By Justin E. H. Smith
Although it didn't but exist as a discrete box of medical inquiry, biology was once on the center of some of the most crucial debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is that this extra obvious than within the paintings of G. W. Leibniz. In Divine Machines , Justin Smith deals the 1st in-depth exam of Leibniz's deep and complicated engagement with the empirical lifestyles sciences of his day, in parts as diversified as medication, body structure, taxonomy, iteration concept, and paleontology. He indicates how those wide-ranging ambitions weren't basically primary to Leibniz's philosophical pursuits, yet usually supplied the insights that resulted in a few of his best-known philosophical doctrines. proposing the clearest photo but of the scope of Leibniz's theoretical curiosity within the lifestyles sciences, Divine Machines takes heavily the philosopher's personal repeated claims that the realm has to be understood in essentially organic phrases. right here Smith finds a philosopher who used to be immersed within the sciences of lifestyles, and appeared to the dwelling global for solutions to vexing metaphysical difficulties. He casts Leibniz's philosophy in a completely new gentle, demonstrating the way it significantly departed from the present versions of mechanical philosophy and had a permanent impression at the historical past and improvement of the lifestyles sciences. alongside the best way, Smith presents a desirable glimpse into early smooth debates in regards to the nature and origins of natural existence, and into how philosophers corresponding to Leibniz engaged with the medical dilemmas in their period.
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Additional info for Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life
The Directiones are of particular interest because they show, or at least strongly suggest, that even before Leibniz took an interest in the study of animal economy as a problem of natural philosophy, his interest in physiological and anatomical research was initially born of a concern for the advancement of medicine as a social institution. As Vera Keller has remarked,36 this early text has all the markings of a typical “wish list,” a genre of early modern writing of which Leibniz was something of a master, in which the desiderata in any given domain of research are specified.
In general, he believes, medicines should be administered only very conservatively, particularly those that work in the body less like food than like poison. As he writes in the De scribendis novis medicinae elementis of the early 1680s: “All medicines operate either after the manner of aliments or of poisons. The former by degrees and insensibly, the latter by a great and sudden force. ”54 Leibniz seems very skeptical of many remedies but also seems to believe that they should be investigated and their proper application determined through experimentation, even if they are recognized frequently to be more damaging than beneficial.
Medicine is also crucial because it alone provides the hope for keeping the bodies of philosophers alive longer, and it is only, Leibniz often LEIBNIZ’S ENCOUNTER WITH MEDICINE 27 emphasizes, within a living body that a philosopher’s mind is of any use. ”9 Indeed, Leibniz often appears to maintain that the preservation of bodily health is itself a part of the virtuous life. He also believes, however, that in his day this part of the virtuous life is only just beginning to be properly cultivated, and much of his work throughout his life is dedicated to envisioning reforms of medical institutions, and of the state, that would improve public health and in turn the lives of thinking men, and thus that would improve philosophy itself.