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Natural Law and Medical Ethics in the Eighteenth Century

  • Johanna Geyer-Kordesch
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Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 45)

Abstract

Natural law theory, easily one of the most influential ideological advances in post-Reformation Protestantism, did more than change legal and political thinking. A little discussed effect after 1690 in Prussia concerned the li n k between mor a l ity and profession a l m a n ners in the secul a r me r ito cracy of law and med i ci ne as these disc ip li nes esta blis hed an autonomous image. The somber pic t ure of Lu t her an and C a lvi n ist a r biters of morality in the professions changed to the more colorful patterns of gracious worldliness, less frozen in the scrupulosity of morals and more self-assured in the temper of the reforms sought against traditionalists. The élite lawyers and doctors of the age — they were generally at universities or charged with administrative responsibilities — saw a distinct advantage in pressing for autonomy within the context of a new social style of their own. They measured autonomy by social savoir faire. The emphasis on the manners of the secular professions — and this is what decorum was about — suggested law and medicine were unimpeachably sovereign both in what they knew and what they were.

Keywords

Medical Ethic Eighteenth Century Middle Ground Medical Evidence Court Trial 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Alberti, Michael, Systema jurisprudentiae medicae, quo casus forenses, a Jctis et medicis decidendi, explicantur omniumque facultatum sententiis confirmatur, in partem dogmaticam et practicam partitum, casibus relationibus, judiciis, responsis et defensionibus juridicis et medicis forensibus specialibus illustratum. Halae, 1725 (Vol I); Vol II, 1729; Vol III, 1733; Vol IV, 1737; Vol V, 1740; Vol IV, 1747.Google Scholar
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    Assessments of his influence in: Notker Hammerstein, Jus und Historie, Göttingen, 1972; Michael Stolleis (ed): Staatsdenker im 17 und 18 Jht, Frankfurt am Main, 1977; Ernst Bloch, Natural Law and Human Dignity, London 1986, Rolf Lieberwirth, Christian Thomasius: Sein wissenschaftliches Lebenswerk, Eine Bibliographie, Weimar, 1955.Google Scholar
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    No good current monograph on Alberti exists; a factual account of his life and works in: W Kaiser and Arina Volker Michael Alberti (1682–1757), Wissentschafjliche Beitrage der Martin-Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg, Halle, 1982.Google Scholar
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    On the entrepreneurial ethos of the quack see: R Porter, Health for Sale, Quackery in England 1660–1850, Manchester, 1989.Google Scholar
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    A good edition with a fine introduction on the social meaning of money and military practices in Prussia: Joachim Dyck, Minna von Barnhelm oder: Die Kosten des Glucks, Berlin, 1981.Google Scholar
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    Geyer-Kordesch, J, “Georg Ernst Stahl’s radical Pietist medicine and its influence on the German Enlightenment“ in: A Cunningham and R French (eds) The Medical Enlightenment of the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge, 1990. In a different vein: John Henry “The matter of souls: medical theory and theology in seventeenth-century England”, in: R French and A Wear, The Medical Revolution of the Seventeenth Century, Cambridge, 1989.Google Scholar
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    This is substantiated in particular when one looks at the biographies of the proponents of natural law in connection with their works. See: Michael Stolleis, Staatsdenker des 17. und 18. Jhts; Wolfgang Rod, Geometrischer Geist und Naturrecht, München, 1970: Wilhelm Schmidt-Biggemann, Topica Universalis, Eine Modellgeschichte Humanistischer und Barocker Wissenschaft, Hamburg, 1983.Google Scholar
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    These concepts best developed in: Christian Thomasius, Fundamenta Juris Naturae et Gentium, Halle, 1705 and Grund-Lehren des Natur- und VolckerRechts …. In welchem allenthalben Unterschieden werden die Ehrlichkeit, Gerechtigkeit und Anstandiqkeit. (The 1709 German translation of the Fundamenta.) Google Scholar
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    If one takes the writings on natural law, on urbane manners (Klugheit), on morality (Sittenlehre), and on the soul as the major preoccupations of Thomasius until the end of the first decade of the 18th century one sees him as more than just an advocate of juridical natural law theory. Historians tend to fragment his thinking rather than seeing his work as an argument for a new social order.Google Scholar
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    The basic achievement of the Fundamenta Juris Naturae et Gentuim is to deny the Bible legal authority and thereby split canonical from secular law.Google Scholar
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    On Hoffmann, see: R French, “Sickness and the soul: Stahl, Hoffmann and Sauvages on Pathology”, in: The Medical Enlightenment (as above), pp. 88–110.Google Scholar
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    Carl, Johann Samuel, Decorum Medici, Büdingen, 1719.Google Scholar
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    Regulation through royal decree came in 1725 (see: J Geyer-Kordesch, “Court Physicians and State Regulation in Eighteenth-century Prussia: The emergence of medical science and the demystification of the body“, in: Vivian Nutton (ed) Medicine at the Courts of Europe 1500–1837, London, 1990 pp. 155–181), but this concerned qualifications rather than decorum or the Hippocratic Oath. Hippocratic writings were thought of highly during this time of reform, the Oath, however, does not figure prominantly in these.Google Scholar
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    See footnote 10.Google Scholar
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    Schubart-Fikentscher, Gertrud, Hallesche Spruchpraxis, Consiliensammlungen Hallescher Gelehrter aus dem Anfang des 18 Jahrhunderts, Weimar, 1960, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    Alberti, Michael, Commentatio in Constitutionem Criminalem Carolinam Medica, Halae, 1739.Google Scholar
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    Ibid: several specialised sections.* Alberti, Michael, Commentatio in Constitutionem Criminalem Carolinam Medica, Halae, 1739Google Scholar
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    Alberti, Systema jurisprudentiae medicae, Tomus I: Preface by Christian Thomasius also passim and in the prefaces to the volumes written by Alberti.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Ibid, Pars I: gives the main general introduction to forensic medicine and its literature; Pars II goes into the cases.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    See: my forthcoming article on the epistomological and political meaning of empirical case studies “Medizinische Fallbeschreibungen und ihre Bedeutung im Fruhen 18. Jht“ to be published in: Medizin, Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Stuttgart.Google Scholar
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    Hammerstein, Notkar, Jus und Historie, Göttingen, 1973 p. 173 ff.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. p. 167.* Hammerstein, Notkar, Jus und Historie, Göttingen, 1973 p. 173 ff.Google Scholar
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    Alberti, Systema jurisprudentiae medicae, 1725–1747: summarized from the prefaces to each volume.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Ibid, Vol 5 (1740), preface (unpaginated).Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Ibid, Vol 4 (1737), preface (unpaginated).Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Ibid, but this is a continual theme throughout.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ibid, for example, the infanticide case in Vol 6 (1747) of 26 February, 1743.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Ibid, but again a theme throughout the case material.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    A very good exposition of this in: Joachim Dyck, Minna von Barnhelm oder: Die Kosten des Glucks, Berlin 1981, the chapter entitled “Einige Kapitale werden jetzt mitschwinden’: Geldgeschafte”, p. 59–68.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Deofficiis, “on duties” are prominent chapters in Thomasius’ Fundamenta Juris Naturae et Gentium, Halle, 1705; Duties in Prussia were linked with office, and therefore also with official prestige, of the universities or the state, and were not primarily linked to behavioural advantage in free trade among entrepreneurical lawyers or doctors. The honour of the military officer can thus be seen to be closely linked to the honour of professionals in office since they were all representative of the state.Google Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1993

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  • Johanna Geyer-Kordesch

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