The concept of nature in the medico-philosophical thought
at the transition from the 17th to the 18th century   


This project follows up on a specific aspect of the larger project "Philosophy, Medicine and Society". The research team comes from that project, namely Adelino Cardoso, Guido Giglioni and Manuel Marques, to whom is added Anne-Lise Rey, with whom collaboration has already been started in what respects to one of the investigations included in the project presented here. Also from the previous project are Palmira Costa, Maria Ferreira, Paulo Jesus e Bruno Barreiros. The team is reinforced by doctoral and post-doctoral researchers (Hervé Baudry, Francisco Silva, Alessandra Pinto) and by other researchers related to this subject area(Marta Mendonça, Luís Bernardo and Nunzio Alloca).
The main goal of this project is to deepen the connection between philosophy and medicine in what can be described as a nuclear concept, which is at the core of modern rationality and which encompasses in equal degree the general order of the cosmos and the different phenomenal planes. In fact, in this context, nature means order, regularity, intelligibility.
The period chosen is that which spans from the publication of Descartes' Tractatus de homine in 1664 by the physician and philosopher La Forge, and the death of the most influential professor of medicine in the first half of the 18th century, Hermann Boerhaave, in 1738. These two signposts are selected, with the Cartesian Treaty on the one hand representative of the intent to apply a mechanistic system to the anatomic-physiological approach to the human body and, on the other hand, the death of Boerhaave representing the passage to a new cycle, which, put into overtly simple terms, we can call “enlightenment medicine”. Here the mechanistic representation becomes integrated into a vision of nature as sensibility and perfectibility.
The guiding hypothesis of this project is that during the period selected, there is a specific contribution from medical-philosophical thought to the criystalization of the notion of nature, its efficacy and the explanation of its phenomena. Such contribution comes from the specificity of the living human body, which reveals the insufficiency of the mechanistic model. In fact, medicine is a privileged field in which the mechanistic programme is developed, but also where this problem reveals the greater difficulties and creates a more intense debate. In this aspect, the emblematic iatromechanic work, De motu animalium (1680) by G. B. Borelli, is very significant: the intent to include medicine in the physical-mathematical field, in the same way as astronomy (Op. Cit. Proemium) is accompanied, therein, by the affirmation of the causality of the soul over bodily movement, an affirmation which will be reinforced by J. Bernoulli in an appendix to the second edition of this work.
The medical-philosophical literature subsequent to the publication of the Cartesian Treatise is faced with the subject of causality, insofar as mechanicism tends to eliminate the spontaneity and dynamism of nature. The confrontation occurs particularly between Occasionalists such as Cordemoy and Malebranche, on one side, and naturalists such as F. Glisson and R. Cudworth on the other. The former divest nature from all potency and causality, while the latter conceive of nature as an immanent principle of action.
The mechanic view of nature requires a new way of seeing, which recognizes the active side and the aesthetical-moral dimension of nature and the human body. The work of R. Boyle, namely De ipsa natura (1688), written from the perspective of the “physiologist”, makes a coherent synthesis between mechanism and vitality in nature.
The medical work of Boerhaave is representative of the predominant orientation in the first decade of the 18th century in the sense that it articulates the mechanistic explanation with the Vessalian legacy, which reveals the aesthetical dimension of nature, and even with the Hippocratic tradition, which grants nature the status of the founding principle of medicine. The assumption of history as an integral part of medical knowledge is one of the innovations of Boerhaave and the medicine of his time.
When it comes to the representation of the body, the fibrilist current gives an image of the body which opens a deep hole in the humouralist system which will influence the enlightenment physiology, namely that of A. von Haller. The work of Baglivi deserves special attention due to its redefinition of the life as a balance between sensus and motus, acknowledging the primacy of the function and introducing the irritability (irritatio) as an intrinsic property of the living body.
At a conceptual level, the most relevant innovation was the introduction of the neologism “organism” by Leibniz and Stahl at the beginning of the 18th century. The controversy between both of them derives in great measure from a different articulation between organism and mechanism and a different conception of potency and causality in nature.
To focus on Portuguese medicine of this period, which is largely unstudied, two related questions appear: what is its specificity and to what level did it accompany the intellectual movement of European medicine on nature and its properties (namely in authors such as Isac Cardoso, Curvo Semedo, Brás Luis de Abreu, Jacob de Castro Sarmento and Bernardo Pereira).
In the methodological field, we will aim to insert the medical literature into the dynamic of modern science, examining the specificity of medical thought, the tension and articulation between the mechanic and the vital; lastly we will concentrate on the conceptual affinities (nature, order, organization) and the polarities which feed the discourse on nature: nature/art, natural/supernatural, order/anomaly.



