Soul, Archeus, and Nature in van Helmont’s Medical Naturalism

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 11 (2):564-584 (2021)
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Jan Baptist van Helmont’s development of the Paracelsian theory of the Archeus is often considered uncomfortably close to the animist theory that the specificity of organic bodies is largely due to the soul. In this paper, I argue that the historical assimilation of these two positions is mistaken. I show that van Helmont introduced his theory of the Archeus on the grounds that it guaranteed that natural processes are properly natural, and that his theory was driven by a specific conception of what it means for a process to be properly natural. I also argue that the specific way in which van Helmont developed his theory of the Archeus put him at odds with the more animist positions defended in his own time, and that he stressed rather than downplayed the efficacy of natural secondary causes. This analysis runs counter to both the long tradition of reading van Helmont’s theory as a species of animism, and the more recent tendency to stress those Christian dimensions of his thought that seem to imply the inefficacy of natural causes.



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Boris Demarest
University of Amsterdam

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