Garrett 2003

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Garrett, Brian. "Vitalism and Teleology in the Natural Philosophy of Nehemiah Grew (1641-1712)." BJHS 36.1 (March 2003): 63-81.

presenting arguments from Grew's Cosmologia Sacra (1701) against the materialist and mechanistic understanding of life

"My discussion reveals the considerable influence that More (and neo-Platonism generally) had among naturalists, and indicates that the reception of Cartesianism in England had much to do with the overlap found between aspects of neo-Platonism and Cartesian philosophy. Grew rejected Descartes's and Willis's materialist concept of life as a superadded property of matter. Not only is life itself incorporeal, the variously shaped corporeal atoms constituting the bodies of things are not themselves the proper subject for life. According to Grew, only incorporeal principles are alive." (64)

Grew is a Presbyterian but holds a "simultaneous commitment to atomistic and mechanistic explanation regarding mtter, along with the somewhat panpsychist view that all material bodies, but certainly vegetative bodies, are associated with a vital principle." (65)

even has he's commited to mechanistic explanations, he shows the failures of mechanism to account for vital phenomena

"Change in mixed bodies was simply the dissolution or reorganization of the fundamental material principles." (66)

believes in the artificiality of natural objects -- mechanistic belief

vital mechanist

all of Nature is artifice, a great Engine, but that alone doesn't lead to life; i.e., organization of matter is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for life

"The issue for Grew is the subject of life. We are offered two possibilities, the corporeal principles or atoms, or the incorporeal principles, or souls. Whic is, literally speaking, alive? Grew maintains an analogy between corporeal atoms and their motion, and incorporeal principles and their life. Diverse motion is mirrored in the vital world by diverse forms of life: vegetative, sensitive and intellectual. The corporeal and incorporeal principles have commerce via their modes, motion and life." (67)

Willis and Descartes: life is "subtilized matter, perhaps an igneous fluid" (67), identified with heat

  • also believed by Harvey, Bacon

Glisson; influenced Grew to embark on a comparative anatomy of plants and animals

  • "Glisson's notion of the plant spirit is physico-chemical." (70)

life cannot be an adjunct of matter because than any atom would be capable of life (71)

"Life and Motion being ... the Two Instruments of Commerce, between the Vital and the Corporeal Worlds." (qtd on 71)

Grew on motion of sap leads him to a mechanistic explanation;

Henry More, on sap, seeks Hylarchic principle, or Spirit of Nature

"So in Grew's earlier work we find a determined effort to offer mechanistic interpretations of phenomena, but by 1701 in the Cosmologia Grew writes that the vegetative soul is required to explain the beating fo the heart and the circulation of sap. This change may well reflect the influence of More upon Grew's later, more apologetic thoughts." (73)
"The postulation of active matter was, primarily, an attempt to remain mechanistic, while avoiding the obvious paucity of explanation derivable from Cartesian matter and laws of motion. But for Grew, More and Cudworth, this attempt to save mechanism plays into the hands of the atheists, who would deprive nature of God, or of God's closest representative, his 'plastic' principles." (77)

making explicit God's intentions in nature -- theist mechanism

"Having rejected on broadly a-priori grounds the materialist attempts to idenfity life with matter-in-motion, subtlety, organization and so on, Grew claims that vital principles are required to make sense of teleological phenomena." (79)