Pain, sympathy and the medical encounter between the mid eighteenth and the mid twentieth centuries



Witnessing people in pain inevitably elicits anxiety in physicians and other caregivers. Physicians are often required to inflict certain types of discomforts in order to alleviate other, more destructive, pains. Accusations that physicians lacked sympathy can be heard throughout the centuries. This article explores the diverse medical responses to such claims between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. It interrogates changing definitions of clinical sympathy. The concept of sympathy was continually being reworked for each generation of medical professional. Crucially, in this reworking, philosophers (such as Adam Smith) and physicians came into dialogue. Cultures of sympathy were understood in both physiological and metaphorical terms, and were tied to changing notions of professionalization