Peter Distelzweig


Western Michigan University

Early Modern Mechanism and the Contemporary Mechanisms Debate

Recent work on mechanisms (e.g. Machamer, Darden and Craver 2000, Glennan 2002, Bechtel and Abrahamsen 2005, and Nicholson 2012) has been intended primarily to effect a shift in contemporary discussions in the philosophy of science. Nonetheless, it may also impact our insights into the nature of early modern mechanism (EMM) in its historical diversity. Indeed, many of the prominent papers in the contemporary mechanisms literature make explicit (but often general or ambiguous) connections to cases of EMM. How should we think of these suggested connections?

“Mechanics” and Mechanism in William Harvey’s Anatomy: Varieties and Limits

William Harvey’s De motu cordis (1628) is an important text in the history of medicine and played a prominent role in the rise of mechanical and experimental approaches to natural philosophy in the 17th century. Descartes, Hobbes and Boyle (among others) praised Harvey’s short, cogent argument for the forceful systole of the heart and the circulation of the blood. Hobbes even suggested that Harvey was to the science of the human body what Galileo was to the science of motion and Copernicus to astronomy.