Astrology, Alchemy, Magic

Sheila J. Rabin

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online January 2017 | | DOI:
Astrology, Alchemy, Magic

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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Scientific developments in the early modern period have traditionally been called the “scientific revolution,” emphasizing the idea that modern rational attitudes toward the physical world replaced the premodern nonrationalist outlook, often called the occult. As scholars in the mid- to late 20th century looked more deeply into the matter, they saw that the situation was much more murky. Humanists, who supposedly rejected medieval thought in favor of a more progressive revival of ancient thought, continued studies in all fields that would today be considered occult; Marsilio Ficino added Hermetism and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola added Kabbalah to magic. Figures like Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle, the reputed paragons of the new science, did not reject all prior streams of thought; both pursued alchemy. Nor were all forms of premodern pursuits dead ends in scientific inquiry; the pursuit of astrology, alchemy, and magic encouraged astronomical observation, scientific experiment, and new theories of nature. Thus, recent scholarship shows a much more nuanced view of early modern science; rather than a scientific revolution there was, perhaps, a broadening of inquiry in all areas that might have been seen at the time as related to understanding the natural world.

Article.  10190 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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