Seeds and Souls: Vegetative Powers in Fernel, Harvey, and the History of Generation
Benjamin Isaac Goldberg (University of South Florida)
Generation was an impossibly difficult problem for early modern philosophers and physicians, especially for those not just empirically describing generation, but also attempting to causally explain it. In this talk, I will discuss the ways that two early modern European physicians, Jean Fernel and William Harvey, tried to explain the causes of generation. I focus on how plants and ‘vegetative’ powers play an important role as a (necessarily ambiguous) guiding metaphor, of which the analogy of the seed is a prime example. I will compare and contrast their differing takes on the powers of seeds and their role in generation, which will involve detouring into discussions about occult causation, souls and spirits, God and the Sun, as well as eggs and embryos. I will end by connecting up some of these themes with the longer history of generation theory.