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The Mechanization of the Heart:

The Mechanization of the Heart:: Harvey & Descartes

Thomas Fuchs
Translated from the German by Marjorie Grene
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    The Mechanization of the Heart:
    Book Description:

    In Mechanization of the Heart: Harvey and Descartes Thomas Fuchs begins by comparing the views of William Harvey (1578-1657) and Rene Descartes (1596-1650) on the heart and the circulation of the blood through the body. These two seventeenth-century scholars -- one a British medical doctor, the other a French philosopher and mathemetician -- differed substantially in their beliefs: they both accepted the idea of circulation of the blood, but differed on the action of the heart. Fuchs traces the ways the opposing views were received, revised, rejected, or renewed in succeeding generations by medical writers in various parts of Europe. He then examines Harvey's approach to cardiac and circulatory physiology, mainly through an examination of Harvey's book De motu cordis: he follows with a discussion of the background in Aristotelian philosophy that was the requirement for all studies in medicine and how that affected Harvey's beliefs. Fuchs then turns to Descartes's presentation of Harvey's views and shows how his view, rather than Harvey's, was accepted in Europe at that time. Marjorie Grene brings to the translation her distinguished background in philosophy and her keen insights into medical philosophy. Thomas Fuchs teaches psychiatry at the Rupert-Karls-Universitat, Heidelberg. Marjorie Grene is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of California at Davis, and Adjunct Professor and Honorary Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Virginia Tech University.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-604-2
    Subjects: Biological Sciences, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Translator’s Foreword
    (pp. ix-xvi)
    Marjorie Grene

    History is always more complicated than it looks at first sight. In this book, Thomas Fuchs illustrates that thesis with remarkable clarity. Let me anticipate, with some commentary of my own, the major moves of the story he has to tell. As the title indicates, he is first comparing the views of Harvey and Descartes about the heart and blood, and then tracing the way those opposing views—both accepting the circulation, but differing on the motion of the heart—were received, revised, rejected, or renewed in succeeding generations by medical writers in various parts of Europe.

    First then, against...

  4. Author’s Foreword
    (pp. xvii-xvii)
    Thomas Fuchs

    The present study may be read and considered from different points of view: as a comparison of two authors both important for the history of medicine and biology, but with opposing conceptions of the world; as a contribution to the history of physiology from 1600 to 1850; as a study in the mechanization of the body in one of its central organs, namely the heart; as an application of the distinction between scientificdiscoveryandfactas explained by Ludwig Fleck’s theory of science on William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation; and finally, as a case study on the conflict...

  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xviii-xx)
  6. A Harvey and Descartes
    (pp. 1-18)

    William Harvey (1568–1657) and René Descartes (1596–1650) can be equally well seen as pioneers of modern medicine.

    At first, this statement may meet opposition. The great physiologist and discoverer of the circulation of the blood on the one hand, the self-taught medical amateur on the other—how could they be of comparable significance for the development of medicine? Harvey has always assumed a place of honor in the history of medicine, and modern physiology recognizes him as its forebear.² Descartes, on the other hand, is referred to chiefly as a precursor of the iatrophysicists, whose exaggerated and oversimplified...

  7. B The Galenic Paradigm and Its Crisis
    (pp. 19-32)

    History, it is acknowledged, gladly permits the apparent high points of its achievements to carry within themselves the germ of crisis or downfall. Political and cultural phenomena as diverse as, say, the Alexandrian empire or classical physics around 1900 were equally affected by this principle. Such a fate also overtook Galenism, which around 1600 still represented a physiological-medical system of impressive completeness and universality and yet fifty years later had already lost its authority. A point of view that today seems to explain everything is most certain to be relativized or superseded by tomorrow.

    With respect to Galenism, even more...

  8. C William Harvey: The Vital Aspect of the Circulation
    (pp. 33-114)

    The history of Harvey’s reception deserves an investigation on its own: seldom has a person in the history of medicine received such diverse and contradictory appraisals as has the discoverer of the circulation of the blood (even that title has not gone unchallenged!).¹

    Harvey has often been seen primarily as an empiricist and bracketed with his contemporary, Francis Bacon (1561–1626). Thus Erna Lesky advocates the view that Harvey, in common with Bacon, turned against reliance in authority and scholastic Aristotelianism; he is said to have followed Bacon’s epistemological principles in his account of the circulation and thereby to have...

  9. D The Mechanical Aspect of the Circulation: Descartes and His Followers
    (pp. 115-196)

    René Descartes was among the first to support Harvey’s theory of the circulation. He accepted it virtually sight unseen and integrated it into his system of natural philosophy though with an account of cardiac action contrary to Harvey’s.¹ Later, through his physiological expositions in theDiscourse on Method(1637), thePrinciples of Philosophy(1644), and thePassions of the Soul(1649), as well as through his extensive contacts and correspondence, he became probably the most influential proponent of the new doctrine—at a time when most medical authorities still held fast to the traditional physiology and Harvey found himself faced...

  10. E Vitalism and Mechanism Between 1700 and 1850
    (pp. 197-224)

    We have traced the influence of Cartesian thought on the physiology of the heart and the circulation for more than half a century. In scarcely any other sphere do we find so evident the fundamental upheaval of physiology through a physicalistic approach and the removal of the soul from the body, as Descartes had effected it, certainly not alone, but still in paradigmatic fashion.

    Thus, the heart loses almost all the functions it had previously had. Above all, it is no longer the life-giving organ of the body. With the discovery of the circulation, Harvey had already deprived it of...

  11. F A Look Ahead
    (pp. 225-232)

    The history of the interpretations of the heart and circulation after Harvey and Descartes as we have seen them in outline is itself clearly characterized by an “interplay” between the vital and the mechanical aspect, or between vital and mechanistic interpretations, which have not only replaced one another periodically, but have also reciprocally influenced and enriched one another, indeed were often characteristically fused with one another. Thus although the paradigm established about the middle of the nineteenth century still dominates physiology today in a modified form, elements ofbothtraditions are nevertheless contained in the present view of the function...

    (pp. 233-242)
  13. Index of Names
    (pp. 243-248)