For information about arriving in Pittsburgh, please see here.
For a map of the relevant places, please see here.
For any questions, or if you are interested in attending, please contact either:
Benjamin Goldberg (metabenny at gmail dot com)
Peter Distelzweig: (distelzweig dot peter at gmail dot com)
9:00 - 9:25
Bagels and Coffee
Experience, Vitalism, Mechanism (Chair: Jim Lennox)
9:30 - 10:15 Charles T. Wolfe, “Teleomechanism redux? From living machines to animal economies in early modern natural philosophy”
10:15 - 11:00 Justin E. H. Smith, “Leibniz and Stahl on the Role of the Soul in the Body”
11:00 - 11:15 Break
11:15 - 12:00
Ragland, “Periculum facere:
Making Trials in Early Modern Medicine”
12:00 - 12:30 General Discussion
12:30 - 2:15
II: Causes in Generation (Chair: Peter
2:15 - 3:00
Shackelford, “Transplantation and Renaissance Matter Theory”
3:00 - 3:45 Benjamin Goldberg, “The Soul Unfolding: Epigenesis as Soul Development in Harvey’s De generatione animalium”
3:45 - 4:00 Break
4:00 - 4:45 Ashley Inglehart, “Boyle, Malpighi and the Problem of Plastic Powers”
4:45 - 5:30 General Discussion
6:30 Dinner at Restaurant (TBA) (Reservation is for 6:30)
T. Wolfe, “Teleomechanism redux? From living machines to animal
economies in early modern natural philosophy”
We have been accustomed at least since Kant and mainstream history of philosophy to distinguish between the ‘mechanical’ and the ‘teleological’; between a fully mechanistic, quantitative science of Nature exemplified by Newton (or Galileo, or Descartes) and a teleological, qualitative approach to living beings ultimately expressed in the concept of ‘organism’ – a purposive entity, or at least an entity possessed of functions. The beauty of this distinction is that it seems to make intuitive sense and to map onto historical and conceptual constellations in medicine, physiology and the related natural-philosophical discussions on the status of the body versus that of the machine. In this presentation I argue that the distinction between mechanism and teleology is imprecise and flawed, on the basis of a series of examples: the presence of ‘functional’ or ‘purposive’ features even in Cartesian physiology; work such as that of Richard Lower’s on animal respiration; the fact that the model of the ‘body-machine’ is not at all a mechanistic reduction of organismic properties to basic physical properties but on the contrary a way of emphasizing the uniqueness of organic life; and the concept of ‘animal economy’ in vitalist medical theory, which I present as a kind of ‘teleo-mechanistic’ concept of organism (borrowing a term of Timothy Lenoir’s which he used to discuss 19th-century embryology) – neither mechanical nor teleological.
Justin E. H. Smith, “Leibniz and Stahl on the Role of the Soul in the Body”
scholars have had only very limited access to the documents relating
to G. W. Leibniz's bitter debate with Georg Ernst Stahl concerning the
the soul in the body and the sources of bodily motion. The only two
less complete translations from the Latin, Blondin's of 1864, and
2004, are faulty in different ways and cannot be fully trusted. Their
significant shortcoming is that they both take Stahl's own 1720 edition
mediated correspondence, entitled Skiamachia, sive
Negotium otiosum [Shadow-Boxing,
or, A Tiresome Quarrel] as the basis of their own editions,
even though, as
we now know, and as one might have predicted from the bold title he
Stahl himself presented a thoroughly distorted account of the debate,
the way he frames the debate in his preface and in the notes and
he adds to the parts of the text meant to portray Leibniz's views, as
frequently, as in the outright alteration of Leibniz's words. If Stahl
'shadow-boxing' against his enemy, this is only because his enemy had
for four years and was not in a position to fight back.
Yet a study of the manuscripts Leibniz sent between 1709 and 1711 shows Leibniz's philosophical mind at its most subtle, and constitutes the most mature expression of a number of both his physiological and his philosophical ideas about the structure and function of living bodies. In this paper it will be argued that Leibniz's sustained argument against Stahl's view of the role of the soul in the body constitutes his most forceful rejection of the doctrine that would soon come to be called 'vitalism', according to which life is, in the end, a non-bodily force that plays a causal role in the bodily realm, particularly the role of preserving the structure of the body through time. For the mature Leibniz, instead, life just is perception, and thus belongs to simple substances alone. Animal bodies, in contrast, have their organisation and their functionality as a result of their 'vegetative structure alone', which is to say as a result of strictly non-vital, micro-mechanical factors. As Leibniz jokes, if the soul has the responsibility for holding the body together, then, as Chrysippus had observed before him, it is really doing nothing more than the salt in cured ham.
