Of Two Lives One? Jean-Charles-Marguerite-Guillaume Grimaud and the Question of Holism in Vitalist Medicine

Science in Context 21 (4):593-613 (2008)
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ArgumentMontpellier vitalists upheld a medical perspective akin to modern “holism” in positing the functional unity of creatures imbued with life. While early vitalists focused on the human organism, Jean-Charles-Marguerite-Guillaume Grimaud investigated digestion, growth, and other physiological processes that human beings shared with simpler organisms. Eschewing modern investigative methods, Grimaud promoted a medically-grounded “metaphysics.” His influential doctrine of the “two lives” broke with Montpellier holism, classifying some vital phenomena as “higher” and others as “lower” and attributing the “nobility” of the human species to the predominance of the former. In place of Montpellier teaching that attributed health to the holistic equilibration of vital activities, Grimaud embraced spiritualist dualisms of soul and body, Creator and created. Celebrating the divinely-ordained “wisdom” evident in involuntary physiological processes, he argued that such life functions were incomprehensible to human investigators. While Grimaud's work encouraged inquiry into the division between the central and “vegetative” nervous systems that became paradigmatic in nineteenth-century neuroscience, it also opened Montpellier vitalism to charges of conservatism and obscurantism that are still lodged against it to the present day.



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Elizabeth Williams
University of Florida

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Sciences of appetite in the Enlightenment, 1750–1800.Elizabeth A. Williams - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (2):392-404.

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