Knowing the early modern world: Van Helmont’s universal philosophy
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Jan Baptist Van Helmont is an important but somewhat neglected early modern philosopher, and Georgiana Hedesan’s wide-ranging study provides an accessible and highly welcome introduction to his ideas. In just over 200 pages, it lucidly surveys Van Helmont’s complex understanding of God, the cosmos, and man’s place within it, and explores his intellectual context and eclectic influences. The book’s scope is ambitious, but this is warranted by its main argument: that Van Helmont sought universal knowledge by articulating an original and controversial philosophy which unified Christian theology, natural philosophy, and alchemy.
The book is divided into two parts, dealing with Van Helmont in the context of his time and his ‘Christian philosophy’, respectively. The first chapter traces the impulse to harmonise alchemical and Christian thought in some of Van Helmont’s intellectual antecedents, especially the sixteenth-century physician-philosopher Paracelsus and his numerous followers. The...
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