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May 26, 1978

The Chemical Philosophy: Paracelsian Science and Medicine in the 16th and 17th Centuries

Author Affiliations

American Medical Association Chicago

JAMA. 1978;239(21):2288. doi:10.1001/jama.1978.03280480080032

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Until recently, historians of medicine regarded the 17th century as the battlefield in which Galenic medicine succumbed to the attacks of the mechanical philosophy. Early chemical doctrine got little attention in the standard texts. Paracelsus, that stormy figure of the early 16th century, had a bad name, and alchemy, although accepted as a precursor of modern chemistry, was deemed the refuge of woolly-headed mystics or downright frauds. Starting about 20 years ago, Walter Pagel did much to change this conventional view and to place Paracelsus into proper perspective. And for the past 15 years, Allen Debus, University of Chicago historian of science, strongly influenced by Pagel, has been studying the chemists of the 16th and 17th centuries (especially the followers of Paracelsus), their chemical and philosophical teachings, and the impact that they had on medical doctrine. Although a few chemists, such as van Helmont, Willis, or Sylvius, figure in all