation and not with the question of whether the heart comes into being in the embryo before the blood. In various works, and notably in the De Generatione animalium, Harvey made it plain that the blood appears in the development of the embryo before the heart or the liver or any other organ. On Harvey’s views concerning the primacy of the heart, especially the difference between Harvey’s and Aristotle’s positions on this topic, see Whitteridge, William Harvey, pp. 227-235.Google Scholar
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    John Aubrey recorded that William Harvey, in his will, “left his old friend Thomas Hobbes 10 pounds as a token of his Love”; see Oliver Lawson Dick, ed., Aubrey’s Brief Lives, Edited from the Original Manuscripts (London: Secker and Warburg, 1949; reprint ed., Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1962), p. 133.Google Scholar
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    Many studies of Hobbes have taken cognizance of the fact that he based his system to some degree on the new physics of motion, but less attention has been paid to his use of Harveyan physiology. Hence, my presentation of Hobbes’s use of the natural sciences stresses the biomedical basis of his political thought rather than his use of mathematics and the physical sciences. There are many presentations of the thought of Hobbes, among them Leo Strauss, The Political Philosophy of Hobbes: Its Birth and Its Genesis, trans. from the German manuscript by Elsa M. Sinclair (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1936; reprint ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966); Thomas A. Spragens, The Politics of Motion: The World of Thomas Hobbes (London: Croon Helm, 1973); and M. M. Goldsmith, Hobbes’s Science of Politics (London/New York: Columbia University Press, 1966). Also David Johnston, The Rhetoric of Leviathan: Thomas Hobbes and the Politics of Cultural Transformations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986); Tom Sorell, Hobbes (London/New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986-“The Arguments of the Philosophers”); Richard Tuck, Hobbes (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 1989-“Past Masters”); and Frithiof Brandt, Thomas Hobbes’Mechanical Conception of Nature (Copenhagen: Levin & Munksgaard, 1928). There is much to be learned from two volumes by C. B. MacPherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, Hobbes to Locke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962), Democratic Theory: Essays in Retrieval (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973). Especially important in the present context is an essay by J. W. N. Watkins, “Philosophy and Politics in Hobbes, ” Philosophical Quarterly 5 (1955): 125-146; expanded into the book, Hobbes’s System of Ideas: A Study in the Political Significance of Philosophical Theories (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1965; 2d ed., 1973).Google Scholar
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    The writings of Hobbes have been collected in two sets —Sir William Molesworth, ed., The English Works of Thomas Hobbes, 11 vols. (London: John Bohn, 1839-1845; reprint ed., Aalen [Germany]: Scientia Verlag, 1966); Sir William Molesworth, ed., Thomae Hobbes malmesburiensis Opera philosophica quae Latinae scripsit omnia, 5 vols. (London: John Bohn, 1839-1845; reprint ed., Aalen [Germany]: Scientia Verlag, 1961). There are also articles on Hobbes in the Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 15 vols. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), vol. 4, and the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1968). The quotation comes from English Works, 7: 470-471.Google Scholar
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    English Works, 1: viii (“Epistle Dedicatory”).Google Scholar
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    On the “mechanical philosophy, ” see R. S. Westfall, Force in Newton’s Physics: The Science of Dynamics in the Seventeenth Century (London: Macdonald; New York: American Elzevier, 1971); also William R. Shea, The Magic of Numbers and Motion: The Scientific Career of René Descartes (Canton [Ma.]: Science History Publications, 1991).Google Scholar
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    Hobbes’s Leviathan, his major work, is available in many editions and reprints; among them the Pelican Classics edition, ed. C. B. MacPherson (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968). The most recent edition, ed. Richard Tuck (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), has indexes of subjects and of names and places and a concordance with earlier editions. The quotation is from the Tuck edition, p. 3.Google Scholar
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    For details, see “The Scientific Revolution and the Social Sciences” in Cohen, ed., The Natural Sciences & Social Sciences.Google Scholar
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    See Leviathan, Tuck ed., eh. 29, pp. 228-230.Google Scholar
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    Hobbes is a particular subject of attack in Harrington’s major work, Oceana, cited in note 24 below.Google Scholar