Projecto PTDC/FIL-FCI/116843/2010

Seminar Programme

Course on the History of Portuguese Medical Thought
Februray to Ddecember 2014

14 February: “The continuity between the bodily and the psychic in Curvo Semedo's Polyantheia”

28 March: Some notes on the theorethical production of Francisco da Fonseca Henriques (1665-1731): Texts and Contexts (Bruno Barreiros)

2 May: Spell, monsters and wonders: the unusual and the wonderful in the medical books of Bernardo Pereira (1681-c.1759) (Bruno Barreiros and Palmira Fontes da Costa)

23 May: Fibrilism in Jacob de Castro Sarmento (Adelino Cardoso and
Manuel Silvério Marques)

4 July: Affections and mental health in Filipe Montalto and Ribeiro Sanches (Adelino Cardoso, Ângela Nobre Lacerda and Bruno Barreiros)

19 September: José Pinto de Azeredo: estado da arte (Manuel Silvério Marques e
equipa de investigação sobre a obra de Pinto de Azeredo)

17 October: José Pinto de Azeredo (Manuel Silvério Marques)

2 December: Conceito de Degenerescência


27 February 2014, 10h,
Adelino Cardoso (FCSH/UNL)
"Natural Philosophy of Pierre Bayle:
Dualism taken to its limits"
ID, room 0. 07

18 December 2013, 15h,
Treaty on Man, Descartes,
with Adelino Cardoso, Hervé Baudry
and Luís Manuel Bernardo.
ID, room 0. 07 

23 October 2013 17h30
Pedro Silva
"From machine to organism"

12 - 17 November 2012
François Duchesneau - course and conference,

Course subject -
Machines of nature and vital mechanism,
(3 sessions):

IMalpighi on Mechanism and the small organic machines,
13 November, 10h.

IILeibnizian Physiology and organic bodies, 14 November, 10h.

IIIOrganism in the Leibniz-Stahl controversy,
15 November, 10h

free entrance,
registration needed in order to provide workpapers

Conference - 15 November, 17h,
Analysing the living automaton 1660-1720

François Duchesneau, Emeritus Professor of the Montreal University. Among his books, we underline:

La physiologie des lumières. Empirisme, modèles et théories. La Haye: Martinus Nijhoff (Kluwer), 1982.
Genèse de la théorie cellulaire. Montréal: Belharmin; Paris: Vrin, 1987.
Leibniz et la méthode de la science. Paris: PUF, 1993. 
La dynamique de Leibniz. Paris: Vrin, 1994.
Philosophie de la biologie. Paris: PUF, 1997.
Les modèles du vivant de Descartes à Leibniz. Paris: Vrin, 1998.
Leibniz. Le vivant et l’organisme. Paris: Vrin, 2010.


 21 June 17h,
room Multiusos 2, FCSH ID, 4th floor.

"Médecine, philosophie et pensée de l'homme dans l'oeuvre de Thomas Willis",

Claire Crignon:
Docteur en Philosophie
Univ. Paris-Sorbonne (Paris IV)


15 May 2012, 15h,
Anfiteatro Manuel Valadares,
Museu de História Natural
organization of the exhibition
"Unidty and diversity of the life world" 

April 26, 16h, room 1.06, Edif. ID

- Luís Bernardo (CHC FCSH UNL)

A letter from Martinho de Mendonça
on the concept of nature:
the "Carta-Prefácio" in the 1st volume
of Historiologia Médica
by José Rodrigues de Abreu (1734)

reading suggestions:

 ANDRADE, A., Contributos para a História da Mentalidade Pedagógica Portuguesa, Lisboa, INCM, 1982, pp. 241-260.

 BERNARDO, L., O Essencial sobre Martinho de Mendonça, Lisboa, INCM, 2002.
CUNHA, N., Elites e Académicos na Cultura Portuguesa Setecentista, Lisboa, INCM, 2001, pp. 119-150.


Marsh 7, 17h30 FCSH, ID

- Manuel Silvério Marques

O atomismo, a alucinação
e a construção científica da realidade

(see abstract)