Article ID: CBB001321161

Whytt and the Idea of Power: Physiological Evidence as a Challenge to the Eighteenth-Century Criticism of the Notion of Power (2013)


In An Essay on the Vital and Involuntary Motions of Animals, Robert Whytt maintained that the muscular motions that perform the natural functions of the organism are caused by an immaterial power. Here we consider to what extent the philosophical criticism of power urged by Locke and Hume may jeopardize his thesis, how his response mobilizes the resources of the Scottish experimental theism and whether he makes an original use of such resources. First, we examine various pieces of experimental evidence from which Whytt infers the need to evoke this power, before showing how they prompt him to stand by the immaterial power in the face of the empiricist criticisms. Following this, we explore the link Whytt makes between power and agency, in particular comparing his thought with Locke's. Lastly, we examine his work in the light of Hume's criticism regarding the question of whether a power may be felt.

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Authors & Contributors
Stewart, M. A.
Wood, Paul B.
Sher, Richard B.
MacDonald, Fiona A.
Wright, John P.
Stanistreet, Paul
Huntington Library Quarterly
Journal of the History of Ideas
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
Revue de Synthèse
British Journal for the History of Science
University of Rochester Press
Pennsylvania State University Press
Pickering & Chatto
Oxford University Press
Philosophy of science
Hume, David
Whytt, Robert
Stewart, Dugald
Reid, Thomas
Cullen, William
Beattie, James
Great Britain
18th century
17th century
19th century

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