Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-88dd8db54-fsvdk Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-03-05T15:25:21.386Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

8 - The Interpretation of Nature

from PART III - NATURE

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 September 2017

Thomas Ahnert
Affiliation:
Lecturer in early modern intellectual history at the University of Edinburgh.
Get access

Summary

Thomasius published only one natural philosophical treatise, the Versuch vom Wesen des Geistes (Essay on the Nature of Spirit) of 1699, a work in which he described the Cartesians’ mechanistic interpretation of nature as pagan and impious, and as a reflection of sinful pride in the powers of the human intellect. According to Thomasius, Cartesianism and orthodox Lutheranism shared one critical defect, however different they were in other respects: both placed too much emphasis on the intellect. They ignored the importance of the will-as-desire in their view of human nature and failed to recognize the need for a reform of the heart to acquire religious faith, virtue, and thus wisdom.

Cartesianism in a strict sense was very rare at German universities around 1700, but Thomasius was responding to a loosely Cartesian form of natural philosophy, which had established itself in the medical faculty of Halle, and which was represented especially by physicians such as Friedrich Hoffmann (1660–1742), whose so-called “iatro-mechanistic” theory of medicine treated the human body as a machine, composed of particles of inert, extended matter, whose movements were directed by the soul. Hoffmann's ideas reflected the influence of physicians such as Hermann Boerhaave (1668–1738) in Leiden and Giovanni Borelli (1608–79), who interpreted diseases as the mechanical malfunctioning of this body-machine. Hoffmann's theory did not rest on the same neo- Platonic metaphysical foundation as Descartes’ physics, but it was not uncommon for Cartesian physics to be used without Descartes’ metaphysics. Similarly, in the Versuch, Thomasius did not examine Descartes’ metaphysics, but only the Cartesian definition of bodily entities as no more than passive, extended matter.

Thomasius's own natural philosophy was hermetic and quasi-mystical. It explained natural phenomena as due to the operation of hidden forces of sympathy and antipathy, that is, attraction and repulsion, between material bodies. These ideas were closer to the theories of thinkers like Paracelsus (1493–1541) than to those of the figures that are more commonly associated with the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, such as Robert Boyle or Isaac Newton. It is not surprising, then, that Thomasius's natural philosophy is often considered a curiosity, which is marginal to his main, “enlightened” philosophical interests, as an aberration in his personal intellectual history, and a work that is of little consequence to his later thought.

Type
Chapter
Information
Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment
Faith and the Reform of Learning in the Thought of Christian Thomasius
, pp. 107 - 120
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2006

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

  • The Interpretation of Nature
  • Thomas Ahnert, Lecturer in early modern intellectual history at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Book: Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment
  • Online publication: 15 September 2017
Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

  • The Interpretation of Nature
  • Thomas Ahnert, Lecturer in early modern intellectual history at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Book: Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment
  • Online publication: 15 September 2017
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • The Interpretation of Nature
  • Thomas Ahnert, Lecturer in early modern intellectual history at the University of Edinburgh.
  • Book: Religion and the Origins of the German Enlightenment
  • Online publication: 15 September 2017
Available formats
×