Heat, Action, Perception: Models of Living Beings in German Medical Cartesianism

  • Justin E. H. SmithEmail author
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 31)


In this chapter I characterize the reception and development of Cartesian medical philosophy in Germany, through a reading of a number of its principal exponents. I begin by briefly showing why, for Descartes himself, medicine was central to the project of philosophy as a whole, and on the basis of this I show that German Cartesian medical philosophy remained fundamentally true to the basic concerns of Descartes himself. I show, nonetheless, following the groundbreaking work of Trevisani, that there were widely divergent views held on specific Cartesian doctrines within the Duisburg school. I analyze, in particular, the theory of composite bodies held by Johannes Clauberg and a number of his contemporaries and immediate successors. I go on, finally, to analyze G. W. Leibniz’s eventual theory of corporeal substance and organic body, suggesting that German medical Cartesianism constitutes an important middle term for understanding the development of Leibniz’s radically modified mechanist view of living bodies. Heat, action, and perception, characterize, respectively, Descartes’, Clauberg’s, and Leibniz’s respective views of what is distinctive in living bodies, and by charting the shift from one to the next we are able to clearly grasp what was at stake in the mechanist engagement with the problem of life.


Animal Body Living Body French Philosopher Philosophical Project Aristotelian Tradition 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7ParisFrance

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