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John Locke and the Case of Anthony Ashley Cooper

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In June 1668 Anthony Ashley Cooper, later to become the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, underwent abdominal surgery to drain a large abscess above his liver. The case is extraordinary, not simply on account of the eminence of the patient and the danger of the procedure, but also because of the many celebrated figures involved. A trove of manuscripts relating to this famous operation survives amongst the Shaftesbury Papers in the National Archives at Kew. These include case notes in the hand of the philosopher John Locke and advice from leading physicians of the day including Francis Glisson, Sir George Ent and Thomas Sydenham. The majority of this material has never been published before. This article provides complete transcriptions and translations of all of these manuscripts, thus providing for the first time a comprehensive case history. It is prefaced with an extended introduction.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Philosophy, University of Otago;, Email:; 2: Department of the History of Science and Technology and Department of Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University;, Email:


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