Anatomy, Mechanism and Teleology in Descartes’s Physiology

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For the next Princeton-Bucharest Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, Gideon Manning (Claremont Graduate University, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center) will give a talk entitled “False Images Do Not Lie: Anatomy, Mechanism, and Teleology in Descartes’s Physiology”.

The illustrations of the human body and its interior parts appearing in René Descartes’s work tell a distinctive story about the breadth of his knowledge, the extent of his ambition, the details of his philosophical project, and the character of his reception history. In the medical terminology of the time, which in anatomy stressed the threefold division of historiaactiousus, Descartes’s illustrations are about actio—action or function—and were conceived as an answer to the question of how the body might work and not necessarily how it actually does. Thus, the illustrations provide an alternative to traditional anatomical illustrations focused on both historia and actio together, i.e., on how the body is actually structured and, given this structure, can be known to function. By acknowledging the nuance of historiaactiousus thinking in the anatomical tradition, we equip ourselves with a new vocabulary and interpretative clues (and challenges) to understanding Descartes’s functional analysis, teleological commitments, and mechanical philosophy more generally.

Tuesday 14 July 2020, 12pm–2pm EST


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