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Material souls and imagination in Late Aristotelian embryology

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This article explores some continuities between Late Aristotelian and Cartesian embryology. In particular, it argues that there is an interesting consilience between some accounts of the role of imagination in trait acquisition in Late Aristotelian and Cartesian embryology. Evidence for this thesis is presented using the extensive biological writings of the Padua-based philosopher and physician, Fortunio Liceti (1577-1657). Like the Cartesian physiologists, Liceti believed that animal souls are material beings and that acts of imagination result in material images that can be transmitted by means of medical spirits to the embryo. Moreover, while the Cartesian embryologists accepted such a view in a quite speculative way, one finds penetrating criticism of imagination theories of trait acquisition in the Late Aristotelian tradition. Evidence for this thesis is presented using the no less extensive biological writings of Liceti's contemporary, Emilio Parisano (1567-1643). In conclusion, the Late Aristotelian tradition itself provides the theoretical tools for excising immaterial formative forces from embryology and at the same time evinces a much more acute sense for the problems inherent in imagination theories of trait acquisition than the Cartesian tradition.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Paderborn, Paderborn, Germany

Publication date: 2010-04-01

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