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Chemists, Physicians, and Changing Perspectives on the Scientific Revolution Author(s): Allen G. Debus Reviewed work(s): Source: Isis, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 66-81 Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 26/03/2012 08:47 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
  Chemists, Physicians, and Changing Perspectives on the Scientific RevolutionAuthor(s): Allen G. DebusReviewed work(s):Source: Isis, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Mar., 1998), pp. 66-81Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society Stable URL: Accessed: 26/03/2012 08:47 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact The University of Chicago Press and The History of Science Society are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize,preserve and extend access to  Isis.  HISTORYOF SCIENCE SOCIETYDISTINGUISHED LECTURE Chemists, Physicians, and Changing Perspectives on the Scientific Revolution ByAllenG.Debus* ABSTRACT Positivisminthe history of scienceandmedicinewas challenged by Walter Pagel morethanfifty years ago.Hesoughtto understandarlymodemfiguressuch asHarvey, Para-celsus, andvanHelmont by looking at all theirwork, including nonscientific materialgenerally gnoredbyotherscholars.Ofspecial importancenthe sixteenthandseventeenthcenturies was the chemistryfoundin thewritingsofParacelsusand his followers.These chemicalphilosophers fferedanewphilosophybasedonchemistryand chemical anal-ogiesthat was toreplacethe works of theancients.Asphysicians, theydebatedfirst with GalenistsandAristoteliansandlater with mechanists.Theessay arguesthat these debateswereanessentialchapternthedevelopmentof theScientificRevolutionandimportantforunderstandinghe Chemical Revolutionoftheeighteenthcentury. THEHISTORIOGRAPHICALPROBLEM Thehistoryof science seemed to be astraightforwardsubjectforthosewhobeganto readthe literatureahalf-century ago.'InpreparationformyreturntograduateschoolIread a * MorrisFishbeinCenter or the Study of the History ofScience and Medicine,University of Chicago,SocialSciences 206, 1126 East 59th Street,Chicago, Illinois 60637.This lecturewasdeliveredat theannual meeting ofthe Historyof Science Society, Atlanta, Georgia, 9November 1996.Ihave addedsome materialand made afew changes based on suggestions fromanonymousreferees, whom I thank for their help.'For my viewson the historiographyf the history ofscience seeAllenG.Debus, Science and History:AChemist'sAppraisal(Coimbra:Univ. CoimbraPress, 1984).A morepersonalaccountwill befoundin Debus, From he Sciencesto History:A Personaland IntellectualJourney, n ExperiencingNature: Proceedingsof aConferencenHonor ofAllenG. Debus,ed. PaulH. Theermanand KarenHungerParshallDordrecht/Boston/London: Kluwer,1997), pp. 237-280.Isis, 1998,89:66-81?1998 byTheHistoryof ScienceSociety.Allrightsreserved.0021- 1753/98/8901-0004$02.0066  ALLEN G.DEBUS 67texton astronomy,anotheroneonthe historyofphilosophy,andanumberof books thatseemedto be currentsuchas W.T. Sedgwick,H.X.Tyler, andR. P. Bigelow'sShortHistoryof Science (1939;reprinted1946),CharlesSinger'sHistory ofBiology (1931;revised1950),and W. C.Dampier-Whetham'sHistoryof Science (1929;4th edition,1949).Ihad readmany ofGeorge Sarton's essaysinIsis,whichI had been introducedoin thelate 1940swhile Iwas at IndianaUniversity.In one of theseSartonhad writtenhateveryhistorianof scienceshouldhave two master'sdegrees-onein a scienceandtheotherinhistory-beforegoing on to a Ph.D.I hadalready taken a master's degreeinhistoryat Indianaand thenhad goneback for the secondmaster'sdegreein chemistry.However,Imetmy futurewife there, and weboth leftto takeresearchpositionsinchem-istryat AbbottLaboratoriesn NorthChicago.When we finallydid moveto Cambridgeso thatI could enter the graduateprogramat Harvardn 1956,Ifoundthatin one senseat least myreadingdidreflect the stateofthefield. It is true thatI discoveredthe work ofAlexandreKoyreand other recentauthoritiesntheseminarsof I. BernardCohen,but forthe most part the historyof sciencewas justthat: thehistory of the technicalaspectsofscience. Theemphasisfor the ScientificRevolutionwas thenand perhapsstill remainslargelyon the mathematical ciencesleadingfrom CopernicusoNewton and centeredonastronomyandthestudyof localmotion. (Harvey'sdiscoveryof the circulationof theblood was the single subjectstressedfor thisperiodfromthebiologicalsciences.)I thinkthat there arefew who would argueagainstthe significanceof thiswork,which hasremainedthe backboneof our interpretationfthesixteenth- and seventeenth-centuryScientific Revolution.For the most partthefoundingfathersof ourprofessionhad beentrainedasphysicistsor mathematicians.t isunderstandablehat acouplingoftheirinclinations andinterestswiththe obvious importanceofCopernicus,Tycho,Kepler,Galileo,andNewton wouldresult inaninterpretationf the Scientific Revolutionthat wouldbeexpressedntermsofclassicalmechanics.However,I had been trainedas a chemist and hadworkedinboth researchand devel-opment.In the1950sthehistoryofchemistrywas