III. The 17th and 18th Centuries
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"The proper study of mankind is man."
   – Alexander Pope

THE 17th and 18th CENTURIES

The history of disabilities prior to the 17th and 18th centuries has been referred to as "a [time] of confusion," lacking in understanding of, and services for, persons with disabilities. However, the 17th and 18th centuries witnessed a more constructive, scientific approach to individuals with disabilities. The earlier efforts of Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo contributed to an understanding of the physical world, while philosophers of the time tried to understand human nature.

During this time, "idiot cages" became common in town centers to "keep people with disabilities out of trouble." They may have served as entertainment for townspeople.


Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) and John Locke (1632-1704) were interested in rationalism and the study of human nature. Locke believed that learning comes through association ("ideas derive from experience"). He said all minds are tabula rasas, blank slates upon which to write. Along with the philosopher Rousseau, Hobbes and Locke are considered the Social Contract theorists, interested in the balance of individual freedom and control by the government.