Spirit: Mapping the Boundaries of the Material and the Immaterial from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Period

December 14, 2023 - December 15, 2023
De Wulf - Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, KU Leuven

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Kard. Mercierplein 2 - bus 3200
Leuven B-3000

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  • FWO



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This conference addresses the transformations of the notion of spirit, in late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the early modern period. A considerable amount of scholarship has pointed to the pervasive presence and use of the notion of spirit in a wide array of disciplines, such as medicine, theology, and natural philosophy. Moreover, historians of these disciplines have often recognized the unclear ontological connotations that the notion of spirit acquired over the centuries: sometimes described as a fundamental (rarefied) bodily entity in physiology, other times as something immaterial (e.g. the human soul or the third person of the Christian Trinity), “spirit” was more often understood as an item at the boundary between the material and the immaterial realms, capable of explaining (and connecting) the widest array of things – from the divinity, the angels and the demons, to the world-soul, the stars, the human soul, and all the way down to the physiology of digestion and generation in animals.But exactly because of its strange ontological ambiguity, the notion of “spirit” in philosophy, medicine, and theology also involves fundamental information about the way in which late-ancient, medieval and early-modern authors conceived of the boundaries between material and immaterial, hence about their very conceptions of matter, soul/mind, and the divine. However, despite the widespread recognition of these aspects, the study of “spirit” remains mostly confined to scattered and unsystematic studies. But what would the notion of spirit look like if systematically studied in its ancient, medieval, and early-modern transformations? 

Our conference sets out to bring together scholars of different disciplines, in order to supply a first systematic appraisal of “spirit” across several disciplines, between approximately the second century AD – in which Galen of Pergamum (129-200/216) elaborated his foundational doctrines on “spirit” in The Doctrines of Hippocrates and Plato – and the second half of the eighteenth century – when drastic changes were introduced into physics and psychology by such figures as Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).

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December 7, 2023, 5:00pm CET

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Custom tags:

#History of Philosophy, #History of Science, #Philosophical Psychology, #History of Theology, #Hisotry of Medicine, #Spirit, #Soul, #Matter Theory