The Role of the Medical Cadaver in the Genesis of Enlightenment-Era Science and Technology

  • Brent Dean Robbins


The cosmos of the Middle Ages and Renaissance was understood to be an integrated, holistic and hierarchical order in harmonious relation, wherein the organism of the body reflected the intrinsic natural order of the larger cosmos. With the revival of Neoplatonism in the Renaissance, the intellectual climate placed increasing emphasis on the separation of matter and form, the duality of appearance and form, and mathematical models geared toward the manipulation of matter. The devaluing of the natural world corresponded to the devaluing and persecution of women, including the witch trials and exclusion of women from the previous role in medicine, particularly in the role of midwife. A pervasive theme of objectification provided the basis for the rationalization of cruelty and violence in varied forms.


  1. Arney, W. (1982). Power and the profession of obstetrics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bacon, F. (1955). Selected writings of Francis Bacon (H. G. Dick, Ed.). New York: The Modern Library.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdillon, H. (1988). Women as healers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bourea, A. (1994). The sacrality of one’s own body in the Middle Ages. Yale French Studies, 86, 5–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brauner, S. (2001). Fearless wives and frightened shrews: The construction of the witch in early modern Germany. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.Google Scholar
  6. Burtt, E. A. (2003). Metaphysical foundations of modern science. New York: Dover.Google Scholar
  7. Cahill, H. A. (2001). Male appropriation and medicalization of childbirth: An historical analysis. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 33(3), 334–342.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  8. DeRobertis, E. M. (2011). St. Thomas Aquinas’ philosophical-anthropology as a viable underpinning for a holistic psychology: A dialogue with existential-phenomenology. Janus Head, 12(1), 62–91.Google Scholar
  9. Descartes, R. (1961). Essential works of Descartes (L. Blair, Trans.). New York: Bantam.Google Scholar
  10. Donnison, J. (1977). Midwives and medical men. London: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  11. Fahy, K. (2007). An Australian history of the subordination of midwifery. Women and Birth, 20(1), 25–29.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. Gillespie, M. A. (2009). The theological origins of modernity. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  13. Goldenberg, J. L. (2013). Immortal objects: The objectification of women as terror management. In S. J. Gervais (Ed.), Objectification and (de)humanization (pp. 73–95). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Goldenberg, J., Heflick, N., Vaes, J., Motyl, M., & Greenberg, J. (2009). Of mice and men, and objectified women: A terror management account of infrahumanization. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations, 12(6), 763–776.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goldenberg, J. L., Pyszczynski, T., Greenberg, J., & Solomon, S. (2000). Fleeing the body: A terror management perspective on the problem of human corporeality. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 4(3), 200–218.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grabe, S., Routledge, C., Cook, A., Anderson, C., & Arndt, J. (2005). In defense of the body: The effect of mortality salience on female body objectification. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 29(1), 33–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Grant, E. (2001). God and reason in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hobby, E. (1999). The midwives book of the whole art of midwifery. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Kant, I. (2002). Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals. (A. W. Wood, Ed. and Trans.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kirkham, M. (1996). Professionalism past and present: Wit women or with the powers that be? In D. Kroll (Ed.), Midwifery care for the future. London: Balliere Tindall.Google Scholar
  21. Koole, S. L., & Van den Berg, A. E. (2005). Lost in the wilderness: Terror management, action orientation, ad nature evaluation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(6), 1014–1028.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  22. Levack, B. P. (2006). The witch-hunt in early modern Europe. Abingdon: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Marland, H. (1993). The art of midwifery: Early modern midwives of Europe. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  24. Merchant, C. (1990). The death of nature: Women, ecology, and the scientific revolution. New York: HarperOne.Google Scholar
  25. Merchant, C. (2006). The scientific revolution and The Death of Nature. Isis, 97, 513–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Nussbaum, M. C. (1995). Objectification. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 24(4), 249–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Park, K. (1994). The criminal and the saintly body: Autopsy and dissection in Renaissance Italy. Renaissance Quarterly, 47(1), 1–33.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Park, K. (2010). Secrets of women: Gender, generation, and the origins of human dissection. New York: Zone Books.Google Scholar
  29. Rhodes, P. (1995). A short history of clinical midwifery. Hale: Books for Midwives.Google Scholar
  30. Robbins, B. D. (2005). New organs of perception: Goethean science as a cultural therapeutics. Janus Head, 8(1), 113–126.Google Scholar
  31. Robbins, B. D. (2015). The heart of humanistic psychology: Human dignity disclosed through a hermeneutic of love. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(3), 223–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Romanyshyn, R. D. (1989). Technology as symptom and dream. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Skinner, B. F. (1971). Beyond freedom and dignity. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  34. Skirry, J. (2017). Rene Descartes: The mind-body distinction. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  35. Oakley, A. (1976). Wisewoman and medicine man: Changes in the management of childbirth. In A. Oakley & J. Mitchell (Eds.), The rights and wrongs of women. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  36. Wilson, A. (1995). The making of man-midwifery: Childbirth in England 1660–1770. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyPoint Park UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations