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AnimalsA History$
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Peter Adamson and G. Fay Edwards

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780199375967

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199375967.001.0001

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Animal Souls and Beast Machines

Animal Souls and Beast Machines

descartes’s mechanical biology

(p.187) Chapter Seven Animal Souls and Beast Machines

Deborah J. Brown

Oxford University Press

Descartes’ long-standing interest in animals had many motivations—to reinforce his dualism of mind and body; to demonstrate the completeness of his physics; and to resolve what he considered to be inconsistent metaphysical and theological positions on the status of animal souls. Thus, the subject of animals serves to unite the various strands of Cartesian philosophy, whilst posing some of the deepest and most persistent challenges to that philosophy. Whether or not we agree with Descartes’s notorious view that animals are mere machines lacking all thought and sensibility, it is important to recognize that Descartes established the terms of a debate which continues to shape our thinking about animals, their cognitive capacities and their relationship to us. This chapter locates Descartes’ position within the scientific and moral debates of his time, emphasizing the sophistication of his attempts to explain animal life and behavior and the challenge he throws down to nonmechanistic explanations.

Keywords:   mechanism, early modernity, Descartes, dualism, materialism

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