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    H. F. Russell Smith, Harrington and His Oceana (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), ch. 8; Theodore Dwight, “Harrington and his Influence upon American Political Institutions and Political Thought, ” Political Science Quarterly 2 (1887): 1-44. This subject is explored further in my Science and the Founding Fathers. Google Scholar
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    Charles Blitzer, An Immortal Commonwealth (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1960), pp. 160–169, and 210-279. This is the best informed and most authoritative work on Harrington; a convenient list of Harrington’s publications is given on pp. 337-339. A useful, briefer presentation is given in Michael Downs, James Harrington (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1977). Harrington’s Oceana is available in a number of current editions: John Toland, ed., Works: The Oceana and Other Works (London: 1771; reprint ed., Aalen [Germany]: Scientia Verlag, 1980); S. B. Liljegren, ed., James Harrington’s Oceana, Edited with Notes (Heidelberg: Carl Winters Universitätsbuchhandlung, 1924 —Skrifter ultgivna av Vetenskaps-Societeten i Lund, 4; reprint ed., Westport [Conn.]: Hyperion Press, 1979).Google Scholar
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    Oceana, Liljegren ed., p. 13; Toland ed., p. 36. See Blitzer, Immortal Commonwealth, p. 99. On p. 110 of Oceana (Toland ed.), Harrington compares the Council of Trade to the Vena Porta.Google Scholar
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    See I. B. Cohen, “A Note on Harvey’s ‘Egg’ as Pandora’s ‘Box,’” in Changing Perspectives in the History of Science: Essays in Honour of Joseph Needham, ed. Mikulas Teich & Robert Young (London: Heinemann, 1973), pp. 232–249.Google Scholar
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    Toland ed., p. 470.Google Scholar
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    William Harvey, Disputations Touching the Generation of Animals, trans. Gweneth Whitteridge (Oxford/London: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1981), ch. 47, pp. 214–215.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., ch. 51, p. 241; quoted from the 1653 translation, as given in Kenneth D. Keele, William Harvey: The Man, the Physician, and the Scientist (London: Nelson, 1965), p. 185; also William Harvey, Anatomical Exercises in the Generation of Animals, trans. Robert Willis, in The Works of William Harvey (London: The Sydenham Society, 1847; reprint ed., New York/London: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1965), p. 235.Google Scholar
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    Keele, William Harvey, pp. 183-186. See Gweneth Whitteridge’s summary in the introduction to her translation, p. liii.Google Scholar
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    For an account of Harrington’s use of the “punctum saliens” in a political context, see my chapter 4, “The Scientific Revolution & the Social Sciences, ” in The Natural Sciences & Social Sciences.Google Scholar
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    Translated in Allen Ritter & Julia Conaway Bondanella, eds., Rousseau’s Political Writing (New York/London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1988), p. 61.Google Scholar
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    An alternative translation, made by G. D. H. Cole, is published in Charles M. Sherover, ed., Annotated Edition: The Social Contract or Principles of Political Right by Jean Jacques Rousseau (New York: New American Library, 1974).Google Scholar
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    See Ernst Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 45. According to Mayr, the “term ‘homologous’ existed already prior to 1859, but it acquired its currently accepted meaning only when Darwin established the theory of common descent. Under this theory the biologically most meaningful definition of ‘homologous’ is: ‘A feature in two or more taxa is homologous when it is derived from the same (or a corresponding) feature of their common ancestor.’”Google Scholar
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    Hale, Body Politic, p. 135.Google Scholar
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    Johann Caspar Bluntschli, Lehre vom modernen Staat, 6th ed., 2 vols. (Stuttgart: J. G. Cotta, 1885–1886), the first volume of which was translated into English as Theory of the State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1892); Psychologische Studien über Staat und Kirche (Zurich/ Frauenfeld: C. Beyel, 1844). Bluntschli was also author of a widely used reference work, Deutsches Staats-Wörterbuch (Stuttgart/Leipzig: Expedition des Staats-Wörterbuchs, 1857-1870).Google Scholar
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    Paul von Lilienfeld, or Paul de Lilienfeld, or Pavel Fedorovich Lilienfeld-Toailles, or Pavel Fedorovich Lilienfel’d Toal’ (1829-1903) published a book in Russian on the elements of political economy in 1860 under the pseudonym Lileyewa. This was followed by a first version, in Russian (under the initials P. L.), of Thoughts on the Social Science of the Future in 1872; a five-volume German version of this work, Gedanken über die Socialwissenschaft der Zukunft (vols. 1-4: Mitau: E. Behre’s Verlag, 1873-1879; vol. 5: Hamburg: Gebr. Behre’s Verlag; Mitau: E. Behre’s Verlag, 1881). Later works include La Pathologie sociale (Paris: V. Giard & E. Brière, 1896); and Zur Vertheidigung der organischen Methode in der Sociologie (Berlin: Druck und Verlag von Georg Reimer, 1898). See, e.g., Otto Henne am Rhyn, Paul von Lilienfeld (Gdansk, Leipzig, Vienna: Carl Hinstorff’s Verlagsbuchhandlung, [n.d.]; Deutsche Denker und ihre Geistesschöpfungen, ed. Adolf Hinrichsen, vol. 6). For further bibliography related to Lilienfeld, see Howard Becker, “Lilienfeld-Toailles, Pavel Fedorovich, ” Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, 9: 474-474.Google Scholar
