EMBODIED EMPIRICISM WORKSHOP 2009
Titles and Abstracts
Cynthia Klestinec, Practical Experience In Anatomy
Often flagged as an origin of empiricism, experience has a range of meanings in the context of early modern natural philosophy and medicine. It has been aligned with practical knowledge, knowledge of contingent effects, and the un-theorized perception of phenomena accessible to the senses. In the realm of anatomical inquiry, experience joined reason to constitute (according to Galen, Mondino, Berengario da Carpi, Niccolò Massa and many others) the approved anatomical method. For medical students, however, experience was linked to handiwork. Cutting open corpses, dissecting external and internal structures, students recognized that experienced hands could distinguish structure from chaos; experienced hands could reveal objects to sight. In Padua, the home of the famous anatomical theater of 1595, students connected these features of anatomical inquiry with private anatomical exercises rather than public demonstrations. They also associated this kind of manual labor with virility not senility, with the youthful anatomist, Giulio Casseri, and not his aging predecessor, Girolamo Fabrici. From Casseri and from private exercises, students sought more immediate experiences of anatomy. This paper queries the private settings in which anatomical knowledge was produced and the extent to which medical students, emphasizing handiwork and notions of immediacy, recharged the meaning of experience and embodied knowledge in the fields of anatomy and surgery. Using the exchange between students, professors and local practitioners, this paper aims to reconsider the role of practical experience in anatomical training. Gained in private and among professors and practitioners, practical experience, for these students, was not associated with rustic ignorance or with women and their secret knowledge but rather with strength, virility, and coming-of-age-masculinity.
Alan Salter, Early Modern Empiricism and the Discourse of the Senses
In the second half of the 16th century English sense literature shifts from commentary on scripture and the occasional medical text to work that in style, format and content is more irregular and more fabulous. The senses no longer appear as topical inputs but as subjects in their own right. They show up in books of poetry and drama, in travel and geography and in pageants. My paper examines this “discourse of the senses” and its effect on early modern empiricism as exemplified in the works of William Harvey and his contemporary Helkiah Crooke, author of the 1615 anatomy text, Mikrocosmographia.
Lisa Shapiro, Immersed Experience: Passionate Perception and Human Understanding
John Locke is often taken to be the founding theorist of Early Modern Empiricism, and this is in keeping with his self-presentation in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding as an under-labourer, clearing away the rubbish, so that the likes of Boyle, Sydenham, Huygens and Newton can tap cleanly into the springs of knowledge. While he aims to clear the ground of the brambles of metaphysics, so that we can see that human understanding comes simply from experience, Locke’s conception of experience is all too informed by the metaphysical models – those of both Platonists and Aristotelians he rejects. In particular, he conceives of sensory experience as dispassionate, conveying information about the properties objects in the world are meant to have independently of human efforts to engage with that world. In his view, the experience through which we understand the world might as well be disembodied.
Interestingly, empiricist philosophers who follow Locke in eschewing any metaphysical underpinning for human knowledge subtly modify his conception of experience. While they too conceive of sensation as providing knowledge of properties of objects, these properties are not be understood at a remove from human engagement with the world. Sensory experience does convey information about the world, but it is always about the world as we are immersed in it. To perceive is to perceive with passion, that is, to incorporate some dimension of the way things affect our well-being. Immersed experience is embodied experience.
In this paper, I show how this latter line of thought is pervasive in late 17th and early 18th century thought. It is manifest in figures central to the development of the theoretical foundations of empiricism – Berkeley and Condillac – as well as those more on the fringes of the discussion – Margaret Cavendish and Charles Bonnet (to take two figures at the beginning and end of the discussion). Equally, it figures in medical writings of the disorders of the passions, as seen in the work of Mandeville on hypochondria, in early sensibility theorists such as Francis Hutcheson, and in Rousseau’s account of the development of human understanding found in Emile.
But if this conception of experience was so pervasive, why has the Lockean model hold such a grip on the philosophical imagination? The answer, I suggest, lies in the challenges of modeling scientific knowledge gained from immersed experience. Immersed experience lends itself quite well to what might be called particularist knowledge – highly context sensitive understanding of the world. Scientific knowledge, however, aims for what might be called universal knowledge – an understanding that derives from the generalizability of any particular experience. In the absence of any developed account of how immersed experience can yield such universal knowledge, it is all too easy to fall back on the Lockean account of experience which, through its very shortcoming, is able to account for how experience can ground a universalist knowledge.
Justin E.H. Smith, Cranklings and Turnings About': The Relation of Physiology to Theory of Action in Willis, Spinoza, Tyson, and Locke
Much early modern metaphysical speculation as to the precise relation, if any, between the causal order of bodies and that of minds seems to run parallel to, and often to overlap with, a very important question in the history of physiology, to wit, whether everything an animal is capable of doing may be traced back in the end to some observable feature of its anatomy. Thus, to cite one of many examples, Thomas Willis supposes that the relative automatism of a cat's behavioral repertoire may be treated as arising from the relative smoothness of the feline brain, from the fact that it "wants all Cranklings about." But how exactly can ethological, and even mental or spiritual, capacities be read off of anatomical features? What do cranklings have to do with the inherence of a deliberating mind capable of free action? The debate surrounding these questions seems to parallel and perhaps even to influence the contemporaneous debate as to the nature or possibility of mind-body causation and also as to the scope of mechanical explanation. Nowhere do the two levels of discussion the metaphysical and the physiological come together more clearly than in Part II of Spinoza's Ethics, but this instance is only the clearest expression of a general strategy for explaining what bodies, and in particular living bodies, are capable of by appeal to their structure and organization. This is a strategy, moreover, that would appeal equally to the Empiricist engagement with living bodies as to the Rationalist, and thus may serve for us as an excellent case study in the irrelevance of the distinction between these two schools to understanding much of what interested their representatives.
John Sutton, Carelessness and Inattention: chance and the physiology of habit between Locke and Hume
Associated ideas, complained Locke, follow one another ‘without any care or attention’. Fifty years later, Hume resolved the sceptical despair brought on by philosophical reasoning only by avoiding the perils of thinking, returning to mindlessness: ‘carelessness and in-attention alone can afford us any remedy. For this reason I rely entirely on them’. How did British natural and moral philosophers in the early 18th century think of the processes by which thoughts, fancies, memories, daydreams, and feelings come to mind without prompting either by reason or reality, by the will or by the world? Examining works by Mead, Harris, Gibbs, Watts, Cheyne, Branch, and others, I detail the role of bodily fluids and nervous spirits in ‘conveying the mischief’ by which imagination tends to ruffle our calm. Minds are often surprised by their own habits, and various forms of regimen were recommended in medical psychology and moral physiology to ‘pinion’ the imagination and still the wandering thoughts. I anchor these local discussions within a longer history of practices for coping when ‘our mind is elsewhere’; and, in service of an enquiry into ‘embodied empiricism’, I suggest new angles on the background to Hume’s views on the bodily bases of custom and habit.
Anik Waldow, Empiricism and its Roots in the Ancient Medical Tradition
Kant introduces empiricism as a deficient position that is unsuitable for the generation of scientific knowledge. The reason for this is that, according to him, empiricism fails to connect with the world by remaining trapped within the realm of appearances. If we follow Galen’s account of the debate ensuing among Hellenistic doctors in the third century B.C., empiricism presents itself in an entirely different light. It emerges as a position that criticises medical practitioners who stray away from the here and now by indulging in theory-driven a priori forms of reasoning. In so doing empiricism remains at all times committed to the world and its agents. In this paper Galen’s account of empiricism will serve me as a means to unravel the dynamics of a discussion that aims to re-assess the standards of a dogmatic scientific practice. By looking at Bacon’s and Gassendi’s perception of the ancient medical tradition I will furthermore show that the understanding of what empiricism is crucially depends on the understanding of what scepticism is.
Charles T. Wolfe, Empiricist heresies: the polemic against experiment in early modern medical thought
Vitalism, from its early modern to its Enlightenment forms (from Glisson and Willis to La Caze and Barthez), is notoriously opposed to intervention into the living sphere. Experiment, quantification, measurement are all 'vivisectionist', morally suspect and worse, they alter and warp the 'life' of the subject. They are good for studying corpses, not living individuals. This much is well known, and it has disqualified vitalist medicine from having a place in standard histories of medicine, until recent, post-Foucauldian maneuvers have sought to change the situation (but for unrelated, contextualist reasons). What is perhaps more surprising is that if we consider the emergence of medical 'theory' as a whole, from Harvey through to Locke and Sydenham, is the presence of a sustained anti-experimentalist line of argument, and this from the 'empiricist' (not Cartesian or Boerhaavian rationalist) side. It would seem then that 'empiricks', medical empiricists and other protagonists of an 'embodied empiricism' are not Boylean experimentalists who seek to map out Nature in its transparency, but deliberately archaic, Hippocratic observers of living bodies.
Richard Yeo, ‘Memory and Empiricism: Hartlib, Beale and Boyle’
Robert Boyle and John Beale both had connections with Samuel Hartlib and his correspondence network. The position of these three can be taken as an ‘empirical’ one in the sense that they favoured ‘particulars’ over ‘systems’. I suggest that there is a link between this position and their view of the role of memory in natural history and ‘science’ more generally. Hartlib’s diary and letters show that the call for empirical particulars coexisted with a view that information could be reduced and arranged to aid memory. Beale’s letter to Boyle reveal some interestingly different approaches to the question of how far collaborative Baconian natural histories (collections of medical, chemical and other data) should rely on individual memory, either natural or trained. Beale was a collector of empirical data, but he sought to manage this in his memory. In his early writings, Boyle was also concerned with training himself to expand and retain his ‘experiences’; but he soon cautioned against premature ‘systems’, and this had implications for the ordering of content that arts of memory usually relied upon. Boyle’s resistance to Beale’s advice about memory shows up a tension within the ‘Baconians’. Furthermore, the sheer mass of material potentially collected under Baconian natural histories implied the need for ‘disembodied’ information, in the sense of some kind of externalised memory store.