The end of motion : John Donne and the final cause in natural and moral philosophy

Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2013
Thesis identifier
  • T13540
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis examines the scientific and moral concept of final causality in the works of John Donne. In the Aristotelian tradition, final causality provided a comprehensive framework which explained how all things in the universe developed towards a natural end. This framework not only governed natural things, but also human behaviour and social/political organisation. With the beginnings of the scientific revolution, the validity of final causality, as the measure of change in the natural world, was called into question, and, by the seventeenth century, had been largely exploded by the mechanical philosophy. Donne's interest in questions of early modern science has been well documented; but an examination of his responses to the disruption of such a fundamental concept as final causality has not yet been attempted. This thesis, therefore, sets out to fill this critical space. Contrary to previous discussions of Donne's engagement with new science, which imagine him as either grounded intellectually in medieval or new philosophy, I suggest that it is more likely that he preferred to adapt what he knew of the new system to fit in with the old. In this respect, Donne was no different from contemporaries, who graphed new knowledge onto the existing Aristotelian system. The final cause, I argue, is the enduring concept which Donne seeks to uphold. The thesis also claims that Donne's attraction to the final cause had a personal/biographical, as well as intellectual basis. Because of his marriage and subsequent exile with Ann More, Donne frequently expressed the need for purpose or fulfilment in social life, and this too, I maintain, shaped his understanding of causal movement as being morally correct. The chapters of the thesis are divided equally between questions of natural and moral philosophy, and follow a rough chronology, beginning with the verse letters and ending with the sermons.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2013
Former identifier
  • 1001077