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c h a p t e r f i v e Fat, Blood, and the Body’s Organization 5.1 The Necessity of Matter and the Animal’s Benefit Fat is not the first body part to spring to mind when one thinks of mechanistic anatomy and medicine, yet its accumulation and purpose pose philosophical problems relating to the body’s organization and goal, as well as to processes such as nutrition and growth, which were originally associated with the role of the faculties. Descartes and Malpighi independently addressed these themes in publications of 1664 and 1665, respectively. In the posthumous La description du corps humaine, added by Claude Clerselier to L’homme, Descartes discussed nutrition and the nature of fat and blood. By comparing the growth of organs and other body parts to the accumulation of fat, Descartes raised the issues of goal-directness, of the difference between living organisms and dead machines, and of the presence of different levels of organization within the body, denying a role to the faculties in nutrition. Whereas Descartes’ discussion occurs in passing in a section on nutrition, Malpighi devoted an entire essay to the nature and role of fat and its anatomical features, with special emphasis on the circumstances and location of its production and the possible existence of appropriate vessels: unlike Descartes, Malpighi was an anatomist who wished to get the anatomical evidence straight and spared no efforts to investigate and experiment, even having Borelli ship body parts of a deer and lion from Pisa to Messina. De omento, pinguedine, et adiposis ductibus—an anonymous addition to Tetras anatomicarum epistolarum— contains some of Malpighi’s most intriguing philosophical reflections on the body’s organization and on the tension between the necessity of matter and a purposeful nature. The expression necessitas materiae occurs in the peripatetic andThomistic tradition in which Malpighi had been trained. In De principiis naturae, for example, Thomas Aquinas drew a distinction shaped by the four Aristotelian causes between necessitas materiae and necessitas finis. The necessitas materiae proceeds from the efficient and Fat, Blood, and the Body’s Organization 131 material causes, which are the prior ones; the necessitas finis proceeds from the formal and final causes, which are the posterior ones. Thus, denying that the necessitas materiae is at play implies having recourse to final and not mechanical causes. The expression necessitas materiae occurs also in Francesco Buonamici’s De motu, the major work by one of the authors Malpighi identified as one of his formative sources.¹ The expression “necessity of matter” and its cognates occur in other works by Malpighi besides De omento, most notably in De polypo cordis, an essay appended in 1668 to De viscerum structura. Thus, there are good reasons to discuss De omento and De polypo cordis together, even though at first glance these topics don’t seem to have much to do with each other: both address similar philosophical issues about the body’s organization and mode of operation by having recourse to the same key expression . Therefore, this chapter enriches our sense of Malpighi’s philosophical itinerary, showing that several years after having left Pisa and Borelli, he was still reflecting and elaborating on the body’s organization, teleology, and mechanistic explanations. As we have seen in section 4 of the introduction, the relationships between mechanistic and teleological explanations could be quite subtle. Both De omento and De polypo cordis contain exceedingly interesting and problematic passages requiring careful exegeses . While accepting a notion of teleology providing a role for a provident artificer, Malpighi was skeptical about another notion of teleology, defending the existence of a principle or motor internal to the organism and acting to its benefit. De polypo cordis can be approached from a variety of perspectives: an especially interesting one ties it to the medical rage of the time. Malpighi’s treatise appeared in the immediate aftermath of the first publications on blood transfusions, some of which were performed in 1667 at Bologna in Cassini’s house—probably in Malpighi ’s presence—immediately prior to the treatise’s publication, and it relates to the extensive literature on intravenous injections and blood transfusions; thus, it seems appropriate to review this literature both for its medical and anatomical significance and as valuable background to Malpighi’s research. In addition, Malpighi relied more explicitly and extensively than in previous works on diseased states as a tool of investigation . While postmortems had...


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