Transplantation and Corpuscular Identity in Paracelsian Vital Philosophy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Long recognized as an important antecedent to the development of modern chemistry, Paracelsian chemical philosophy is often left out of historians’ reconstruction of “chymical” matter theory in the seventeenth-century scientific revolution, owing to a thematic incommensurability between the new mechanistic theories and the vital philosophy of the Paracelsians. As a result, vital philosophy is more often characterized in terms of “correspondences” and “affinities” than as an explanation for material transformation. This paper explores a key component of vitalist matter theory, Paracelsian semina (seeds) as basic organic entities and principles of development, and how the concept of their “transplantation” illuminates both their inner vital nature and their spatialization as material principles. The result is a concept of chemical-mechanical action that is far different from the mechanical matter theory of the Cartesians. By defining temporality as an essential characteristic of seminal matter, the late sixteenth-century Paracelsian theorist Petrus Severinus provided a metaphysically sound basis for explaining internal agency as a foundational property of material being. Severinus’ conception of semina was widely read and commented on by medical writers and natural philosophers involved in constructing the “new science” of the seventeenth century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationHistory, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences
PublisherSpringer Science and Business Media B.V.
Number of pages25
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameHistory, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences
ISSN (Print)2211-1948
ISSN (Electronic)2211-1956

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016, Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht.


  • Chronobiology
  • Mechanical philosophy
  • Paracelsus
  • Seeds
  • Severinus


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