Human Experimentation in the Eighteenth Century

Londa Schiebinger

in The Moral Authority of Nature

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print December 2003 | ISBN: 9780226136806
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226136820 | DOI:
Human Experimentation in the Eighteenth Century

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This chapter explores how drugs were tested in the eighteenth century, looking specifically at how human subjects were chosen for experiments, and at notions of uniformity and variability across living organisms. Did physicians imagine a natural human body that, once tested, held universally? Were tests done on male bodies thought to hold for female bodies (and vice versa)? Were white and black bodies considered interchangeable in this regard? Which of these distinctions were considered a product of cultural artifice and which were thought to be jealously guarded by Dame Nature herself? What role did the “moral authority of nature” play in the choice of subjects? The choice of experimental subjects in the eighteenth century responded to both natural and social imperatives. In the early modern period, Europeans made exacting distinctions in social rank, allowing only persons of the highest rank to wear fine ermines or scratch with a fingernail grown for the purpose at the king's chamber door, yet in this same period physicians assumed far-reaching unity across basic human nature in the matter of drug testing.

Keywords: human experimentation; moral authority; human nature; drug testing; social rank; experimental subjects

Chapter.  10213 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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