Seeking Intellectual Evidence in the Sciences: The Role of Botany in Descartes’ Therapeutics

  • Fabrizio Baldassarri
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 225)


While improving medicine through physics had the capacity to liberate seventeenth-century thinking from traditional beliefs about souls and spirits, mechanics generated complications. Descartes’ mechanical physics is a perfect example, for his efforts to bridge the gap between theoretical and practical medicine, steering intellectual evidence into this second field, were ultimately unsteady. His view of biomechanics had reduced living bodies to automated machines, thereby making definitions of life and health and the active treatment of diseases difficult. However, Descartes’ rarely-studied notes on botany reveal a new scenario, wherein he understood bodily therapeutics to be connected to physiology, making botany a lever to introduce the intellectual evidence of theoretical medicine into its practical counterpart. These documents enable a greater comprehension of the functional unity within bodies, instance refined definitions of bodily individualities, and reveal Descartes’ use of disease to define health and to produce therapeutics, thus demonstrating a strong relationship between the life sciences and his philosophy.



I would like to thank Professor Fabio Zampieri (Università di Padova) and Professor Franco Aurelio Meschini (Università del Salento), with whom I discussed some of the contents of this chapter. I also profited from comments during conferences and workshops held in Wien, Lecce, Berlin, and Bran. The help I received and the financial support of the Project Excellence Research Scholarship for Young Researchers 2015 through the Institute for Research in the Humanities of the University of Bucharest and the DAAD have been crucial to the completion of this chapter.


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Authors and Affiliations

  • Fabrizio Baldassarri
    • 1
  1. 1.Bar-Ilan UniversityTel AvivIsrael

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