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Chapter 24. Animals


Subject Philosophy » Philosophy of Science
History of Philosophy » Modern (C17th - C19th)

People Descartes, René

Key-Topics animals

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405121545.2008.00026.x


Descartes notoriously proposed that (non-human) animals are mere machines, devoid of sensation or feeling. This proposal, which in itself seems ludicrous, becomes intelligible when seen within Descartes's larger philosophical scheme. In this scheme, sensation and feeling can arise only in a mind: an immaterial substance, distinct from matter. For various reasons, Descartes denied minds to animals, and, on that basis, he denied them feeling. In the body of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance philosophy and theology that informed Descartes's philosophy, most thinkers considered the divide between non-human and human animals to be large and significant. Most philosophers held that only the human animal is rational, self-reflective, and free to deliberate and choose. They viewed non-human animals as possessing sentience and some simple cognitive abilities, but as unable to entertain universal notions (such as the concept of animal , which applies to all animals) or to represent cognitively anything except concrete, particular bodies. Theologically, most held that, while the human soul is immortal, other animals either lack a soul or have a soul that perishes with the body. Descartes reinforced the metaphysical divide between humans and other animals. He upheld the immortality of the human soul, and he argued that, if other animals had souls, they too would be immortal — a theologically ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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