Research Stream



Disorderly Emotions: British Philosophical and Medical Debates, 1700-1798

This project examines the historical and conceptual development of seminal views of the emotions and their negative repercussions upon the functioning of mind, speech, and actions. It specifically focuses upon influential British intellectuals of the eighteenth century, especially physician-philosophers, and their conceptions and taxonomies of the emotionsas "passions" or "affections".

Disorderly Emotions: British Philosophical and Medical Debates, 1700-1798

Image: An Experiment on a Bird in an Air Pump, by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In reaction to earlier biographical accounts, much contemporary research into medical trends of the eighteenth century has been broadly thematic by nature, such as the institutional approach of Michel Foucault on changing clinical and hospital practices and the constructivist perspective of Christopher Goodey on socio-cultural notions of mental disability. To that extent, the contributions of individuals, with passing acknowledgement of formative and intellectual factors often drawn from disparate epochs, tend to be emphasized.

This project, by contrast, aims to pursue the pivotal set of direct debates that philosophically grounded disorderly emotions for medical practitioners of the day. Particular focus is given to dominant physician-philosophers such as John Locke (1700), David Hartley (1749), and Alexander Crichton (1798) whose published enquiries most directly shaped prominent British practitioners who, in turn, specifically pursued the connection between the emotions and disorders or diseases more or less manifested physiologically. These practitioners range from George Cheyne (1724) to William Cullen (1784). By so doing, this project invites further research into at least two areas: firstly, into eighteenth-century philosophical and medical debates amongst, for example, French- and German-speaking writers and, secondly, into the precedents for the intellectual, medical, and technological changes after 1800. The latter, with its weakening of the connections between emotions and moral values, marks further re-conceptualisations of the relationship between emotions and diagnoses of behavioural, cognitive, and linguistic disorders.