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Spirit As Intermediary In Post-Cartesian Natural Philosophy

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Chapter Summary

In the second of his Meditations Descartes is at pains to explain that, when he speaks of animal spirits, he means something entirely physical and so entirely distinct from what he, as a thinking thing, is. This chapter is a succinct account of the sundry sources of the concept Descartes would have liked to eradicate, and of the specific reasons modern natural philosophers in Descartes? wake had for continuing to draw on these sources. The conception of spirit that prevailed into the latter half of the seventeenth century ? in spite of Descartes? effort to eradicate it ? may be traced to its role in at least three distinct disciplines that extend back far before the modern period: theology, chemistry or alchemy, and physiology. With respect to this latter aim, the chapter argues that the role in late seventeenth century natural philosophy was that of an ineliminable intermediary.

Keywords: conception of spirit; Descartes; ineliminable intermediary; late seventeenth century natural philosophy



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