The Human Heart, from Harvey to Hobbes

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  • 1 University of Hertfordshire, UK
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For two millennia the heart was considered to be the seat of intelligence, motion and sensation. Thomas Hobbes's friend William Harvey revolutionised the understanding of the heart by demonstrating how blood circulates, and correctly identifying the function of the heart as propulsion. Soon after the publication of De Motu Cordis, Descartes redefined the heart as a ‘pump’, and Hobbes as a ‘spring’. In these mechanistic and rationalist systems the heart lost its prestige, and could no longer be considered the source of sensation and emotion. Harvey did not, however, seek to displace the heart from its traditional position in metaphysical anatomy, but by retaining an Aristotelean interest in causes, continued to promote the centrality of the heart in ways that have persisted in philosophy, theology and literature even to the present day. A fresh look at Harvey's writings will help us to understand why.

Contributor Notes

Writer and critic Graham Holderness has published over sixty books and hundreds of chapters and articles of criticism, theory and theology. Recent publications include The Faith of William Shakespeare (Lion Books, 2016) and Meat, Murder, Malfeasance, Medicine and Martyrdom: Smithfield Stories (Edward Everett Root, 2019). He is Professor Emeritus at the University of Hertfordshire. E-mail:


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