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Digby, Kenelm (1603–65)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA028-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 10, 2020, from

Article Summary

Seventeenth-century English Catholic, original member of the Royal Society, and one of the first philosophers to produce a fully developed system of mechanical philosophy, Sir Kenelm Digby cut a dashing figure as a poet, privateer and philosopher. As a Catholic and royalist, he spent much of his life in semi-exile on the continent where he conversed with many of the political and intellectual leaders of his time; as a philosopher, he was favourably compared to René Descartes and John Locke. He attempted to wed the philosophy of Aristotle to the new mechanical physics, which maintained that every event in the material world is reducible to matter in motion. His interests and writings cover a wide range, from religion and magic to vegetative growth and literary commentary. The explicit goal of his most significant book, Two Treatises (1644), was to prove the immortality of the human soul. To this end, the first treatise constitutes an exhaustive study of bodies and their features. By showing that all corporeal qualities are to be explained in strictly material terms, he prepares the way for a thorough discussion of the soul. Digby argues that the soul must be immaterial (and hence immortal) because otherwise its features cannot be explained. He went on to apply the mechanical principles which he developed in this work to a variety of topics, including some traditionally associated with the occult. His works on alchemical, medical and religious topics were also widely read.

Citing this article:
Mercer, Christia. Digby, Kenelm (1603–65), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA028-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2020 Routledge.

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