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    Although “fallacy” is often used in a narrow technical sense to denote a flaw (or type of flaw) that “vitiates a syllogism, ” a primary meaning in every dictionary I have consulted (Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford English Dictionary—suppl., Oxford English Dictionary — 2d. ed.; Concise Oxford Dictionary—6th ed.; Webster’s New International—2d & 3d eds.) is a “misleading argument” or a delusion or error, or some unsoundness or delusiveness or disappointing character of an argument or belief. The American Heritage Dictionary gives as the first meaning: “An idea or opinion founded on mistaken logic or perception; a false notion”; other meanings include “the quality of being deceptive” and “incorrectness of reasoning or belief.” The only example given is a “romantic fallacy, that Shakespeare was superhuman.” This example displays features in common with two frequently encountered uses of “fallacy” today: John Ruskin’s notion of the “pathetic fallacy” (in which inanimate objects are supposed to have human emotions) and W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley’s “intentional fallacy” (overstressing the author’s intentions in assessing a literary work). These usages are somewhat similar to Alfred North Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.”Google Scholar
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    Ibid. Cannon had in mind the writings of certain extremist organicists, of whom Albert Schäffle is an outstanding example. See Stark, Fundamental Forms of Social Thought, and Cohen “An Analysis of Interactions between the Natural Sciences & the Social Sciences, ” in The Natural Sciences & Social Sciences.Google Scholar
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    The analogies used in economics by Jevons and Walras are introduced below; for more information, see Philip Mirowski, More Heat Than Light (Cambridge/New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989); also my own paper, “Analogy, Homology, and Metaphor in the Natural Sciences & the Social Sciences.”Google Scholar
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    Poetics, 1457b, 1459a, 1458a. For a brief but incisive history of the uses of metaphor from antiquity to the present, see Mark Johnson, ed., Philosophical Perspectives on Metaphor (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), introductory chapter.Google Scholar
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    Metaphor was a lively topic of discussion at two recent conferences relating to the development of economics. The first (held at Duke University in April 1991) had special reference to Philip Mirowski’s More Heat Than Light; a volume of proceedings edited by Neil de Marchi appeared in 1993 as a supplement to volume 25 of History of Political Economy. A conference, organized by Philip Mirowski at Notre Dame on “Natural Images in Economics, ” is published in Natural Images, ed. Mirowski.Google Scholar
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    In discussing the causes of his having altered his point of view, Worms assigned primary importance to the ideas of Ernest Haeckel and the recent discovery of the relative discontinuities among cerebral cells, which he said is “the glory of Golgi and Ramón y Cajal.” He also pointed to E. Metchnikoff’s research on phagocytes, which had indicated new aspects of cells, even to the extent of suggesting that cells may exercise an art or even a science in defending themselves against their enemies. In short, Worms said, his sociological critics had undermined his former overly simplistic view of the social organism, while the advances of the bio-medical sciences had radically altered the scientific base on which his earlier organismic sociology was founded, primarily by enlarging the knowledge and understanding of the life and functions of the cells of which living organisms are made. In the present context, the details of the differences between Worms’s two treatises are of less interest than the very fact that in each of these works the social analogues drawn from the life sciences were direct reflections of the rapidly changing current state of biological and medical knowledge.Google Scholar
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    The purpose of the Notre Dame conference (referred to in note 86) was a critical assessment of the thesis of Philip Mirowski’s More Heat Than Light, primarily that neoclassical economics was founded on the “metaphor” of rational mechanics cum energy physics. See my article, “Analogy, Homology, and Metaphor in the Natural Sciences & the Social Sciences.”Google Scholar
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