Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul

Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul

Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul

Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul

Synopsis

Dennis Des Chene explores how Western philosophers understood life and the soul in the early modern period-before Descartes radically changed how the universe was conceived. Life's Form is a detailed analysis of the often overlooked work of the Jesuit commentators on Aristotle whose writings dominated Western European science and the academy until the mechanistic revolution. Des Chene considers the work of scholastic writers such as Suárez and the Coimbrans, who provided thorough and sometimes profound studies of Aristotle's definitions of the soul and of life. Life's Form is not restricted only to questions relevant to the human case, such as the immortality of the soul. Des Chene analyzes what might be called the protobiology of late Aristotelians: the theory of living things in general, of their powers, and of the relation between soul and body in all organisms. His mastery of doctrinal subtlety offers insight into conceptual issues of renewed relevance to the philosophy of biology.

Excerpt

This work, long in gestation, briefer in parturition, is the first part of two. the second part, Spirits and Clocks, takes the story into the seventeenth century, and studies life and organic unity in Descartes and other representatives of the new science. I elected to divide what would have been one long, expensive volume into two of more modest dimensions and price. Each can be read independendy; each has its own story to tell. But readers who want to understand the transformation of the science of the soul between 1550 and 1650 will want to read both.

My reflections on Descartes’ physiology and its antecedents began long ago. To acknowledge all those who in one way or another helped me with information or were willing to listen to nascent speculation would be impossible. Among the debts I will mention here, two are impersonal. Early work on this project was supported by an neh Fellowship for University and College Teachers; travel to the conference “Descartes et le Moyen Âge” in Paris was partially funded by a travel grant from the American Council of Learned Societies.

The personal debts are of several sorts. I thank my colleagues Karen Neander and George Wilson for their support in what has become a difficult time, and Adam Goldstein for research assistance and helpful conversations. Among early modern scholars, I thank Dan Garber, Alan Gabbey, Helen Hattab, Steve Menn, Marleen Rozemond, Alison Simmons, Marjorie Grene, and especially Roger Ariew. Peter Galison and John Murdoch have supported my work in many ways, not the least of which was an invitation to visit the Harvard History of Science Department in Fall 1997 (for which I also thank Mario . . .

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