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But were there any ‘mechanical philosophers’ besides Descartes?

Lecture by prof. Christoph Lüthy (Radboud University, Nijmegen) organized by the department History of Philosophy


We are accustomed to the idea that natural philosophy in the seventeenth century became 'mechanical', and that the 'mechanical philosophy' replaced the vitalistic and teleological reasoning of the Schools. 

This lecture attempts to cast dark shadows on this idea. It will be investigated how, around 1670, the term 'mechanical philosophy' was first coined and then projected backwards in time; it will be examined why this projection is misleading; and finally, it will be documented that in Renaissance and early modern philosophy, 'mechanical' was by no means the contrary of 'vitalistic'. The thesis will be put forward that the term 'mechanical philosophy' is either redundant (being equivalent to 'Cartesian philosophy') or misleading (by suggesting an overarching programme that no one espoused).


Christoph Lüthy is Professor in the History of Philosophy and Science at Radboud University Nijmegen. He studied philosophy and modern languages at Oxford, physics at Basel and the history of science at Harvard. His research concerns the history of natural philosophy, notably in the early modern period; the evolution and taxonomy of scientific iconography; and the history of notions of human perfectibility. He is also the editor of the journal Early Science and Medicine .

Laatst gewijzigd:30 oktober 2012 20:39