Essaying the Mechanical Hypothesis: Descartes, La Forge, and Malebranche on the Formation of Birthmarks

in Early Science and Medicine
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Abstract

This essay examines the determination by Cartesians to explain the maternal imagination's alleged role in the formation of birthmarks and the changing notion of monstrosity. 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 offered a detailed account stating that the failure to explain the maternal imagination's impressions would cast doubt on mechanism. Whereas both characterized the birthmark as a deformation or monstrosity in miniature, Malebranche attributed a role to the maternal imagination in fashioning family likenesses. However, he also charged the mother's imagination with the transmission of original sin.

Essaying the Mechanical Hypothesis: Descartes, La Forge, and Malebranche on the Formation of Birthmarks

in Early Science and Medicine

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