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Treatise on Man

from ENTRIES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2016

Theo Verbeek
Affiliation:
Universiteit Utrecht
Erik-Jan Bos
Affiliation:
École normale supérieure de Lyon
Lawrence Nolan
Affiliation:
California State University, Long Beach
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Summary

The Traité de l'homme was first published in its original French by Clerselier (L'homme, 1664), after being published in a Latin translation by Florent Schuyl (1619–69) (De homine, 1662 and 1664). Apart from a short summary in the Passions of the Soul (art. 7–16) and the equally posthumous Description of the Human Body, this work is the main source of Descartes’ physiology. A “treatise on man” was planned by Descartes as early as 1629, as part of an explanation of “all natural phenomena, that is, all of physics” (AT I 70, CSMK 7), as indicated by the summary of the “treatise on light” in the Discourse on Method. According to that summary, the treatise would contain a discussion not only of celestial and terrestrial bodies but also of man “because he observes them” (AT VI 42, CSM I 132). Not only is the inclusion of “human nature” in accordance with the traditional conception of physics, but it also matches Descartes’ statement in 1645 that he started work on a “treatise on animals” (which is clearly what we now know as his Treatise on Man) “more than fifteen years ago” (AT IV 326).

Descartes’ approach raised the challenging problem of how to integrate a theory of man into his own theory of nature, given the fact that the human mind cannot be reduced to matter; and he could not speak of living bodies “in the same manner as the other things, that is, by demonstrating effects from causes and showing from what seeds and in what manner nature must produce them” (AT VI 45, CSM I 134). The first problem could be solved by giving the human mind an exceptional status; the second problem could be solved only by means of the “supposition” that “God formed the body of a man exactly like our own … using for its composition nothing but the matter that I had described,” without placing in it

any rational soul or any other thing to serve as a vegetative or sensitive soul, but rather that he kindled in its heart one of those fires without light which I had already explained, and whose nature I understood to be no different from that of the fire which heats hay when it has been stored before it is dry.

(AT VI 46, CSM I 134)
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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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References

Descartes, René. 1998. The World and Other Writings, trans. Gaukroger, S.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Descartes, René. 1996. Le monde, l'homme, ed. (with notes) Bitbol-Hespériès, A. and Verdet, J.-P.. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
Descartes, René. 1972. Treatise of Man, trans. and commentary Hall, T. S.. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Des Chene, Dennis. 2000. Spirits and Clocks: Machine and Organism in Descartes. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
Lüthy, Christoph. 2006. “Where Logical Necessity Becomes Visual Persuasion: Descartes’ Clear and Distinct Illustrations,” in Transmitting Knowledge: Words, Images and Instruments in Early Modern Europe, ed. Maclean, I. and Kusukawa, S.. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 97–133.Google Scholar
Wilkin, Rebecca. 2003. “Figuring the Dead Descartes: Claude Clerselier's Homme de René Descartes (1664),” Representations 83: 38–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zittel, Claus. 2009. Theatrum philosophicum: Descartes und die Rolle ästhetischer Formen in der Wissenschaft. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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  • Treatise on Man
  • 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/CBO9780511894695.247
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  • Treatise on Man
  • 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/CBO9780511894695.247
Available formats
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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.

  • Treatise on Man
  • 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/CBO9780511894695.247
Available formats
×