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Human and Animal Appetite in Natural History and Physiology

Human and Animal Appetite in Natural History and Physiology

(p.54) Three Human and Animal Appetite in Natural History and Physiology
Appetite and Its Discontents
Elizabeth A. Williams
University of Chicago Press

Chapter 3 explores the systematic observation and experimental manipulation of animal eating that got underway in eighteenth-century natural history and physiology. Naturalists such as Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon and Lazzaro Spallanzani sought insights into human appetite and eating by studying ingestion and digestion in animals, posing questions about differences and similarities in human and animal eating and about the relative significance of learning and instinct in ingestive patterns and habits. Physiologists concentrated on ingestive and digestive processes in human beings, distinguishing appetite as desire from hunger as need. Competing physiological theories reflected broad divisions between mechanists like Albrecht von Haller, who sought specific structures and somatic causes of appetite, eating, and digestion, and vitalists such as those of the Montpellier school, who regarded these phenomena as the work of an over-arching principle of life or specific vital forces. While mechanists focused on bodily movements they saw as responsible for hunger, vitalists regarded deep-seated organismic desires as the essential determinants of vital action. As experimental methods gained in prestige, the search for concrete mechanisms of ingestion and digestion rendered the role of appetite problematic.

Keywords:   natural history, physiology, instinct, desire, Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Lazzaro Spallanzani, Albrecht von Haller, Montpellier school, experimentalism

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