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Alchemy as Studies of Life and Matter: Reconsidering the Place of Vitalism in Early Modern Chymistry

Ku-ming (Kevin) Chang
Isis
Vol. 102, No. 2 (June 2011), pp. 322-329
DOI: 10.1086/660141
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/660141
Page Count: 8
Subjects: History of Science & Technology
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Alchemy as Studies of Life and Matter: Reconsidering
the Place of Vitalism in Early Modern Chymistry
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Abstract

ABSTRACT Early modern alchemy studied both matter and life, much like today's life sciences. What material life is and how it comes about intrigued alchemists. Many found the answer by assuming a vital principle that served as the source and cause of life. Recent literature has presented important cases in which vitalist formulations incorporated corpuscular or mechanical elements that were characteristic of the New Science and other cases in which vitalist thinking influenced important figures of the Scientific Revolution. Not merely speculative, vitalist ideas also motivated chymical practice. The unity of life science and material science that is found in many formulations of Renaissance alchemy disintegrated in Georg Ernst Stahl's version of post-Cartesian vitalism.