© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2008 DOI: 10.1163/157338208X362688 Early Science and Medicine 13 (2008) 533-567 www.brill.nl/esm Essaying the Mechanical Hypothesis: Descartes, La Forge, and Malebranche on the Formation of Birthmarks Rebecca M. Wilkin * Pacific Lutheran University Tacoma, Washington Abstract This essay examines the determination by Cartesians to explain the maternal imagina- tion’s alleged role in the formation of birthmarks and the changing notion of monstros- ity. Cartesians saw the formation of birthmarks as a challenge through which to demonstrate the heuristic capacity of mechanism. Descartes claimed to be able to explain the transmission of a perception from the mother’s imagination to the fetus’ skin without having recourse to the little pictures postulated by his contemporaries. La Forge ofered a detailed account stating that the failure to explain the maternal imagination’s impressions would cast doubt on mechanism. Whereas both character- ized the birthmark as a deformation or monstrosity in miniature, Malebranche attrib- uted a role to the maternal imagination in fashioning family likenesses. However, he also charged the mother’s imagination with the transmission of original sin. Keywords birthmarks, formative faculty, maternal imagination, mechanism, monsters, optics, René Descartes, Louis de La Forge and Nicolas Malebranche In the first fragments
Early Science and Medicine – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 2008
Keywords: MECHANISM; NICOLAS MALEBRANCHE; FORMATIVE FACULTY; BIRTHMARKS; LOUIS DE LA FORGE; OPTICS; MONSTERS; RENÉ DESCARTES; MATERNAL IMAGINATION
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