Publication details [#10751]

Tombs, George. 2002. Man the machine: A history of a metaphor from Leonardo da Vinci to H. G. Wells. Montreal, Canada. 453 pp.


During the Italian Renaissance, artists and anatomists compared man to various mechanical devices, in an attempt to uncover knowledge about the structure and processes of the human body. In so doing, they drew on ancient Greek notions of instrumentality and proportion. During the early Scientific Revolution, the metaphor of Man the machine played a key role in the development of mechanistic philosophy. During the enlightenment, it served views on materialism and atheism. By the nineteenth century, when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, a fundamental change in the relationship of man to machine had come about. Whereas, for Protagoras, man had been the measure of all things, now suddenly the machine was the standard by which the capacities and limits of man were judged. Man the machine was a key feature in the development of the totalitarian ideology of Communism. Moreover, for over a century now, the technocratic viewpoint has guided many technological innovations. Tracing a history of this metaphor, through Leonardo, Vesalius, Harvey, Descartes, Hobbes, Leibniz, La Mettrie, d'Holbach, Marx and Wells, places man's relationship with technology and his gradual loss of identity since the Renaissance in a new context. (George Tombs)