The Search for Middle Ground: Disease Theory as Natural History

  • Margaret DeLacy


DeLacy depicts the effort of established Restoration authors such as Thomas Willis and Robert Boyle to find a middle position between Galenism and Helmontianism that was informed by empiricism and the “natural history” approach of Thomas Sydenham and John Locke. She finds that their compromise proved less conducive to contagionism than those of Helmontians and sectarians. The Great Plague of London in 1665 led members of the Royal Society to discuss the mechanism of disease transmission and consider whether small “insects” or “worms” might carry plague as Athanasius Kircher had thought. They also collaborated on a project on artificial languages by John Wilkins that created a new taxonomy of diseases. A new approach to disease classification also appears in William Petty’s proposal for vital statistics in Dublin.


Contagious Disease Royal Society Rheumatic Fever Scarlet Fever Spotted Fever 
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