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The material body: medicine and materialism of the early modernity to the radical Enlightenment

The Body Material is an investigation of the status of the body in materialist thought, from

early modernity until the late Enlightenment (17th-18th centuries). At first sight, this may

seem like familiar territory: the Scientific Revolution produced an idea of mechanistic analysis

which was gradually applied to the body by thinkers including Descartes, at the intersection

of philosophy and medicine. And a scandalous classic of the Radical Enlightenment, La

Mettrie’ L’omme-Machine (1748), seems to confirm this: doesn’ it claim that humans are

just machines? In fact, all of this story is mistaken. I shall show instead that figures such as

La Mettrie and Diderot are centrally vital or embodied materialists, who are in fact defiant

towards the Scientific Revolution narrative of triumphant mechanism and mathematization of

nature. In contrast to more mechanistically oriented thinkers (Hobbes, Hartley, d’olbach)

they are engaged in a new definition of the body as organism. My project is twofold: it is a

reevaluation of materialism which brings in its scientific (medical, physiological) dimension

which is absent from current scholarship on the Radical Enlightenment; and in focusing on

this embodied dimension, it is also a rewriting of our picture of early modern science, which

leaves out ‘ife’ living beings, organisms and tends to relegate their description to more

culturally located histories. Such an investigation of materialism thus brings together

philosophy, medical thought, theological debates on the soul and other components of this

radical reenactment of natural philosophy.

Date:1 Oct 2012 →  30 Sep 2018
Keywords:the material body
Disciplines:Other philosophy, ethics and religious studies not elsewhere classified, Philosophy, Theory and methodology of philosophy