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René Descartes, De homine (Leiden,1662)

On the Body

Detailed anatomical engravings by the leading mechanical philosopher:

The engraved illustrations in this first Latin edition reflect a different artistic style and level of execution than the rough woodcuts of the later French edition.

Descartes, a mechanical philosopher, became one of the early adopters of William Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood.  Descartes found the theory attractive because of Harvey’s quantitative argument about the total volume of blood flow and the mechanical metaphor of the heart as a bellows. 

On the other hand, Robert Fludd, a chemical philosopher, found Harvey’s idea of circulation particularly congenial to his belief that nature is animated with interior active forces.  Harvey himself remained an Aristotelian with an experimentalist bent, rather than a mechanical or a chemical philosopher. The complex story of the circulation of the blood demonstrates the mixture of competing philosophies in the Scientific Revolution, rather than the simple replacement of one or more by any other.

Galileo's World Exhibition Location

Source: History of Science Collections

Section: Anatomy

Section Number: 1

Object Number: 14

Subject Area(s): Health Sciences, Philosophy, Engineering, Biology

Time Period: 17th Century

Region(s): Europe, Netherlands, France

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