Divine Machines

Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life

Justin E. H. Smith
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 392
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7tb5t
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Divine Machines
    Book Description:

    Though it did not yet exist as a discrete field of scientific inquiry, biology was at the heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of G. W. Leibniz. InDivine Machines, Justin Smith offers the first in-depth examination of Leibniz's deep and complex engagement with the empirical life sciences of his day, in areas as diverse as medicine, physiology, taxonomy, generation theory, and paleontology. He shows how these wide-ranging pursuits were not only central to Leibniz's philosophical interests, but often provided the insights that led to some of his best-known philosophical doctrines.

    Presenting the clearest picture yet of the scope of Leibniz's theoretical interest in the life sciences,Divine Machinestakes seriously the philosopher's own repeated claims that the world must be understood in fundamentally biological terms. Here Smith reveals a thinker who was immersed in the sciences of life, and looked to the living world for answers to vexing metaphysical problems. He casts Leibniz's philosophy in an entirely new light, demonstrating how it radically departed from the prevailing models of mechanical philosophy and had an enduring influence on the history and development of the life sciences. Along the way, Smith provides a fascinating glimpse into early modern debates about the nature and origins of organic life, and into how philosophers such as Leibniz engaged with the scientific dilemmas of their era.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3872-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, History of Science & Technology, General Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    “Biology,” though it did not yet exist in name, or even as a discrete domain of scientific inquiry, was at the very heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Yet while in recent decades much important scholarly work has emerged on the early modern life sciences, the perception persists in the broader scholarly community that the seventeenth century was principally a period in which physics was of central importance, while chemistry only came to center stage with Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier’s revolution in the eighteenth century, and biology with Charles Darwin’s revolution in the mid-nineteenth. The term “biology”...

  6. Part One: First Things
    • Chapter One “QUE LES PHILOSOPHES MEDICINASSENT”: Leibniz’s Encounter with Medicine and Its Experimental Context
      (pp. 25-58)

      We do not tend to think today of medicine as a foundational science, let alone as an important component of philosophy.¹ For many philosophers in the seventeenth century, however, the picture of medicine was very different. As Descartes writes in theDiscours de la méthode:

      The mind depends so much on the temperament and the disposition of the organs of the body that, if it is possible to find some way of making men more knowledgeable and able than they have been up until now, I believe that it is in medicine that they should be looking for it.²

      Leibniz...

    • Chapter Two THE “HYDRAULICO-PNEUMATICO-PYROTECHNICAL MACHINE OF QUASI-PERPETUAL MOTION”: Leibniz on Animal Economy
      (pp. 59-94)

      In the previous chapter, we saw one of Leibniz’s early “wish lists,” detailing a motley grouping of desiderata for the improvement of the institution of medicine. There is another such list from a few years later, in 1675, to which Leibniz gave the title,Une drôle de pensée(A Funny Thought). He had just been to a spectacle in Paris in which an automaton in the form of a man was made to run across the surface of the Seine. The experience filled him with excitement and with ideas of his own. He rushed away to jot them down, and...

  7. Part Two: From Animal Economy to Subtle Anatomy
    • Chapter Three ORGANIC BODIES, PART I: Nature and Structure
      (pp. 97-136)

      In the introduction we saw some of the respects in which the place of the life sciences in Leibniz’s philosophy is similar to the one it occupied in Aristotle, yet there is one enormous difference, arising from the different states of empirical knowledge in the different philosophers’ eras. Montgomery Furth describes the Stagirite’s project as one of “endeavoring to understand the fundamental character of the natural world at a time when itsmicro structurewas quite unknown.”² By the seventeenth century the microstructure of biological entities was not quite fully known, nonetheless, as a result of the recent invention of...

    • Chapter Four ORGANIC BODIES, PART II: CONTEXT AND LEGACY
      (pp. 137-162)

      Organic bodies, as we have already begun to see, are, taken separately, never individuals, since they are always mutually interdependent with countless other organic bodies, just like the termite and the protozoa in its stomach that enable it to digest wood, or the rhinoceros and the bird on its back. The real individuals are the simple substances, and their individuality consists precisely in their status as worlds apart, or as causally self-sufficient automata. Organic bodies, while not individuals in any rigorous sense, may be picked out as this or that organic body in view of their functional unity and activity,...

  8. Part Three: The Origins of Organic Form
    • Chapter Five THE DIVINE PREFORMATION OF ORGANIC BODIES
      (pp. 165-196)

      In chapter 3 we saw how Leibniz manages to account for the growth, development, and motion of animals by appealing to “material plastic natures” alone. Nevertheless, the question of the original formation of plants and animals, and other animal-like corporeal substances, remains. Ralph Cudworth had resorted to the doctrine of immaterial plastic natures because he had assumed that organic bodies did not exist prior to embryogenesis. Something therefore had to be introduced initially in order to bring living beings into existence. In this, Leibniz likens Cudworth’s doctrine to that of those who believe that it is the soul that is...

    • Chapter Six GAMES OF NATURE, THE EMERGENCE OF ORGANIC FORM, AND THE PROBLEM OF SPONTANEITY
      (pp. 197-232)

      In his 1726 fiction,Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift sends his hero, following the better-known sojourn in Lilliput, to a land of giants, in comparison with whom he is now as small as the Lilliputians had been to him. The king of this land is perplexed as to the origins of this “homunculus” and appoints his greatest scholars to conduct an inquiry. “They all agreed,” the narrator relates, “that I could not be produced according to the regular laws of nature, because I was not framed with a capacity of preserving my life.” After much debate, he goes on,

      they concluded...

  9. Part Four: Species
    • Chapter Seven THE NATURE AND BOUNDARIES OF BIOLOGICAL SPECIES
      (pp. 235-274)

      The problem of species has long been familiar to analytic philosophers interested in Leibniz. Particularly in the treatment Leibniz offers of the problem in hisNouveaux essais sur l’entendement humainof 1704—a comprehensive response to John Locke’sEssay concerning Human Understandingof 1690—the problem has been understood principally as one in metaphysics and the philosophy of language: how it is, namely, that the meanings we give to words can be determined to capture the real natures of the things in the world that these words are purported to denote. What has been comparatively less studied is the problem...

  10. Appendixes
    • Appendix 1 DIRECTIONS PERTAINING TO THE INSTITUTION OF MEDICINE (1671)
      (pp. 275-287)
    • Appendix 2 THE ANIMAL MACHINE (1677)
      (pp. 288-289)
    • Appendix 3 THE HUMAN BODY, LIKE THAT OF ANY ANIMAL, IS A SORT OF MACHINE (1680–86)
      (pp. 290-296)
    • Appendix 4 ON WRITING THE NEW ELEMENTS OF MEDICINE (1682–83)
      (pp. 297-302)
    • Appendix 5 ON BOTANICAL METHOD (1701)
      (pp. 303-310)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 311-356)
  12. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 357-374)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 375-380)