What Does It Mean to Be an Empiricist in Medicine? Baglivi’s De praxi medica (1696)

Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science book series (BSPS, volume 331)


How are we to connect the mechanist methodology used by Baglivi in his physiological treatises with the apparently strict empiricism that he promotes in his therapeutic work entitled Practice of Physick, reduc’d to the Ancient Way of Observations? In order to answer this question, we examine the methodological implications of the “history of diseases” that Baglivi promotes by using Bacon’s recommendations in the Novum organum. Then, we compare this result with the place that historians generally gave to Baglivi in the medical context of that time: the place of a dogmatic and “iatromechanist” physician who was far from practical and therapeutic concerns. This confrontation allows us first to apprehend the polemical origin of the so-called “iatromechanism” as a historiographical label, and second, to question the preeminence of the role of observations in the shaping of the classical distinction between “rational” physicians and “empirical” ones. When Early Modern physicians use the dichotomy between “empirical” and “rationalist” in order to discredit what they perceive as oversimplification or dogmatism, there is most often a third group at stake: a group which is depicted as the providential and intelligent solution to sectarianism. For Baglivi, this third group would be an “Empirick rational sect.” The distinction between a medicina prima and a medicina secunda allows us to understand such an apparently paradoxical category.


Iatromechanism Solidism Methodism History of diseases Induction Francis Bacon Giorgio Baglivi Georges Canguilhem Mirko D. Grmek Thomas Sydenham 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ENS LyonCNRSLyonFrance

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