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Working paper

Wolffian Philosophy as Rhetoric in “An essay on the beauty of human body” (1746) by E.A. Nicolai

The movement of the so-called philosophiсal physicians was formed at the Prussian University of Halle in the middle of the 18th century as a medico-philosophical approach outside of the structure of university genres both in medicine and in philosophy. Being professional physicians, they read metaphysical texts relating to the status of body, to the living or to the relations between soul and body and introduce the elements of new philosophical discourses such as Wolffianism into the field of medical theory outside of academic discourse. In this context, the objective of the paper is to identify and describe the argumentative features of E. A. Nicolai’s “An essay on the beauty of human body”. Nikolai builds his reasoning more geometrico, referring directly to the works of Christian Wolff and Alexander Baumgarten. However, Nicolai’s use of Wolffian terminology and form of reasoning is systematically ambiguous; for instance, he comes to anthropological conclusions which seem quite consistent with a theory of physical influx totally denied by Wolff discussing the soul-body problem. Moreover, the style of many passages of “An essay on the beauty of human body”, saturated with philosophical terminology, is obviously ironic. Departing from Nikolai’s medico-philosophical approach, I lead to a reflection on the configuration of the disciplinary textual spaces and on the borders of academic medicine in the social dimension of the 18th century.