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La refonte de l’homme : découvertes médicales et philosophie de la nature humaine (Pays germaniques, France, Grande-Bretagne, XVIIe-XVIIIe siècles) – PHILOMED

Submission summary

Reshaping man : medical discoveries and philosophies of human nature in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Europe (German Empire, Great Britain, France) The research project « Philomed » investigates the impact of medical discoveries on the philosophical anthropology in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century Europe (German Empire, Great Britain, France). It thereby attempts to fill a gap left open by the majority of historians of science who find it difficult (or who are even unable) to make medicine fit into the general picture of the Scientific Revolution. And yet, despite its status of a mixed (theoretical and practical) and as a somehow ambiguous and non-consensual science, partly adopting mechanical and experimental principles, partly sticking to « old » Hippocratic traditions and despite the absence of direct therapeutic results in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century, medicine undoubtedly counts among those modern and productive sciences which just like astronomy and physics made philosophers rethink and reshape the modern man. And whether or not philosophers directly addressed the issue, medical research and discoveries (such as Harvey's discovery of blood circulation, Glisson's and Haller's principle of irritability, Stahl's theories on tonus and respiration) conditioned the philosophical discourse on the human being and the philosophical perspectives on human nature, mortality, rationality and consciousness. The medical dimension of philosophical anthropology is most explicit in the German Eighteenth-century founding of an anthropological discipline (see Platner's Anthropologie für Ärzte und Weltweise), but it is equally present in the French and English traditions : the project will explore all of these traditions, from a transnational, comparative and interdisciplinary perspective that considers texts and crosses methods from the history of philosophy, the history of science, literature and cultural history. Such an approach contrasts with the current interpretations in philosophy, mostly adopting an internal viewpoint and also with the traditional approaches in the history of science and medical history, reluctant to enter the field of history of ideas. The project contains four separate sections and areas of inquiry. The first one, on medicine and the Scientific Revolution, investigates the impact of medical discoveries on the prevailing Galien paradigm (the doctrine of tempers) and on the competing (chemical, mechanical, animist and vitalist) models of body and disease. In what sense did they contribute to the birth of a specifically medical rationality, combining a certain kind of empiricism, probabilistic reasoning on signs and symptoms and modern types of classification ' The second area of inquiry is on the physiological and medical foundations of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century anthropology. In what sense did the medical discoveries discussed in the first section reshape the philosophical approaches of human nature and provoke new debates on the prolongation of life and the causes of aging ' What accounted for sensibility's new status of a specifically human faculty in the German aesthetic mouvement ' The third field of inquiry concerns the debates and resistances provoked by aforementioned evolutions in medical science. As a matter of fact, as medical knowledge and technology acquired greater authority in human life, it affected fundamental philosophical principles. The project examines the critical objections coming from moral and political philosophy and from theology. The fourth area of inquiry seeks to elucidate the historical dimension of the current debates on human nature in medical ethics. In what sense do these debates implicitly or explicitly refer to Seventeenth or Eighteenth-century conceptions and traditions, and do these still offer valid options for the problems stirred by the recent evolutions in medical science ' The staff, composed of eight permanent members and four non-permanent members, is supervised by Stefanie Buchenau (the coordinator), Claire Crignon and Anne-Lise Rey. The technical objectives (to be attained at the end of the three years contract) are : the publication of a reader on philosophical and medical texts on human nature in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Europe (350 p.) and of a second volume that offers a companion and a philosophical and historical introduction to these texts (300 p.) ; the organization and publication of an international conference on 'Medicine and the Scientific Revolution' ; the publication of a number of individual research projects and articles, mostly in English ; the creation of a website ; the digitalization of a large number of medical treatises from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century with short comments on each treatise. The organization of these events and publications will require regular meetings between the members of the project.

Project coordinator

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


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