Quetelet, the average man and medical knowledge

Using two books by Adolphe Quetelet, I analyze his theory of the 'average man', which associates biological and social normality with the frequency with which certain characteristics appear in a population. The books are Sur l'homme et le développement de ses facultés and Du systeme social et des lois qui le régissent. Both reveal that Quetelet's ideas are permeated by explanatory strategies drawn from physics and astronomy, and also by discursive strategies drawn from theology and religion. The stability of the mean as opposed to the dispersion of individual characteristics and events provided the basis for the use of statistics in social sciences and medicine.

Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874); average man; ideal type; statistical average; medicine


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