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The Emergence of Sexuality

The Emergence of Sexuality

Historical Epistemology and the Formation of Concepts

Arnold I. Davidson

ISBN 9780674013704

Publication date: 03/01/2004

In a book that moves between philosophy and history, and with lasting significance for both, Arnold Davidson elaborates a powerful new method for considering the history of concepts and the nature of scientific knowledge, a method he calls "historical epistemology." He applies this method to the history of sexuality, with important consequences for our understanding of desire, abnormality, and sexuality itself.

In Davidson's view, it was the emergence of a science of sexuality that made it possible, even inevitable, for us to become preoccupied with our true sexuality. Historical epistemology attempts to reveal how this new form of experience that we call "sexuality" is linked to the emergence of new structures of knowledge, and especially to a new style of reasoning and the concepts employed within it. Thus Davidson shows how, starting in the second half of the nineteenth century, a new psychiatric style of reasoning about diseases emerges that makes possible, among other things, statements about sexual perversion that quickly become commonplace in discussions of sexuality.

Considering a wide range of examples, from Thomas Aquinas to Freud, Davidson develops the methodological lessons of Georges Canguilhem and Michel Foucault in order to analyze the history of our experience of normativity and its deviations.


  • Arnold Davidson's essays revive the adventurous roots of that genre as a daring venture or trial. The result is a new and stimulating hybrid of history and philosophy -- historical epistemology -- which does full justice to the otherness of the past without losing sight of the structures and rules of coherence that forge concepts worthy of the name.

    —Lorraine Daston, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science


  • Arnold I. Davidson is Professor of Philosophy and Divinity, and a member of the Committee on the Conceptual Foundations of Science, at the University of Chicago.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 5-11/16 x 8-15/16 inches
  • Harvard University Press