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Life in the Dark: Corals, Sponges, and Gravitation in Late Seventeenth Natural Philosophy

Abstract : This chapter examines how the borderline cases pointed out by English naturalists and philosophers in the second half of the seventeenth-century call into doubt the common notion of life as a vegetative power. In the first part of this chapter, I focus on Nehemiah Grew’s notions of life and living beings by comparing his plant anatomy, in which he examines the cases of sponges and corals, with his physico-theology. In the second part, I confront Grew’s views on life to those of John Ray and Ralph Cudworth. My aim is threefold. First, I want to show that there was then no agreement on what a “vital phenomenon” is. Second, I want to emphasize the fact that what we would classify today as physical phenomena, such as gravitation, were then regarded as living phenomena. Third, and accordingly, I would like to challenge the view that the English naturalists and philosophers who then developed a physico-theology simply used empirical vital phenomena in order to refute Descartes’ metaphysics. In my view, there were no such things as “empirical vital phenomena.” Indeed, the very identification and description of the phenomena considered as “vital” was a matter of interpretation, and those different authors did not share the same set of assumptions regarding what kinds of beings are alive. At the very least, they do not share the set of assumptions that define what we regard as “vital.”
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Contributor : Raphaële Andrault Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Friday, June 4, 2021 - 12:53:41 PM
Last modification on : Sunday, June 26, 2022 - 1:11:00 AM



Raphaële Andrault. Life in the Dark: Corals, Sponges, and Gravitation in Late Seventeenth Natural Philosophy. Vegetative Powers The Roots of Life in Ancient, Medieval and Early Modern Natural Philosophy, pp.365-382, 2021, ⟨10.1007/978-3-030-69709-9_21⟩. ⟨halshs-03249856⟩



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