11 - Harvey and experimental philosophy  pp. 310-386

Harvey and experimental philosophy

By Roger French

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Harvey's natural philosophy

This story of Harvey began with the image of him raising his scalpel to begin the Lumleian lectures. It will be useful to return to that image in this final chapter. We have now seen how Harvey's dissection was related to his natural philosophy. We have also seen how his natural philosophy was based on an experiential Aristotelian model and a sensory and experimental practice that owed a little to Plato and a lot to Galen and the anatomists closer to Harvey's time. We shall be concerned in this chapter with an attempt to discover how important Harvey's experimentalism was for the new and much celebrated Experimental Philosophy of the seventeenth century.

The question is centrally one of the validity of experimental knowledge compared to that of knowledge derived from other sources. We must first therefore look at what Harvey thought on this matter. His natural philosophy, in the course of practising which he came to discover that the blood circulated, changed – at least in its external expression – over the period with which we are concerned. He began as an anatomy lecturer who used a scholastic apparatus that included the Aristotelian and partly too Galenic notion that knowledge of a part included and was partly drawn from knowledge of its purposes. Harvey as an anatomy lecturer dealt with a disputed question, a traditional dubium, in a slightly unusual way, by means of a simple experiment (he punctured the ventricle of the heart of an animal).