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Animals, Humans, Machines and Thinking Matter, 1690-1707

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This article looks at the debate on the soul in England at the turn of the eighteenth century and at the role played within it by the question of animal soul, which had both theological and scientific ramifications. It discusses the difficulty of accounting for animal behaviour without either adopting the animal-machine hypothesis or according animals an immaterial and hence immortal soul. While those who denied the existence of an immaterial human soul and refused any fundamental distinction between humans and other animals were accused of reducing humans to machines, this article shows that the issues were in fact more complex. The fundamental question was that of the nature of matter; the main danger for many theologians seemed to lie in the attribution of innate life and sensibility to matter, which opened the door to materialism and undermined Christian doctrine


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