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Animal Spirits: Bridging Mind and Body in Early Modern Philosophy

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The early modern concept of animal spirits has its roots in Galenic medicine, prevalent during the Middle Ages. The animal spirits were a vaporous, subtle, material entity, formed at the basis of the head from the vital spirits, themselves being produced from the blood by the heat of the heart. The animal spirits were seen as the instrument of the immaterial and immortal soul in moving the body, and thus the intermediary between the material and the immaterial. These spirits were sometimes identified with the sensitive or organic soul, and considered to be in charge of certain functions, such as sensation, emotions, memory, and imagination.

Ancient and Medieval Sources

The concept of animal spirit has its roots in the Galenic tradition, and it is influenced by the Stoic concept of “pneuma,” translated into Latin as “spiritus.” For the Stoics, “pneuma” was a mixture of air and fire, responsible, on the one hand, for the unity of a being, and on...


  • Body and soul
  • Common sense
  • Vital spirit
  • Subtlety

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Correspondence to Doina-Cristina Rusu .

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Rusu, DC. (2021). Animal Spirits: Bridging Mind and Body in Early Modern Philosophy. In: Jalobeanu, D., Wolfe, C.T. (eds) Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences. Springer, Cham.

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