Yet in the decades following the publication of the Negotium otiosum, and down to the present day, the impression persists that Leibniz's theory of organic body constitutes at least a partial concession to 'vitalism' following upon the evident failure of the austere mechanism of a Descartes or a Borelli. On the interpretation offered here, however, Leibniz's arguments against Stahl amount not to a concession to vitalism, but indeed to a radicalisation of the anti-vitalism he had inherited from the mechanist tradition: Descartes, after all, had held open the possibility that at least some perception is grounded in bodily organs and processes. In order to understand the true character of Leibniz's anti- vitalism, we must first, however, address Leibniz's concern to argue against what he saw as the unwitting impiety of the Halle Pietists, including Stahl, who believed that God permits 'vice-gerent' entities to manage the structure and motion of bodies. In the end, for Leibniz, Stahl's vitalism, like Newton's theory of the 'sensorium', is in fact a variety of animism, and Leibniz, perhaps more than any other mechanist, is exceedingly sensitive to the danger of what he sees as incipient nature worship. In this sense it has been a mistake among some of Leibniz's followers and commentators to suppose that the introduction of the concept of organism by Leibniz had anything to do with a rejection of mechanism: in fact, as the debate with Stahl shows, the concept in fact enabled Leibniz to offer a version of mechanism adequate to the task of accounting for the structure and motion of animal bodies without having to invoke what he saw as the transcendental notion of 'life'.
Evan Ragland, “Periculum facere: Making Trials in Early Modern Medicine”
Against the received view of the emergence of ‘modern’ experimentation, as found in the works of Peter Dear, this paper argues that early modern physicians made empirical, contrived trials of general knowledge claims prior to, and independently of, mixed mathematics. Following on the suggestions of Charles Schmitt, I have identified numerous examples of the use of the phrase ‘periculum facere’ to signal the deliberate, first-person performance of an empirical trial of a theoretical claim in the writings of prominent sixteenth-century physicians. After sketching some background from the works of Galen and medieval physicians Arnau of Vilanova and Bernard Gordon, I present examples of trials from Pietro Mattioli, Gabriele Falloppio, Andreas Vesalius, Realdo Colombo, and Girolamo Fabrici (Fabricius ab Aquapendente). These examples from the medical traditions of medicinal trials and investigative anatomy suggest a range of meanings for ‘experience’ in sixteenth-century medicine. Strikingly, they also demonstrate the widespread prevalence and significant use of the phrase ‘periculum facere’ to designate activities very similar to supposedly ‘modern’ experiments.
Severinus employed several concepts that were native to agriculture and
history as analogies or metaphors to elaborate his version of
philosophy. The chief of these is the
seed, which is fundamental to his entire doctrine of organic change in
that he envisioned as fundamentally alive.
The seed as metaphor for planned developmental potential is so central
to his whole conception of alteration and transformation that I refer
to this theory
as semina doctrine or semina metaphysics.
But Severinus also drafted other terms drawn from arboriculture,
horticulture, agriculture, and animal husbandry for use in explaining
ideas. One of the most intriguing is
As an agricultural term, transplantation literally refers to the digging up of something, like a plant, transferring it to a new location, and replacing or replanting it, usually for the purpose of propagating the species through artificial management of the individuals. But, as its late medieval application to populations and its early modern use to describe the surgical removal, transfer, and replacement of organs and tissues indicates, the richness of the term’s descriptive power has led it to escape narrow semantic cultivation. For Severinus, transplantation meant a kind of transformation, the process by which one species becomes another, in the sense that a ‘new’ type of plant might appear in a carefully cultivated monoculture (Severinus uses the example of wheat becoming darnel). Nevertheless, in particular contexts he was careful to use this term transplantation rather than transformation, or transmutation, words readily available to one trained in Aristotelian natural philosophy in general and alchemy and Paracelsian medicine in particular, as he was. Indeed, given his basic commitment to a neoplatonist vision of change as a formal process and matter as inferior to and logically dependent on form, one might expect that he would use these more familiar terms. Was it merely the poet’s aesthetic choice at work in adapting this rich agricultural metaphor? Or did he mean the term to carry some subtle distinction about the nature of material change?
