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Vitalism and the resistance to experimentation on life in the eighteenth century

Charles Wolfe UGent (2013) JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY. 46(2). p.255-282
abstract
There is a familiar opposition between a ‘Scientific Revolution’ ethos and practice of experimentation, including experimentation on life, and a ‘vitalist’ reaction to this outlook. The former is often allied with different forms of mechanism – if all of Nature obeys mechanical laws, including living bodies, ‘iatromechanism’ should encounter no obstructions in investigating the particularities of animal-machines – or with more chimiatric theories of life and matter, as in the ‘Oxford Physiologists’. The latter reaction also comes in different, perhaps irreducibly heterogeneous forms, ranging from metaphysical and ethical objections to the destruction of life, as in Margaret Cavendish, to more epistemological objections against the usage of instruments, the ‘anatomical’ outlook and experimentation, e.g. in Locke and Sydenham. But I will mainly focus on a third anti-interventionist argument, which I call ‘vitalist’ since it is often articulated in the writings of the so-called Montpellier Vitalists, including their medical articles for the Encyclopédie. The vitalist argument against experimentation on life is subtly different from the metaphysical, ethical and epistemological arguments, although at times it may borrow from any of them. It expresses a Hippocratic sensibility – understood as an artifact of early modernity, not as some atemporal trait of medical thought – in which Life resists the experimenter, or conversely, for the experimenter to grasp something about Life, it will have to be without torturing or radically intervening in it. I suggest that this view does not have to imply that Nature is something mysterious or sacred; nor does the vitalist have to attack experimentation on life in the name of some ‘vital force’ – which makes it less surprising to find a vivisectionist like Claude Bernard sounding so close to the vitalists.
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
year
type
journalArticle (original)
publication status
unpublished
subject
keyword
Experiment, Holism, Vitalism, NATURAL-PHILOSOPHY, Menuret de Chambaud, Enlightenment
journal title
JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY
volume
46
issue
2
issue title
Experimenting on animals from Antiquity to the Enlightenment
pages
255 - 282
Web of Science type
Article
Web of Science id
000317690000005
JCR category
HISTORY & PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE
JCR impact factor
0.622 (2013)
JCR rank
17/56 (2013)
JCR quartile
2 (2013)
ISSN
0022-5010
DOI
10.1007/s10739-012-9349-1
language
English
UGent publication?
yes
classification
A1
copyright statement
I have transferred the copyright for this publication to the publisher
id
1935846
handle
http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-1935846
date created
2011-10-26 19:20:23
date last changed
2016-12-19 15:39:01
@article{1935846,
  abstract     = {There is a familiar opposition between a {\textquoteleft}Scientific Revolution{\textquoteright} ethos and practice of experimentation, including experimentation on life, and a {\textquoteleft}vitalist{\textquoteright} reaction to this outlook. The former is often allied with different forms of mechanism -- if all of Nature obeys mechanical laws, including living bodies, {\textquoteleft}iatromechanism{\textquoteright} should encounter no obstructions in investigating the particularities of animal-machines -- or with more chimiatric theories of life and matter, as in the {\textquoteleft}Oxford Physiologists{\textquoteright}. The latter reaction also comes in different, perhaps irreducibly heterogeneous forms, ranging from metaphysical and ethical objections to the destruction of life, as in Margaret Cavendish, to more epistemological objections against the usage of instruments, the {\textquoteleft}anatomical{\textquoteright} outlook and experimentation, e.g. in Locke and Sydenham. But I will mainly focus on a third anti-interventionist argument, which I call {\textquoteleft}vitalist{\textquoteright} since it is often articulated in the writings of the so-called Montpellier Vitalists, including their medical articles for the Encyclop{\'e}die. The vitalist argument against experimentation on life is subtly different from the metaphysical, ethical and epistemological arguments, although at times it may borrow from any of them. It expresses a Hippocratic sensibility -- understood as an artifact of early modernity, not as some atemporal trait of medical thought -- in which Life resists the experimenter, or conversely, for the experimenter to grasp something about Life, it will have to be without torturing or radically intervening in it. I suggest that this view does not have to imply that Nature is something mysterious or sacred; nor does the vitalist have to attack experimentation on life in the name of some {\textquoteleft}vital force{\textquoteright} -- which makes it less surprising to find a vivisectionist like Claude Bernard sounding so close to the vitalists.},
  author       = {Wolfe, Charles},
  issn         = {0022-5010},
  journal      = {JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY},
  keyword      = {Experiment,Holism,Vitalism,NATURAL-PHILOSOPHY,Menuret de Chambaud,Enlightenment},
  language     = {eng},
  number       = {2},
  pages        = {255--282},
  title        = {Vitalism and the resistance to experimentation on life in the eighteenth century},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10739-012-9349-1},
  volume       = {46},
  year         = {2013},
}

Chicago
Wolfe, Charles. 2013. “Vitalism and the Resistance to Experimentation on Life in the Eighteenth Century.” Journal of the History of Biology 46 (2): 255–282.
APA
Wolfe, C. (2013). Vitalism and the resistance to experimentation on life in the eighteenth century. JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY, 46(2), 255–282.
Vancouver
1.
Wolfe C. Vitalism and the resistance to experimentation on life in the eighteenth century. JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY. 2013;46(2):255–82.
MLA
Wolfe, Charles. “Vitalism and the Resistance to Experimentation on Life in the Eighteenth Century.” JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF BIOLOGY 46.2 (2013): 255–282. Print.