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Experimental Philosophy in Spain Part II

Juan Gomez writes…

In my previous post I reviewed some texts from Spanish authors in the 17th century to show that, contrary to common opinion, intellectuals in the Iberian Peninsula were in fact acquainted with the progress and achievements of the new experimental philosophy. They did not just know of it, but actually advocated its application and called for the rejection of the old method of the scholastics. In this post I will conclude this overview of the ESD in Spain by looking at the work of the Novatores in the eighteenth century.

The texts we examined in my last post were both written by physicians. In the eighteenth century medicine remained as the forum for the promotion of experimental philosophy. The first author I will examine is Doctor Martín Martínez. He was a physician and professor of anatomy in Madrid, and royal physican to Phillip V. Besides a number of medical writings, in 1730 he published Filosofía Escéptica which consisted in a dialogue between an Aristotlian, a Cartesian, a Gassendist, and a Sceptic. In the preliminaries to this book he tells us that

    The spirit of this book is to give to the Curious Romantics an idea of the most famous philosophies that today run through Europe, relegating that Aristotle just for theological studies.

Even in the 1730’s books in Spain still included a statement of approval made by a priest or friar that confirmed that there was nothing in the book to be censured. The censorship for Filosofía Escéptica was written by Friar Agustín Sanchez and in it we find a statement in the spirit of experimental philosophy. Speaking of the account Martínez gives of the Aristotelian, Cartesian, and Gassendist positions he tells us that the Doctor

    Is determined not to follow any of them, but is inclined towards what he judges more plausible; he does not believe in what experience cannot confirm, based on the fact that words cannot reach the truth of physical and material things, nor their natures and properties; what experience cannot testify, and persuade, cannot be known by words.

Martínez begins his dialogue by giving a brief history of philosophy in Spain, blaming the Arabians for the introduction of Aristotelian philosophy,

    From which that contentious and vociferous philosophy we call Scholastic, as opposed to Experimental, has been derived.

A few lines later Martínez comments that he shares the same opinion held by Bacon:

    The most judicious Verulam also held, that of all the philosophies that have been invented, and received, so many were but fables, and Comical Scenes, each of them making the world to their liking, amassing the Elements to the measure of their palate, and arbitrarily establishing hypotheses as difficult to believe, as they are to prove.

In the case of Martín Martínez we can see the experimental philosophy and the rejection of mere speculation clearly represented. But to show that this was not an isolated case I turn now to another doctor, Andrés Piquer. Out of all the Novatores that practices medicine, Piquer was the one that published most on other topics. He published a book on logic, one on moral philosophy, and one on physics. This last one was published in 1745 under the title Física Moderna Racional, y Experimental (Modern Physics, Rational and Experimental). Piquer begins this book by giving some preliminaries about the state and history of physics and the method to follow. In his historical account he tells us that

    Physics was wrongly cultivated for many centuries, until Francis Bacon Lord Verulam, Great Chancellor of England, towards the end of the sixteenth century, started to renew it, freeing it form the superfluity of reasoning, and manifesting, that the true way to advance in it is through the path of experience.

Speaking about the proper method Piquer sets up a distinction that illustrates the presence of the ESD (in some form) in Spain:

    Modern physicists, are either Systematic, or Experimental. The former explain nature according to some system; the latter discover it through the way of experience. The Systematic form in the imagination some idea, or drawing of the principal parts of the World, of its connections, and mutual correspondence; and holding such idea, that sometimes is strictly willed, as a principle, and foundation of their Philosophy, try to explain everything that occurs in the universe according to it. This has been done by Descartes, and Newton. The Experimental work to collect many experiments, combine them, and use them as the basis of their reasonings. This is how Robert Boyle, Boerhaave, and many other philosophers of these times treat physics.

One of the interesting features of this passage is that Piquer groups Descartes and Newton together under systematic philosophers! However, I don’t have the space or time to discuss this very interesting issue in this post, but Piquer’s distinction between systematic and experimental is something worth looking into. For now, I believe I have provided some very interesting passages from early modern Spanish authors that show that they were acquainted with experimental philosophy and opposed and rejected mere speculation.

N.B. The English translation of the quotes presented here is mine

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