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Tres medici, duo athei? The physician as atheist and the medicalization of the soul

Charles Wolfe (UGent)
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Abstract
Until recently, examinations of the ‘mind-body problem’ in historical context paid only cursory attention to its specifically medical dimension, if at all. At best, some ‘folk physiology’ was entertained, usually to laugh at it (the pineal gland, animal spirits). Conversely, historians of neuroscience or of artificial intelligence (Jeannerod 1985, Dupuy 2000) often present figures like La Mettrie as heroic early cases of ‘naturalization’, giving an experimental basis to materialism: their symmetrically inverse mistake is to take professions of medical authority too literally (although there are genuine cases where all of the above does coalesce – where ‘actors’ categories mysteriously transcend historiographic projections –, such as Hieronymus Gaub’s reflections on the ‘regimen of the mind’ in the mid-eighteenth century, or, more theoretically, Guillaume Lamy’s Epicurean-inflected Anatomical Discourses on the Soul, eighty years earlier). Contrary to the denial of the relevance of medicine in early modern philosophy, as regards issues such as the body-soul (then body-mind) relation among others, it seems patently difficult to separate medical theory, medically nourished philosophical speculation, and metaphysics. This is the case, whether in Descartes, Gaub, the ‘animist’ Georg-Ernest Stahl, or materialists such as Guillaume Lamy and La Mettrie: medicine, or rather ‘a certain idea of medicine’, is everywhere. Here I focus on the motif of a radical medicine – a medical precursor of the Radical Enlightenment (Israel 2001, 2006, 2007), symbolized negatively by the slogan, tres medici, duo athei, or ‘where there are three doctors, there are two atheists’, i.e. medicine as a basis for atheism. This theme runs through various works of medical or medico-theological propaganda: Thomas Browne’s 1643 De religio medici begins with Browne regretting rumors of doctors being atheists as the “general scandal of my Profession”; Germain de Bezançon’s 1677 Les médecins à la censure works hard at rebutting the saying, “Bon Physicien, mauvais chrétien.” But these are examples of the fear of a radical medicine – a medicine that denies the existence of an immortal soul, or even defends materialism and atheism. Are there positive statements of this doctrine? Indeed, attacks on it are much more common than statements identifying with it, like medical versions of natural theology in general. In fact, just as there were theologically motivated medical works, there were also medically motivated works of radical or heretical theology, like William Coward’s Second Thoughts on the Human Soul (Coward 1702, building on Overton 1644), which engaged in polemics concerning the nature of the soul – mortal or immortal? (Thomson 2008). Parallel to the mortalist trend, but flowing into a common genre of radical, medico-materialist texts (sometimes anonymous, such as L’Âme Matérielle, from the 1720s) are at least two other strands of radical medicine: a post-Cartesian focus on medicina mentis and the nature of the mind (Henricus Regius, Hieronymus Gaub, Antoine Le Camus), and an Epicurean medicine, in which mind and body are organismically united, with an additional hedonistic component, notably in Lamy, Mandeville and La Mettrie (Wright 1991, Wolfe and van Esveld 2014). The focus on a medicine of the mind (Corneanu, ms. 2013) is obviously connected to a ‘medicalization of the soul’: there was a body-soul problem in and for medicine, a sort of medicalized ‘pneumatology’. Radical medicine is located somewhere in between the early forms of ‘naturalization’ or ‘medicalization’ of the soul and the pose of scientific neutrality that is characteristic of early nineteenth-century medicine (as in Cabanis, Bichat or Bernard): it is a short-lived episode. I seek to reconstruct this intellectual figure, in which mortalist, post-Cartesian and Epicurean strands intersect and sometimes come together. I suggest that medically influenced materialism in the Radical Enlightenment (e.g. in the later French cases, La Mettrie, Ménuret and Diderot), is different from later, more experimentally focused and more quantitatively oriented forms of medical materialism, precisely because of its radical dimension. This radical medicine often insists on vitality, as opposed to “anatomie cadavérique”: it is vital and hedonistic, a medicine concerned with maintaining bodily pleasure.
Keywords
Radical enlightenment, Heterodoxy, Medical materialism, Mortalism, Atheism, Soul

