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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The changing construction of the human being in medical discourse concerning melancholy Patterson, Lois R.

Abstract

The latter half of the seventeenth century brought the scientific revolution and a new style and habit of thought. This thesis examines medical texts from the period 1620-1750in order to relate the changes wrought by the scientific revolution to changes in the ways physicians envisioned the nature of the human being. In order to narrow the scope of this study, this thesis will focus on a particular ailment, melancholy. Melancholy was considered a disorder which affected all parts of a human being, however his or her components were subdivided. Thus, a physician's discussion of melancholy reveals his perception of how the human being was constructed. Robert Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, first published in 1621, reflects the sum of classical and medieval understanding of the human being -- the soul, the body, and their interaction -- and it forms the basis of this study. The Anatomy serves as a touchstone by which to compare later texts. The other works studied are representative of their period, and they are thoughtful texts which describe physiology and melancholy at length. This thesis begins by describing Burton's model of the human being, and then discusses the definitions of melancholy used by later medical authorities. The symptoms, causes, and cures which Burton attributes to melancholy are compared to those of later writers. The construction of the human being which emerges from The Anatomy is related to that which emerges from later works, and the moral and social implications of this change are discussed. In the eighteenth century, the human being is increasingly viewed as a collection of components, rather than the type of intrinsic whole which Burton perceived him or her to be. Human beings are discussed separately from their surroundings, rather than in conjunction with their position in society. The soul becomes insignificant to physicians as they begin to focus their attention solely on the concrete and tangible body.

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