• Matter–Form (Hylomorphism) in Early Modern Alchemy

    Elisabeth Moreau (see profile)
    Alchemy, Renaissance Science and Medicine
    Philosophy, Modern, Sixteenth century, Seventeenth century, Science--Philosophy, Technology--Philosophy, Science, Technology, History, Medicine, Middle Ages, Alchemy
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    Book chapter
    Early modern philosophy, History and philosophy of science and technology, Medieval and early modern medicine
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    Hylomorphism is a recent term in the history of philosophy and the sciences. What was used from Antiquity to the early modern period was the terminological couple “matter” and “form.” According to the Aristotelian physics, matter and form are indissociable principles which constitute the elements and preside over the generation and destruction of natural beings. Matter is the material substrate of the elements while form defines their essence. Together, they play a central role in the formation of beings during the union of elements or “mixture.” In the late Middle Ages, the Aristotelian framework of matter–form was integrated into alchemical theories about material change and transmutation. In reference to Latin–Arabic alchemy, medicine, and meteorology, alchemists began to develop pre-corpuscular interpretations of elements as discrete components made of matter–form. In the early modern period, despite Paracelsus’ rejection of the Aristotelian physics, alchemists tended to maintain the notion of matter–form while proposing eclectic accounts of elements in the example of the atomistic theories of Libavius and Sennert. The Aristotelian conception of matter–form was nonetheless challenged by mechanical perspectives on chymistry in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries along the lines of Boyle and Newton.
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