I will pursue the hypothesis that Severinus’ use of the term transplantation – as opposed to alterations or transmutations, which had clear Aristotelian meanings in relation to substantial forms and substantial change – retains some sense of the physical relocation of some material component, which is likely a seminal component, given his basic reliance on semina. If so, then a case can be made that Severinus was grafting onto his neoplatonist reading of Paracelsus a hint of atomism, which explained substantial change as recombination of components that retained their formal identities and were, in principle, recoverable. If this hypothesis is tenable, then it contributes to our understanding of the penetration of corpuscular thinking into a broad array of late sixteenth-century natural philosophies, antecedent to the ‘atomistic turn’ associated with Nicholas Hill and the recovery of classical Greek atomism in the seventeenth century.
Benjamin Goldberg, “The Soul Unfolding: Epigenesis as Soul Development in Harvey’s De generatione animalium”
In the Renaissance and Early Modern periods in Western Europe, the problem of animal generation was situated among a variety of metaphysical and natural philosophical problems concerning the soul. In this essay, I offer an interpretation of William Harvey's explanation of generation in his (1651) De generatione animalium. This account depends upon certain Aristotelian doctrines of the soul as the formal, final, and efficient cause of the living body. Harvey understood generation as epigenesis, the construction of the fetus, part by part, over time. I analyze epigenesis in terms of the development of the soul, from what I call following Alan Code 'active potentialities', found in the contributions of male and female, to the soul of the fetus and finally to the complete soul of the fully formed offspring. Further, Harvey's account, we shall see, is based upon the strange idea that the womb is like the brain, in form and function, and his explanation of generation depends upon an analogy with the process of conception in artistic production. This process is understood as one in which the final cause is inherent in the efficient cause, and thus guides the efficient cause towards those ends. Ultimately, Harvey realizes his account is both partial and speculative, and there are definite explanatory deficiencies, and I conclude by placing Harvey's account and its deficiencies within his larger cosmological and natural theological framework.
Ashley Inglehart, “Boyle, Malpighi and the Problem of Plastic Powers”
The Italian physician Marcello Malpighi references a plastic virtue, or an organizing power responsible for fecundation, in a letter to Jacob Spon published by the Royal Society in June and July 1684. Howard Adelmann, in his monumental work on Malpighi, writes that this plastic virtue is essentially the Galenic formative force. However, an appeal by Malpighi to a Galenic faculty for the process of generation would conflict greatly with his general mechanical project. That resulting conflict was more recently criticized by Catherine Wilson in her 1995 book, The Invisible World, in which she reads Malpighi in a similar vein as Adelmann.
Rather than interpret Malpighi in the context of Galen, this paper examines the works of one of Malpighi’s own contemporaries who discusses plastic virtues at length, Robert Boyle. Boyle remains metaphysically uncommitted about the nature of plastic powers because he attempts to explain specific mechanical processes by which the generation of animals, minerals and other entities occurs, rather than describing the nature of the agents involved. However, his references to plastic powers and a petrific spirit for the generation of both animals and minerals remain within the context of the mechanical philosophy. Giving particular emphasis to some of Malpighi’s posthumous work that has not yet been discussed in the secondary literature, I look at how Boyle’s view influenced Malpighi’s own conception of generation. I will show that Malpighi’s appeal to a plastic virtue is, in his own terms, part of a mechanical account of the generation of bodies from heterogeneous fluids.
PARTICIPANTS (*Presenters and Discussants)
Marcus Adams (Pitt, HPS)
Domenico Bertoloni Meli (IU, HPS)
Cameron Brown (Concordia, Philosophy)
Peter Distelzweig (Pitt, HPS)
*Benjamin Goldberg (Pitt, HPS)
*Ashley Inglehart (IU, HPS)
Hylarie Kochiras (Pitt, Center for Philosophy of Science)
James Lennox (Pitt, HPS)
Dennis Looney (Pitt, French and Italian)
*Evan Ragland (IU, HPS)
R. Allen Shotwell (IU, HPS)
*Justin E. H. Smith (Concordia, Philosophy)
*Jole Shackelford (UMinn., History of Medicine)
*Charles Wolfe (Pitt, HPS)
wish to thank Prof. James Lennox for providing support for this
workshop from his School of Arts and Sciences Research Fund.