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Descartes on the Theory of Life and Methodology in the Life Sciences

In Peter Distelzweig & Evan Ragland (eds.), Early Modern Medicine and Natural Philosophy. Springer. pp. 141-72 (2016)

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  1. Does Descartes Have a Principle of Life? Hierarchy and Interdependence in Descartes’s Physiology.Barnaby R. Hutchins - 2016 - Perspectives on Science 24 (6):744-769.
    At various points in his work on physiology and medicine, Descartes refers to a “principle of life.” The exact term changes—sometimes, it is the “principle of movement and life”, sometimes the “principle underlying all [the] functions” of the body —but the message seems consistent: the phenomena of living bodies are the product of a single, underlying principle. That principle is generally taken to be cardiac heat.1 The literature has, quite reasonably, taken this message at face value. Thus, Shapiro: “Descartes insists (...)
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  • Descartes and the Dissolution of Life.Barnaby R. Hutchins - 2016 - Southern Journal of Philosophy 54 (2):155-173.
    I argue that Descartes is not a reductionist about life, but dissolves or eliminates the category entirely. This is surprising both because he repeatedly refers to the life of humans, animals, and plants and because he appears to rely on the category of life to construct his physiology and medicine. Various attempts have been made in the scholarship to attribute a principled concept of life to Descartes. Most recently, Detlefsen has argued that Descartes “is a reductionist with respect to explanation (...)
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