Medicine, connoisseurship, and the animal body

Wragge-Morley, Alexander (2022) Medicine, connoisseurship, and the animal body. History of Science, 60 (4). pp. 481-499. ISSN 0073-2753

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This essay reconsiders the links between medicine, connoisseurship, and aesthetic theory in early eighteenth-century Britain. Taking a satire on the body of the physician and collector John Woodward as its starting point, I show that medicine and connoisseurship shared a deep preoccupation with the possibility that the animal body could excessively influence the workings of the mind. Pursuing this line of argument, moreover, I will reconsider the place of mind–body dualism in eighteenth-century British medicine and aesthetics. With the exception of materialists such as the philosopher-physician Bernard Mandeville, medics and aesthetic theorists tended to identify the exercise of judgment with the operations of a disembodied mind, unsullied by the embodied mechanisms of the lower body. In practice, however, the insistence that the most refined forms of judgment depended on the presence and activity of a disembodied, immaterial soul was less meaningful than it seems. When confronted by failures of judgment, medics and connoisseurs alike sought explanations in the mechanisms of the animal body. Whether or not they believed in the immateriality of the soul, they pictured the mind as a malfunctioning animal machine, to be cured through the material agency of medical therapeutics.

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Journal Article
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History of Science
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The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, History of Science, 60 (4), 2022, © SAGE Publications Ltd, 2020 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the History of Science page: on SAGE Journals Online:
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Deposited On:
10 Aug 2020 13:55
Last Modified:
01 Feb 2023 01:23