Disease and the Enlightenment: Science, Smallpox and Scurvy. 17 to 18 century
I. Reason and Evidence:ANew Rational and SystemicApproach
Changing of ideas during the Renaissance. Enlightenment - large intellectual, philosophical,
cultural and social event. Deals with human reason. Triumph of Human Reason. Optimism
about the future- we can actually do better, improve human kind, new ideas about toleration and
politics. We can improve society. Opens up a path for independent thought. Challenges the
dominance of the church. Renegotiate understanding of the world.
a. Faith in Science:As Explanation and Method
* scientific revolution: new systems are introduced to the understanding of the world. You have
men who put together ideas and theories about physics, anatomy, astronomy etc. They challenge
classical doctrines. You reasoning to argue a new theory or new approach. These people are
asking people to think differently about the world. NOTE: It is not just one event. It is a series
* William Harvey will challenge Galen's theory of blood. Circular blood flow.
* For the majority of society – new meeting place – philosophs meeting in salons. There is
philosophical discussion outside of the university. There is also a literate population.
Country Gentlemen – join the scientific craze. They use the science of reason and experiment
and observation and use it themselves
* Period of tremendous optimism – spills over into science and medicine. There is this idea that
people can live longer and better.
* Plague outbreaks are on the decline at this time. There are less outbreaks and less death. In
addition other outbreaks of things like fever are on the decline as well.
* New diseases that are of a concern – crowded diseases. Infectious diseases. Such as smallpox.
Optimism that they can deal with these infectious diseases. Crowded maladies.
* Evidence and Reason – this will challenge authority of the church. This will bring new stake
holders and authority.
* Human reason has a shared goal – we can improve our world through human reason and
action. This a challenge to divine action and god's plan.
* Challenge to medical profession – doctors were told to throw out the classics. (at the end of
the enlightenment there will be a full rejection of the classics. It is a slow change.
* Prof says it is a change in attitude and change in values.
* superstitious will be left behind. Irrational will be left behind.
* Control over nature – idea of progress. Idea of conquest over disease.
FAITH IN SCIENCE
– as an explanation
– as a method
– a lot of push back to this. Church believes this will bring on god's wrath.
– Prof has said like 7 times it is a slow process, there will be discussion, negotiation.
– Trying to set out new laws of nature. How do they do this : Observation, Hypothesis, and
b. The Environment:Arguments of Contagion v. Miasma
What actually causes disease? Is the debate.
The enlightenment theory takes a lot from John Locke. - human mind is influenced by environment
around us. Abetter environment will mean a better mind. Better mind better people. Better people better society.
Miasma theory – environment causes disease. But how? There is a lot of different ideas of the role of
the environment in transmitting disease.
Remember noxious bad air is miasma- comes from decomposed matter.
Easy to accept because you can see the smog, you can smell the disease.
Government liked it – set up public health boards. Wanted to clean up the environment.
Remember this is not a new theory to this time period.
Government health boards will spread into contagion theory with the development of quarantine.
Remove the sick from the healthy.
Some people believe in one or the other some people believe in both contagion and miasma.
Contagion theory really arms the state to minimize individual rights with things like quarantine.
What diseases are they concerned about at the time
• Yellow Fever
You see the use of water for bathing. It is seen as a good thing. (was seen as sensual before which is
frowned upon by the church) Water was seen as a positive thing for health.
1780s – large cities or towns. Lots of smell. People form committees to clean up environment like
sewers, cemeteries etc. Work on moving cemeteries better sewer systems.
II. The EnlightenmentAttacks Disease
a. Smallpox and Inoculation
considered a childhood disease. Seen as a bigger problem in 16 century it has a bigger impact. It
becomes less endemic and more epidemic and effects more adults. More people are killed than before.
1569 – rome kills thousand of people both kids and adults
1570 – venice – 10,000 killed.
Annual percentage of deaths are increasing from smallp