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Medicine, Law, and the Early Modern Drunkard: Psychosomatic Interaction and the Problem of Moral Agency

Fri, April 1, 3:30 to 5:00pm, Park Plaza, Floor: Fourth Floor, Tremont Room


This paper explores understandings of alcohol intoxication in seventeenth-century medical and legal thought. It focuses upon the conceptions of mind/body interaction that informed beliefs about the moral agency and cognitive capacity of drunken people. Seventeenth-century anatomy and physiology shifted from Renaissance readings of Aristotelean/Galenic thought to iatrochemical and mechanical understandings of the body. Nevertheless, elements of Aristotle’s conception of the soul and the Galenic humors persisted in seventeenth-century thinking about mental states and cognitive processes. While a wide range of medical and legal writings have been consulted, this paper focuses principally on the work of the physicians Humphrey Brooke (1617–1693) and Thomas Willis (1621–1675), as well as the jurist Matthew Hale (1609-1676). The paper considers how the tensions and interactions of their orthodox theological commitments, new medical and jurisprudential principles, and the imperatives of professional practice, all informed their beliefs about drunkards’ capacity for moral judgment.


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