dominatedbystudiesof lateeighteenth-century chemistry-theChemical Revolutionof Lavoisierand hiscolleagues.The workofJ.R.PartingtonatQueenMaryCollege,theUniversityofLondon,DouglasMcKie atUniversity CollegeLondon,andHenryGuerlac atCornellheldswayinthisfield. Thereappearedto be far less interestinthe late seventeenth-centurywork ofBoyleandhiscolleagues.LouisTrenchardMore'srecentbookonBoyle (1944)hadnot receivedtheattentiont deserved,andMarieBoas's RobertBoyleandSeventeenthCenturyChemistry(1958)hadnotyet appeared.Asfor Paracelsus andvanHelmont, theyweregenerallyhandedover to the historiansof medicine. Inanycase,Ido not thinkthat it would beincorrectosaythatthe researchandinterpretationsfearlymodemchemistryduringhisperiodemphasizedapositivisticapproach.Buthow were we tointerpretherest of this literature?GeorgeSartonwrotethat thehistorianofsciencecan not devote much attentiono thestudyofsuperstitionandmagic,thatis,ofunreason,becausethis does nothelphimverymuch to understandumanprogress.Magicisessentiallyunprogressiveandconservative;scienceisessentiallyprogressive;theformergoesbackward;helatter,forward.... There can notbe much incentivetoencompassthatwhich is indefiniteandtoinvestigatethehistoryofsomethingwhichdid notdevelop.2 2 George Sarton,Introductiono theHistory of Science,3 5 (Baltimore:Published fortheCarnegieInstitutionof WashingtonbyWilliams &Wilkins,1927-1947),Vol. 1, p.19.  68CHANGINGERSPECTIVESN THESCIENTIFICEVOLUTION Indeed, today we still find alchemy among the pseudo-sciences n the IsisCurrentBib-liography.Andyet,Sartondid find somevaluein thealchemical texts.Thedescriptionofchemical equipmentand anychemical procedures hat could be deciphered rom the mys-tical textswereconsidered o bepartofpositive knowledge andofinterestorthehistorian.However, a more traditionalapproachreflected Charles Mackay'scentury-old udgmentthat alchemy should occupy a prominentplacein hisMemoirs ofExtraordinaryPopularDelusions and the Madness ofCrowds (1841). Mackay's view is not all thatfar removedfromthatofHerbertButterfieldn hisOrigins of ModernScience(1949),atruly nfluentialwork that remains nprint today.Hewrote that twentiethcenturycommentatorson Van Helmont are fabulouscreatureshemselves,and thestrangest hingsinBacon seem rationalisticandmodemincomparison.Concerningalchemyitis more difficult to discover the actual state ofthings,inthat thehistorianswhospecializeinthisfield seemsometimesto be underthe wrath of Godthemselves;for like those whowriteontheBacon-Shakespeareontroversyor onSpanish politics, theyseem to becometincturedwith the kind oflunacy theyset out todescribe. Perhapsno onearguedmoreforcefully againsttheinclusion ofsubjectsthatwere nottrulyscientificinmodern terms than Mary Hesse. For her, the pseudo-sciencesmight wellbelongtohistory,buttheyshould not be consideredpartof thehistoryofscience. Sheconsidereditessential thatweshould use modern science as a means ofweighingtheargumentsof thepast,and she added that wemustbecareful whatweread orpermitourselvesto assess since bythrowingmorelightonapicture,wemaydistortwhathasalreadybeen seen. 3Although Lynn Thomdike had devoted a lifetime to thestudyofmagical and theso-calledpseudo-scientificexts down to the time ofNewton,I thinkthatthechangenattitudetoward these works was dueprimarilyto the work of Dame FrancesYates andWalterPagel. They didnotthinkofthemselves as historiansofscience: FrancesYatesconsidered herselfto be aliterary historian,whileWalterPagelwas aprominentpathologistand ahistorianofmedicine.In her work onGiordano Bruno(1964),Yatesplacedheavyem-phasison therecoveryof theCorpusHermeticumin the fifteenthcenturyanditsinfluenceonRenaissancethought.However,shehad little tosayaboutchemistryoralchemy.Her workwasoften speculative,and this wasnowhere moreevident thanin herRosicrucianEnlightenment 1972),where shecameclosetoinsistingthat the entire Scientific Revo-lutiondevelopedfromRenaissancemysticismandmagic. Still,Frances Yates was aneffective writerandsheattractedmany younger scholars,oftenin fields outside thehistory ofscience. WalterPagel (1898-1983) (seeFigure 1)was the sonofthe Berlin historianof medicineJulius Pagel (1851-1912).Trainedsrcinallyas aclassicist,Waltertook a doctoratenmedicineat Berlinin1922 and was tobecome anauthorityontuberculosis,a diseasehesufferedfrom himself. Hereadwidelyin thehistoryof medicine and wasinspired byHenry Sigerist's Leipziglecture onHarveythat commemorated he three hundredthan-niversaryof thepublicationof the Demotucordis.In1930he took apositionatHeidelberg, I HerbertButterfield,The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800 (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 98; andMary Hesse, Reasons and Evaluations n the History of Science, inChangingPerspectives in the History ofScience: Essays in Honour of Joseph Needham, ed.MikulhiTeichand RobertYoung (London: Heinemann,1973), pp. 127-147, on p. 143. P. M. Rattansireplied to the Hesse paper in SomeEvaluations of ReasoninSixteenth- and Seventeenth-CenturyNaturalPhilosophy, bid., pp. 148-166.
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