ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf


436. Various Forms of Naturalism. -- Simultaneously with the revival of the doctrines of ancient philosophy, an earnest study of external Nature gave rise to original systems of philosophy. These we may designate by the general title of Naturalism. The Renaissance developed a passionate admiration for the beauties of the visible universe. In proportion as men reflected on it they were fascinated by its wonderful mysteries: it gradually won from them a worship which recalls the enthusiastic cult of the Alexandrians. In this devoted and sympathetic attachment to the beauties of Nature we have the real source and motive of those observations and researches which led to the marvellous discoveries of the seventeenth century in the domains of Physics and Astronomy.

But the results of an experience that was as yet exceedingly elementary and limited in extent, could hardly be expected to have satisfied the impatient longing of the human mind to pry into all the arcana of Nature: and so we find explorers appealing to Nature's hidden forces, interrogating the Cabala and the arts of magic and astrology. Physicians especially revelled in secret arts and introduced into philosophy the search for the elixir of life that was to confer perennial health and youth upon mankind.

We may add that most of the naturalistic systems of the period were pervaded by a spirit of pantheism. Nature was not merely exalted, it was deified: if Nature be understood to be a living manifestation of the Deity, no wonder it should be so astonishingly beautiful.

We have indicated the three main features of Renaissance naturalism: the spirit of observation, the pursuit of the occult sciences, the tendency towards pantheism. According as one or other of these predominates, we have (1) empiric naturalism, (2) occult naturalism, or (3) pantheistic naturalism.

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