The Journal of Medical Humanities and Bioethics

, Volume 7, Issue 2, pp 91–105 | Cite as

Joseph Lister and the origins of antisepsis

  • Gerald G. Osborn
Article
  • 28 Downloads

Abstract

In the mid-nineteenth century when Joseph Baron Lister was beginning his surgical career, bold new theories of medicine were being proposed with increasing frequency. Many of these new theories were in conflict as to how the body functioned and how disease and injury should be approached. They all conflicted more, however, with the older theory of vitalism which they were gradually replacing. Lister believed in vitalism and was quite bothered by the new theories, but did not react to them with hostile criticism or bombast. His typical gentlemanly style was to test them quietly against his own understandings and beliefs. This historical essay focuses upon the feelings, thoughts, and beliefs of Joseph Lister as reflected by his background and his most important experiments. It will show that the discovery which transformed surgery did not originate from any “leading edge” medical theory of the era. The antiseptic principle originated from the experimentation of a troubled vitalist in the service of the theory in which he so passionately believed.

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Reference notes

  1. 1.
    The Collected Papers of Joseph Baron Lister, The third Huxley lecture, p. 515. This lecture was delivered before the Medical School of Charing Cross Hospital on October 2, 1900. It was published in theBritish Medical Journal on October 6, 1900, and reprinted with corrections in February 1907.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
  3. 3.
  4. 4.
    Godlee, R.J.,Lord Lister, Chap. II, p. 17, 1924.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Ibid., Chap. XXXVII, pp. 599–601.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Collected Papers, On the coagulation of the blood, The Croonian Lecture delivered to The Royal Society of London, June 11, 1863, p. 110.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Ibid., The third Huxley lecture, p. 517.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 519.Google Scholar
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    Collected Papers, On the early stages of inflammation, June 18, 1857, pp. 209–273.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Collected Papers, On spontaneous gangrene from arteritis and the causes of coagulation of the blood in diseases of the blood vessels, April 1858, p. 72.Google Scholar
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    Godlee, R.J.,Lord Lister, p. 70.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Collected Papers, op. cit., footnote 10.Google Scholar
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    Guthrie, D.,Lord Lister, his life and doctrine, p. 53.Google Scholar
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    Collected Papers, On a new method of treating compound fractures, abscesses, etc., 1867, p. 3.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Ibid., p. 11.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Ibid., pp. 1–36. (Lancet, 1867, vol. i, pp. 326, 357, 387, 507; vol. ii, p. 95.Google Scholar

References

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    The collected papers of Joseph Baron Lister, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1909.Google Scholar
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    Cameron, H.C.,Joseph Lister, the friend of man, London: Heineman Medical Books, 1927.Google Scholar
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    Dolman, Claude E., Joseph Baron Lister,Dictionary of Scientific Biography, pp. 399–413.Google Scholar
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    Leeson, J.R.,Lister as I knew him, London: Balliere, Tindall, & Cox, 1927.Google Scholar
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    Godlee, R.J.,Lord Lister, 3rd Ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924.Google Scholar
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    Guthrie, D.,Lord Lister, his life and doctrine, Edinburgh: E. & S. Livingstone Ltd., 1949.Google Scholar
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    Truax, R.,Joseph Lister, father of modern surgery, London: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1947.Google Scholar
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    Wrench, G.T.,Lord Lister, his life and work, London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1913.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Human Sciences Press 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gerald G. Osborn
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryMichigan State UniversityEast Lansing

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