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MLA
Wolfe, Charles. “Tres Medici, Duo Athei? The Physician as Atheist and the Medicalization of the Soul.” EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY, edited by P Distelzweig et al., vol. 14, Springer, 2016, pp. 343–66.
APA
Wolfe, C. (2016). Tres medici, duo athei? The physician as atheist and the medicalization of the soul. In P. Distelzweig, B. Goldberg, & E. Ragland (Eds.), EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY (Vol. 14, pp. 343–366). Dordrecht: Springer.
Chicago author-date
Wolfe, Charles. 2016. “Tres Medici, Duo Athei? The Physician as Atheist and the Medicalization of the Soul.” In EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY, edited by P Distelzweig, B Goldberg, and E Ragland, 14:343–66. Dordrecht: Springer.
Chicago author-date (all authors)
Wolfe, Charles. 2016. “Tres Medici, Duo Athei? The Physician as Atheist and the Medicalization of the Soul.” In EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY, ed by. P Distelzweig, B Goldberg, and E Ragland, 14:343–366. Dordrecht: Springer.
Vancouver
1.
Wolfe C. Tres medici, duo athei? The physician as atheist and the medicalization of the soul. In: Distelzweig P, Goldberg B, Ragland E, editors. EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY. Dordrecht: Springer; 2016. p. 343–66.
IEEE
[1]
C. Wolfe, “Tres medici, duo athei? The physician as atheist and the medicalization of the soul,” in EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY, Univ Pittsburgh, Ctr Philosophy Sci, Pittsburgh, PA, 2016, vol. 14, pp. 343–366.
@inproceedings{6931145,
  abstract     = {{Until recently, examinations of the ‘mind-body problem’ in historical context paid only cursory attention to its specifically medical dimension, if at all. At best, some ‘folk physiology’ was entertained, usually to laugh at it (the pineal gland, animal spirits). Conversely, historians of neuroscience or of artificial intelligence (Jeannerod 1985, Dupuy 2000) often present figures like La Mettrie as heroic early cases of ‘naturalization’, giving an experimental basis to materialism: their symmetrically inverse mistake is to take professions of medical authority too literally (although there are genuine cases where all of the above does coalesce – where ‘actors’ categories mysteriously transcend historiographic projections –, such as Hieronymus Gaub’s reflections on the ‘regimen of the mind’ in the mid-eighteenth century, or, more theoretically, Guillaume Lamy’s Epicurean-inflected Anatomical Discourses on the Soul, eighty years earlier). Contrary to the denial of the relevance of medicine in early modern philosophy, as regards issues such as the body-soul (then body-mind) relation among others, it seems patently difficult to separate medical theory, medically nourished philosophical speculation, and metaphysics. This is the case, whether in Descartes, Gaub, the ‘animist’ Georg-Ernest Stahl, or materialists such as Guillaume Lamy and La Mettrie: medicine, or rather ‘a certain idea of medicine’, is everywhere. 
Here I focus on the motif of a radical medicine – a medical precursor of the Radical Enlightenment (Israel 2001, 2006, 2007), symbolized negatively by the slogan, tres medici, duo athei, or ‘where there are three doctors, there are two atheists’, i.e. medicine as a basis for atheism. This theme runs through various works of medical or medico-theological propaganda: Thomas Browne’s 1643 De religio medici begins with Browne regretting rumors of doctors being atheists as the “general scandal of my Profession”; Germain de Bezançon’s 1677 Les médecins à la censure works hard at rebutting the saying, “Bon Physicien, mauvais chrétien.” But these are examples of the fear of a radical medicine – a medicine that denies the existence of an immortal soul, or even defends materialism and atheism. Are there positive statements of this doctrine? Indeed, attacks on it are much more common than statements identifying with it, like medical versions of natural theology in general. 
In fact, just as there were theologically motivated medical works, there were also medically motivated works of radical or heretical theology, like William Coward’s Second Thoughts on the Human Soul (Coward 1702, building on Overton 1644), which engaged in polemics concerning the nature of the soul – mortal or immortal? (Thomson 2008). Parallel to the mortalist trend, but flowing into a common genre of radical, medico-materialist texts (sometimes anonymous, such as L’Âme Matérielle, from the 1720s) are at least two other strands of radical medicine: a post-Cartesian focus on medicina mentis and the nature of the mind (Henricus Regius, Hieronymus Gaub, Antoine Le Camus), and an Epicurean medicine, in which mind and body are organismically united, with an additional hedonistic component, notably in Lamy, Mandeville and La Mettrie (Wright 1991, Wolfe and van Esveld 2014). The focus on a medicine of the mind (Corneanu, ms. 2013) is obviously connected to a ‘medicalization of the soul’: there was a body-soul problem in and for medicine, a sort of medicalized ‘pneumatology’. Radical medicine is located somewhere in between the early forms of ‘naturalization’ or ‘medicalization’ of the soul and the pose of scientific neutrality that is characteristic of early nineteenth-century medicine (as in Cabanis, Bichat or Bernard): it is a short-lived episode. I seek to reconstruct this intellectual figure, in which mortalist, post-Cartesian and Epicurean strands intersect and sometimes come together. I suggest that medically influenced materialism in the Radical Enlightenment (e.g. in the later French cases, La Mettrie, Ménuret and Diderot), is different from later, more experimentally focused and more quantitatively oriented forms of medical materialism, precisely because of its radical dimension. This radical medicine often insists on vitality, as opposed to “anatomie cadavérique”: it is vital and hedonistic, a medicine concerned with maintaining bodily pleasure.}},
  author       = {{Wolfe, Charles}},
  booktitle    = {{EARLY MODERN MEDICINE AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY}},
  editor       = {{Distelzweig, P and Goldberg, B and Ragland, E}},
  isbn         = {{978-94-017-7353-9}},
  keywords     = {{Radical enlightenment,Heterodoxy,Medical materialism,Mortalism,Atheism,Soul}},
  language     = {{eng}},
  location     = {{Univ Pittsburgh, Ctr Philosophy Sci, Pittsburgh, PA}},
  pages        = {{343--366}},
  publisher    = {{Springer}},
  title        = {{Tres medici, duo athei? The physician as atheist and the medicalization of the soul}},
  url          = {{http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-7353-9_15}},
  volume       = {{14}},
  year         = {{2016}},
}

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