Chemistry and Medical Debate
van Helmont to Boerhaave

Allen G. Debus

2001, 296 pp., illustrated, ISBN 0-88135-292-6, $52.00

Chemistry and Medical Debate


“In the field of the history of science Allen G. Debus deserves to be ranked among the innovators. In his pioneering studies, he has presented such figures as Paracelseus and Robert Fludd as subjects worthy of study. Within a domain that was dominated by physics and astronomy, he saw a space for chemistry. He has placed the history of medicine within a wider scientific, religious, and philosophical context and has characterized chemical philosophy as a third force between the declining Aristotelianism and the rising mechanical philosophy…In this volume, Debus retraces the principal results of his studies, specifically focusing on the debate between chemistry and medicine, a debate that was triggered in the 16th century by the appearance of the Paracelsian oeuvre an that was far from concluded at the end of the eighteenth century…” HYLE

“ …This book is not simply an eclectic compilation of writings from early chemistry. Its principal theme is to show that there was a continuous chemical tradition fuelled by Paracelsian origins even after they had been repudiated. This tradition, he rightly insists, had particularly strong links to medicine. As usual Debus writes clearly and punctuates his texts with numerous quotes from primary sources…For many it could form a valuable introduction to the subject.” Bull. Hist. Chem.

“…From Helmont through Willis to Stahl, Debus casts his chemical light into some hitherto unexplored areas of emerging medical theory. He offers a fascinating Spanish digression, for example. This volume provides a good introduction to the large body of Debuss work, over the past four decades, and a reminder that the scientific claims of Paracelsus had been pretty much exhausted by the time that Jungians established what Szulakowska calls a new school of alchemy.” Cauda Pavonis

“…Just as Coleridge went to Humphry Davy’s lectures to improve his stock of metaphors, so those working on seventeenth-century literature will find here some fascinating background material presented with deep
scholarship. Do read it.” David Knight

“In Chemistry and Medical Debate, Allen Debus (Morris Fishbein Professor Emeritus of the History of Science and Medicine, University of Chicago) offers an erudite and engaging discussion of the chemical philosophy of the followers of Paracelsus and van Helmont as it affected the development and practice of medicine. Professor Debus articulately describes the complex relationship of chemistry and medicine in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries by way of providing the reader with a clear and accurate understanding of the background to modern chemistry…an impressive work of outstanding scholarship and a highly recommended, core contribution to the study of the history of medicine.” The Midwest Book Review

“…Allen Debus has produced a wonderful survey of chemical-medical debate in the early modern era and has opened up avenues for further inquiry by future historians…Science History Publications did not serve this volume well when it neglected to print whatever text ought to have been found on page 30.” Isis

The missing text:
…iatrochemists and iatrophysicists). To a large extent this is due to the influence of Jean Baptiste van Helmont and it is to him that we turn next.

“…a most interesting study that contains a wealth of information about an aspect of the Scientific Revolution that had been neglected until the research of Debus himself. This research has inspired others to take up the study of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century chemistry and alchemy, indeed to the point of producing what is now quite an industry. It is good to see that the master himself is still in good form. The book is beautifully illustrated.” J.Hist.Med.

Table of Contents

Partial contents:

The Renaissance Chemical Revolution; Jean Baptiste van Helmont and the New Chemical Medicines; Chemistry, Anatomy and Physiology : Sylvius, Willis and Boyle; Acids and Alkalis: The Chemistry of Hippocrates; The Medical War Between Chemists and Mechanists; Chemistry and Medicine in the Early Eighteenth Century; Final Thoughts: Chemical Medicine from Paracelsus to Boerhaave, Chemistry and Medicine at mid-Century: The Stahlians. Bibliography, Index

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