Quote of the Day: Descartes‘ „beast-machine“

Just another bird machine: Descartes

Just another bird machine: Descartes




„If Brutes, as Learned Bards of late would prove,

Are only Engines, and like Clock-work move,

Say, how my dearest Bird, my charming Dove,

Knows that destructive Ill, has sense of love?“





The quote has been taken from “The Turtle, an Elegy, by Clarissa” in The Gentleman’s Journal, or the Monthly Miscellany, III, published in August 1694 (p. 222).  The poem is a reaction to Descartes’ notion of animals being nothing more than spirit-less machines. The author wants to point out that he or she does believe in the existence of an an animal soul, that they are capable of emotions.

This idea of the „beast-machine“, however, had a great impact on how animals were regarded and treated in Europe throughout the 18th and 19th century. It allowed scientists to mistreat animals for scientific experiments without having to care about issues of emotion or pain. Thus a very common method of anatomic research in the 18th and 19th century was vivisection, i.e. cutting open animal bodies while they were still alive.

It has been argued amongst scholars whether Descartes himself might not have been convinced that human beings were machines as well, just like later Julien Offray de la Mettrie wrote in his famous book L’homme machine. If so, Descartes must nonetheless have feared the harsh reaction by the church, like towards his friend Galileo Gallilei, so that he might have suppressed the idea and hid it from the public. This way he only allowed animals to be soulless, whilst leaving space for the superiority and god-like appearance of the human race.


Eine Antwort to “Quote of the Day: Descartes‘ „beast-machine“”

  1. youknowwho Says:

    To the Current Chief Beast,

    May your days be filled with the realization of your dreams that are really beneficial to your wellbeing.

    My you not be granted the wish to always be the center of attraction; but may your desire to leave something of worth to the world be fulfilled in a way that enriches not only your own life but the lifes of many.

    May your thoughtful behaviour to others be the building block of an impression on the world that is worthwile to be left.

    Please be thoughtful of the people you touch in life, even though not all of them may stand up to your expectation of necessary excitement and originality. Even the smallest drop has its place in the universe and some day, when you are older and have collected a bunch of experience, you maybe will reconsider many of your adventures and realize that even the worst of them have provided you with experience worthwile to have made.

    May every day be blessed with the richfulness that oftenly will shed its light only years afterwards.

    In remindful dedication and without a glimpse of personal attachment,

    a meanwhile far away now stranger but erstwhile close to heart lover.

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