Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-ndmmz Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-23T09:54:58.663Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Animal Spirits

from ENTRIES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2016

Dennis L. Sepper
Affiliation:
University of Dallas
Lawrence Nolan
Affiliation:
California State University, Long Beach
Get access

Summary

The notion “animal spirits” derives from Hellenistic Greek medical theory. Physicians in the school of Alexandria circa 275 B.C.E. postulated a theory that, especially in the version of Claudius Galen (130–216 C.E.), endured into the eighteenth century. Three systems of tubular vessels – the veins, the arteries, and the nerves – were understood as containing, respectively, blood, vital spirit (pneuma zootikon, absorbed from the atmosphere), and psychic spirit (pneuma psychikon). The last, known in Latin as spiritus animalis, was thought to be produced in the brain by filtration or distillation from vital spirit and then distributed throughout the body by the nerves (Smith et al. 2012).

The notion of spirits played a role in Descartes’ philosophy and science from the earliest stages of his investigations into living bodies (ca. 1630–32; see AT XI 505–38). In a 1643 letter, he in fact discusses three kinds of spirits: natural, vital, and animal, differentiated by size and activity (AT III 685–89). But only the animal spirits played a central, psychophysiological role for Descartes. In the Treatise on Man (unpublished, ca. 1633), he explained that animal spirits are gradually filtered from the blood as it leaves the heart. The finest, most subtle and active particles ascend to the brain, in particular to its central chamber (the concavities or ventricles, where the pineal gland is located). From there the spirits can flow into the pores of the brain and into the nerves. He conceives of the nerves as tubes with fibers running down their center and filled with animal spirits. In his famous account of a human being whose naked foot is close to a fire (AT XI 141–42, CSM I 101–2), the heat sets off a motion in the central fibers that is conducted to the periphery of the brain chamber, where the nerve tubes have their orifices; that motion sets a pressure or flow through the ventricular spirits that move the pineal gland; in response, the gland produces countermotions that cause other tube orifices to open or close and thus to admit more or less spirits; this differential motion of spirits is conveyed to the appropriate muscles, which lead to visible motions of the animal (such as moving the foot away from the fire) (Figure 3).

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Bitbol-Hespériès, Annie. 2000. “Cartesian Physiology,” in Descartes’ Natural Philosophy, ed. Gaukroger, S., Schuster, J., and Sutton, J.. New York: Routledge, 349–82.Google Scholar
Smith, C. U. M., Frixione, Eugenio, Finger, Stanley, and Clower, William. 2012. The Animal Spirit Doctrine and the Origins of Neurophysiology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

  • Animal Spirits
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.011
Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

  • Animal Spirits
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.011
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Animal Spirits
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.011
Available formats
×