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William Harvey, Aristotle and astrology


In this paper I argue that William Harvey believed in a form of astrology. It has long been known that Harvey employed a macrocosm–microcosm analogy and used alchemical terminology in describing how the two types of blood change into one another. This paper then seeks to examine a further aspect of Harvey in relation to the magical tradition. There is an important corollary to this line of thought, however. This is that while Harvey does have a belief in astrology, it is strongly related to Aristotle's views in this area and is quite restricted and attenuated relative to some contemporary beliefs in astrology. This suggests a more general thesis. While Harvey was amenable to ideas which we associate with the natural magic tradition, those ideas had a very broad range of formulation and there was a limit to how far he would accept them. This limit was largely determined by Harvey's adherence to Aristotle's natural philosophy and his Christian beliefs. I argue that this is also the case in relation to Harvey's use of the macrocosm–microcosm analogy and of alchemical terminology, and, as far as we can rely on the evidence, this informs his attitudes towards witches as well. Understanding Harvey's influences and motives here is important in placing him properly in the context of early seventeenth-century thought.

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Allen Debus , ‘Harvey and Fludd: the irrational factor in the rational science of the seventeenth century’, Journal of the History of Biology (1970) 3, pp. 81105

Roger French , William Harvey's Natural Philosophy, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994

Andrew Gregory , ‘Plato and Aristotle on eclipses’, Journal for the History of Astronomy (2000) 31, pp. 245259

Andrew Gregory , ‘Harvey, Aristotle and the weather cycle’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (2001) 32, pp. 153168

Robert Westman , ‘Nature, Art and Psyche: Jung, Pauli and the Kepler–Fludd polemic’, in Brian Vickers (ed.), Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, pp. 177230

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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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