Descartes and the Mechanization of Nature

Descartes makes the following claim about the human being in Part 5 of the Discourse on Method:

“I had also shown what changes must take place in the brain in order to cause wakefulness, sleep, and dreams; how light, sounds, odors, tastes, heat, and all other qualities of external objects can imprint various ideas there through the mediation of the senses; . . . . This will in no way seem strange to those who are cognizant of how many different automata or moving machines the ingenuity of men can make, without, in doing so, using more than a very small number of parts, in comparison with the great multitude of bones, muscles, nerves, arteries, veins, and all the other parts which are in the body of each animal. For they will regard this body as a machine which, having been made by the hands of God, is incomparably better ordered and has within itself movements far more wondrous than any of those that can be invented by men.

And I paused here in particular in order to show that, if there were such machines having the organs and the shape of a monkey or of some other animal that lacked reason, we would have no way of recognizing that they were not entirely of the same nature as these animals; whereas if there were any such machines that bore a resemblance to our bodies and imitated our actions as far as this is practically feasible, we would always have two very certain means of recognizing that they were not at all, for that reason, true men.”

He follows that with remarks in Part 6 about his reasons for writing and what he hopes his method will achieve, practically speaking.

Please write an essay in which you address:

Why does Descartes think it is possible to think about bodies (and the material world in general) like machines? Does that thinking about bodies like machines include the bodies of human beings? Why does Descartes believe that thinking about bodies as machines will be beneficial?
How might one object to Descartes’ argument and claims? (Think about who or what kind of philosophical position would not fit with Descartes’ plan, and why that is.)
What do you think of Descartes claims (and goals) related to regarding the body like a machine? In what ways are bodies like machines? In what ways are they not? Is it possible for human beings to become masters and possessors of nature, in an absolute sense? What about enjoying the fruits of the earth trouble-free? (p. 35)
I attached Part 5 and 6 from the book.


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