Medical Humanism and Natural Philosophy

Renaissance Debates on Matter, Life and the Soul


Inspired by the ideas contained in the newly recovered ancient sources, Renaissance humanists questioned the traditional teachings of universities. Humanistically trained physicians, called “medical humanists,” were particularly active in the field of natural philosophy, where alternative approaches were launched and tested. Their intellectual outcome contributed to the reorientation of philosophy toward natural questions, which were to become crucial in the seventeenth century. This volume explores six medical humanists of diverse geographical and confessional origins (Leoniceno, Fernel, Schegk, Gemma, Liceti and Sennert) and their debates on matter, life and the soul. The study of these debates sheds new light on the contributions of humanist culture to the evolution of early modern natural philosophy
Restricted Access


EUR €110.00USD $148.00

Biographical Note

Hiro Hirai, Ph.D. (1999) in history of science, University of Lille 3, is a Marie Curie Fellow at Radboud University Nijmegen. He has published widely in early modern natural philosophy, medicine and chemistry, including Le concept de semence dans les théories de la matière à la Renaissance (2005). He is Vice Editor of Early Science and Medicine.

Editorial Board

[T]he author’s attention to rare sources and varied views of the past contributes to a wider understanding of early modern scientific culture that abandons oversimplifications about revolutions carried out by a few great geniuses.
Pietro Daniel Omodeo, Renaissance Quarterly , Vol. 65, No. 3 (Fall 2012), pp. 913-915

Table of contents

Acknowledgement by Way of a “History”

1. Medical Humanism and Natural Philosophy
2. Matter, Life and the Soul
3. The Newly Recovered Texts and Their Interpretations
4. Philosophy in the Manner of Medical Humanists
Chapter One. Nicolò Leoniceno between the Arabo-Latin Tradition and the Renaissance of the Greek Commentators
1. Introduction
2. Galen: The Vegetative Soul and Innate Heat
3. Aristotle and Pietro d’Abano: Celestial Heat, the Intellect and Soul’s Vehicle
4. Alexander of Aphrodisias and Simplicius: The Seed’s Inner Nature
5. Averroes and Themistius: Ideas, Intellects and Souls
6. Conclusion

Chapter Two. Jean Fernel and His Christian Platonic Interpretation of Galen
1. Introduction
2. The Divine Forces of Forms
3. God the Creator and Fetal Formation
4. The Divine and Celestial Nature of the Soul
5. The Notion of Faculty
6. Formative Force and Divine Craftsman in the Seed
7. The Spiritus and Its Innate Heat
8. The Physiological Functions and Their Occult Causes
9. Fernel’s Source
10. Conclusion

Chapter Three. Jacob Schegk on the Plastic Faculty and the Origin of Souls
1. Introduction
2. The Plastic Faculty as the Instrument of God
3. The Plastic Faculty as the Second Actuality
4. Is the Plastic Faculty Corporeal or Incorporeal?
5. The Divine Vehicle of the Plastic Faculty
6. The Separability of the Divine Vehicle
7. Is the Plastic Faculty a Part of the Soul?
8. Conclusion
Chapter Four. Cornelius Gemma and His Neoplatonic Reading of Hippocrates
1. Introduction
2. Fernel and the Hippocratic Notion of “Something Divine”
3. Cardano and His Hippocratism
4. Gemma and His Neoplatonic Hippocratism
5. Petrus Severinus and the Parisian Connections?

Chapter Five. Fortunio Liceti against Marsilio Ficino on the World-Soul and the Origin of Life
1. Introduction
2. Liceti’s De Spontaneo Viventium Ortu (1618)
3. The World-Soul in the “Junior Platonists”
4. The Ideas in the “Major Platonists”
5. Ficino and the Earth’s Soul
6. Cicero’s De Natura Deorum as Ficino’s Source?

Chapter Six. Daniel Sennert on Living Atoms, Hylomorphism and Spontaneous Generation
1. Introduction
2. The Origin of Souls in Normal Generation
3. The Eduction of Forms
4. Schegk and the Plastic Force
5. The Nature of the Seed and Its Spiritus
6. Spontaneous Generation in Sennert
7. The Atoms of Living Beings and Their Souls
8. Conclusion

1. Natural Philosophy and Medical Humanism
2. Toward a Quest for the Seminal Principle: Sennert and beyond

1. Jacopo Zabarella, Liber de calore coelesti, in De rebus naturalibus (Frankfurt, 1607), 11.
2. Giovanni Argenterio, De somno et vigilia libri duo (Florence, 1556; Venice, 1592), 2.6.
3. Dominico Bertacchi, De spiritibus libri quatuor (Venice, 1584), 1.8.
4. Fortunio Liceti, De spontaneo viventium ortu (Vicenza, 1618), 3.13.



All those interested in intellectual history, the history of science and medicine, Renaissance humanism as well as early modern philosophy.

Index Card

Collection Information