Abstract

In 1947, historian George Sarton questioned the place of alchemy in the history of science. He was not unlike many historians, who even attacked scholars of the subject, characterizing them as "fabulous creatures" who "seem to be under the wrath of God themselves" and who "become tinctured with the kind of lunacy they set out to describe." For decades, critics fought hard to keep alchemy out of the history of science. Instead, the emphasis of the Scientific Revolution centered on the mathematical sciences, focusing mainly on the intellectual development from Copernicus to Newton and highlighting astronomy and the studies of motion at the expense of the biological and chemical sciences. It was not until 1945 that the positivism of the history of science was finally challenged by the German historian of medicine, Walter Pagel. In a short 4-page essay entitled, "The Vindication of Rubbish," Pagel cautioned historians that interpretations "based on the selection of material from the modern point of view, may endanger the presentation of historical truth." Instead of "selecting data that 'make sense' to the acolyte of modern science," Pagel chose to focus on three very different historical figures of the Scientific Revolution; Paracelsus, van Helmont, and Harvey. Paracelsus (1493-1541), who is often recognized as the father of Renaissance alchemy and naturalism, became the focus of Pagel's work. Through his research, Pagel was able to show that both the scientific and the "non-scientific" emerged "not as simply juxtaposed or as having been conceived in spite of each other" but as "an organic whole in which they support and confirm each other." By the 1950s, Pagel laid the foundation for important future studies to be made in the history of alchemy and magic.

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History



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