Moral physiology

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  • Agesilaus, king of Sparta, when asked what things boys should learn, replied, “Those which they will practise when they become men.” As health requires the observance of the laws inherent to the different organs of the human system, so not only boys, but girls, should acquire a knowledge of the laws of their organization. If sound morality depends upon the inculcation of correct principles in youth, equally so does a sound physical system depend on a correct physical education during the same period of life.

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  • The fact that there is a reciprocal relation between mental states and bodily conditions, acting both for good and ill, is nothing new in human experience. Even among the most crude and unobserving, traditions and incidents have given witness to this knowledge. For centuries stories of the hair turning white during the night on account of fright or sorrow, the cause and cure of diseases through emotional disturbances, and death, usually directly by apoplexy, caused by anger, grief, or joy, have been current and generally accepted.

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  • Where the two terms differ is in the imposition by organisations of courteous or forced ritual behaviour on employees – a modern phenomenon. Insincerity is concealed, leading to the whimsical even offensive notion that we are all air hostesses now. There are moral implications here too. Sprezzatura could be aligned to the moral theories of hedonism and egoism – where the focus is on the individual who decides to pursue a working life of fulfilment based on self interest, by the appearance of relaxed competence that may or may not be borne out by actual effectiveness at work....

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  • This project began many years ago in the nether regions of Widener Library at Harvard. As a graduate student in the History of Science, I became interested in medical views and treatment of women and studied "the cult of female invalidism" that pervaded American culture in the late nineteenth century. Browsing through popular magazines and newspapers of the period, I therefore was surprised to find images of healthy women—young girls playing croquet and badminton, ladies exercising at home in loose-fitting garb, college students riding bikes and rowing boats....

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