Dennis Des Chene

​Professor of Philosophy
PhD, Stanford University
research interests:
  • History of Philosophy
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contact info:

mailing address:

  • Washington University
  • CB 1073
  • One Brookings Drive
  • St. Louis, MO 63130-4899
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Professor Des Chene's research concerns the history of philosophy, especially early modern.

Professor Des Chene has published on natural philosophy and the sciences of life in the seventeenth century. More recently he has been working on theories of the passions and on animals and automata. Other interests include aesthetics and the philosophy of art, especially of music, and the history and philosophy of mathematics.

Historical Dictionary of Decartes and Cartesian Philosophy

Historical Dictionary of Decartes and Cartesian Philosophy

The Historical Dictionary of Descartes and Cartesian Philosophy includes many entries on Descartes's writings, concepts, and findings. Since it is historical, there are other entries on those who supported him, those who criticized him, those who corrected him, and those who together formed one of the major movements in philosophy, Cartesianism. To better understand the period, the authors drew up a brief chronology, and to see how Descartes and Cartesianism fit into the general picture, they have written an introduction and a biography. Since everything cannot be summed up in one volume, a bibliography directs readers to numerous other sources on issues of particular interest.

Spirits and Clocks: Machine and Organism in Descartes

Spirits and Clocks: Machine and Organism in Descartes

Although the basis of modern biology is Cartesian, Descartes's theories of biology have been more often ridiculed than studied. Yet, Dennis Des Chene demonstrates, the themes, arguments, and vocabulary of his mechanistic biology pervade the writings of many seventeenth-century authors. In his illuminating account of Cartesian physiology in its historical context, Des Chene focuses on the philosopher's innovative reworking of that field, including the nature of life, the problem of generation, and the concepts of health and illness.

Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul

Life's Form: Late Aristotelian Conceptions of the Soul

Dennis Des Chene explores how Western philosophers understood life and the soul in the early modern period―before Descartes radically changed how the universe was conceived. Life's Form is a detailed analysis of the often overlooked work of the Jesuit commentators on Aristotle whose writings dominated Western European science and the academy until the mechanistic revolution. Des Chene considers the work of scholastic writers such as Suárez and the Coimbrans, who provided thorough and sometimes profound studies of Aristotle's definitions of the soul and of life.Life's Form is not restricted only to questions relevant to the human case, such as the immortality of the soul. Des Chene analyzes what might be called the protobiology of late Aristotelians: the theory of living things in general, of their powers, and of the relation between soul and body in all organisms. His mastery of doctrinal subtlety offers insight into conceptual issues of renewed relevance to the philosophy of biology.