Monstrosity and the Limits of the Intellect: Philosophy as Teratomachy in Descartes

Filippo Del Luchesse


For Descartes, nature must be interpreted through a limited number of simple laws used to describe the multiplicity of the real, focusing on the rule and normality rather than on the exception and monstrosity. Nevertheless, monstrosity has a vital function in Descartes' philosophy. By offering a new reading of the evil genius and the deceiver God in terms of absolute monstrosity, I intend to demonstrate the novel role played by the will in this philosophical ‘teratomachy’. Examining the peculiar status Admiration occupies in the economy of the passions, I also analyze a passage from the Cogitationes circa generatione animalium, the only text in which Descartes explicitly discusses physical monstrosities. I argue that these pages, in which Descartes subscribes to a rigidly mechanistic, epigenetic view of embryology, are in tension with his doctrine of final causes and the idea of continuous creation. My theory is that the entire philosophy of Descartes can be read as a veritable war against a certain idea of monstrosity.


Descartes; monstrosity; teratomachy

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