This essay proposes to discuss the manner in which Jan Baptista van Helmont helped to transform the Neoplatonic notions of vital spirit and of ferment by giving these notions an unambiguously chemical interpretation, thereby influencing the eventual naturalization of these ideas in the work of late seventeenth century chymists. This chemical interpretation of vital spirit and ferment forms part of Helmont’s hybrid ontology, which fuses a corpuscular conception of minima naturalia with a non-corporeal conception of semina rerum. For (...)Helmont, chemical alterations involve the minima as physical units but also depend upon ferments that are contained in the semina, which function as formative spiritual agents. Helmont’s nuanced ontology ultimately contributes to the development of modern corpuscularian theory by explaining many chemical reactions in fundamentally corpuscular terms, as the addition and subtraction of particles. (shrink)
Van Helmont's chemistry and medicine played a prominent part in the seventeenth-century opposition to Aristotelian natural philosophy and to Galenic medicine. Helmontian works, which rapidly achieved great notoriety all over Europe, gave rise to the most influential version of the chemical philosophy. Helmontian terms such as Archeus, Gas and Alkahest all became part of the accepted vocabulary of seventeenth-century science and medicine.
Here, I shall argue that Van Helmont needs to be added to the list of sources on which Newton drew when formulating his doctrine of absolute time. This by no means implies that Van Helmont is the factual source of Newton's views on absolute time (I have found no clear-cut evidence in support of this claim). It is by no means my aim to debunk the importance of the other sources, but rather to broaden them. Different authors help (...) to explain different aspects of Newton's conception of absolute time. (shrink)
In this paper, I take up the question to what extent and in which sense we can conceive of Johannes Baptista Van Helmont’s (1579-1644) style of experimenting as “modern”. Connected to this question, I shall reflect upon what Van Helmont’s precise contribution to experimental practice was. I will argue - after analysing some of Van Helmont's experiments such as his tree-experiment, ice-experiment, and thermoscope experiment - that Van Helmont had a strong preference to locate experimental designs (...) in places wherein variables can be more easily controlled (and in the limit, in relatively closed physical systems such as paradigmatically the vessel, globe or sphere (vas, globus, sphera)). After having reviewed some alternative candidates, I shall argue that Van Helmont’s usage of relatively isolated physical systems and a moderate degree of quantification, whereby mathematical procedures mainly refer to guaranteeing that quantities are conserved by roughly determining them, are the characteristics that best captures his contributions to “modern” experimentation. (shrink)
This paper treats van Helmont's attack on Aristotle as an example of the difficulty of accounting for one author's attack on another by simply comparing the texts of the two authors. The Aristotle that van Helmont is attacking is the Aristotle represented in contemporary textbooks, and the attack on his authority is closely connected to the attack on the importance of verbal disputation in education. The importance of knowledge of Aristotle and of argumentative skills means van Helmont (...) displays them to claim competence in them, while arguing they are worthless, and states many of his own doctrines as denials of Aristotelian doctrines. After a brief account of van Helmont's cosmology, three texts of his are examined: the conclusion of Causae et initia naturalium, where van Helmont demonstrates the worthlessness of Aristotelian method, by giving an example of his own method's greater success, the beginning of Physica Aristotelis et Galeni ignara, where he argues in Aristotelian terms against an Aristotelian definition of nature, and his general attack on Aristotelian method and on verbal disputation in Logica inutilis. (shrink)
SUMMARYThis article explores how writers from the Dutch Golden Age thought about human contact with that which is elevated far above everyday life. The Dutch Republic offers an interesting context because of the strikingly early use there by seventeenth-century humanists of the Greek concept ὕψος, from Longinus, to discuss how writers, artists and their audiences were able to surpass human limitations thanks to an intense imagination which transported them to supreme heights. Dutch poets also used the Latin sublimis to discuss (...) how mankind constantly aims at that which is far above it, but, despite this, can never entirely be a part of it. Thirdly, protestant writers discuss the concept of the Fear of God by explaining that elevated contact with God should be accompanied by the contrasting emotions of attraction and fear. With reference to the humanist Franciscus Junius, poet Joost van den Vondel and preacher Petrus Wittewrongel, I will discuss how these artistic, literary and religious discourses concerning contact with the sublime are related to one another. (shrink)