John Locke's Sacred Physic: Faith and Medicine in the Career of John Locke

By Prof. Darrick Noel Taylor, Ph.D.

This article seeks to place the medical career of John Locke in the setting of religious beliefs and allegiances in Restoration England.  It seeks to show the influence of a circle of Latitudinarian thinkers upon both his religious and medical views, mostly associated with the Earl of Shaftesbury.  Most especially, it will show the connections between Locke and Thomas Sydenham, the great English physician, not only in terms of their shared approach to medicine, but also their religious beliefs.  As a comparison of Locke's few medical writings and Sydenham's religious writings will show, they both shared a fairly common view of God's power over matter (and hence the body), which conditioned their view of medicine.  As a consequence, I will demonstrate that Locke's view of medicine was not part of any putative "medical revolution" in the 17th century, despite the radical nature of some parts of his philosophy and religious beliefs.  Part of the goal of the essay will be to call into question the usefulness of the idea of a "medical revolution" in the historiography of early modern medicine.  It also hopes to contribute to the historiography of early modern medicine as it relates to religion in the early modern period as well.  

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