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 to make medecine 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 undoubtely 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 principles of irritability, Stahl’s theories on tonus and respiration) conditioned the philosophical discourse on the human being and the philosophical perspectives on human nature, the soul and its immortaliy/ mortality ; it influenced philosophical views on rationality and consciousness, on humans’ place within the universe and on their difference from the beasts.

The medical dimension of philosophical anthropology is most explicit in the German Eighteenth Century movement that gave rise to the founding of an anthropological discipline within philosophy and to medical-philosophical works such as Ernst Platner’s Anthropologie für Ärzte und Weltweise [Anthropology for physicians and philosophers, 1772] ; but it is equally present in the French and English traditions : the projet will explore all of these traditions, from a transnational, comparative and radically 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. More precisely, our methodological option is a history of problems that seeks to understand the motivations underlying philosophical positions within a wider problem setting arising in a given time period.

The project contains four separate sections and areas of inquiry. The first one, on Medecine and the scientific revolution, investigates A) the impact of medical discoveries on the prevailing Galien paradigm (the doctrine of tempers) and on the competing (chemical, mecanical, iatromecanical animist and vitalist) models of body and disease. In what sense did these models 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. How did the medical discoveries discussed in the first section reshape the philosophical approaches of human nature ? Inhowfar did they lead to new debates on consciousness, death and immortality, the conservation and prolongation of life and the causes of aging ? What was their impact on the theories of the faculties, reason and sensibility ? To answer these questions, it is imperative to juxtapose and confront philosophical and medical texts.

The third field of inquiry concerns the debates and resistances provoked by the  aforementioned evolutions in medical science. As a matter of fact, as medical knowledge and technology acquired greater authority in human life, it affected its norms and shakened fundamental philosophical principles in religion, moral and politics. 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 explicily refer to Seventeenth or Eigteenth 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 fifteen members from France, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, is supervised by Stefanie Buchenau (the main reponsible), Claire Crignon and Anne-Lise Rey (who are both co-responsible). It includes specialists coming from various disciplines (philosophy, history of ideas, history of science and of medicine, law), working on different countries, cultures (Germany, France, Great Britain) and time periods (the Early modern Age and the Enlightenment).

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.) ; a second volume that serves as a Compagnon (300 p.) to these issues; the organisation and publication of an international conference on Medecine and the scientific revolution ; the digitalisation of a large number of medical treatises from the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century with short comments on each treatise in cooperation with the BIUM.


Réf. Projet: JCJC-09-0145-01

Actualités Philomed
Publications des membres de PHILOMED
There are no translations available.

S. Buchenau
The Founding of Aesthetics in the German Enlightenment
The Art of Invention and the Invention of Art
Cambridge University Press, 2013
séminaires et conférences
There are no translations available.

Human Nature. 3-5 Ottobre 2013. ROMA

Philosophical and Medical Perspectives on the Mind-body Problem
from Antiquity to the Present

La Sapienza. Dipartimento di filosofia. Aula VI. Villa Mirafiori, via Carlo Fea, 2. Roma
+39 06 8082599.

Avec: Francesco Fronterotta, Victor Caston, Pierre-Marie Morel, Riccardo Chiaradonna, Massimo Luigi Bianchi, Stefano Gensini, Michela Tardella, Nunzio Alloca, Eric Marquer, Francesco Paolo de Ceglia, Ann Thomson, Marie Gaille, Mirella Capozzi, Paolo Pecere, Barbara Continenza, Guido Cimino, Michel Bitbol, Patricia Churchland, Mario De Caro.

Comité d'organisation:
Nunzio Alloca, Marco Benini, Daniela Casula, Riccardo Chiaradonna, Paolo Pecere