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A Pre-Modern Description of Emergence: Albertus Magnus on Human Foetal Development

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Abstract Both the theory and the terminology of Albertus Magnus’s philosophical psychology in the thirteenth century bear an extraordinary resemblance to twenty-first century descriptions of emergent systems. In Albert’s description of the temporal drama of human foetal life, the emergent, ‘intellectual’ energies of human psychê or anima or soul cannot be at all predicated on the material or psychic agents that give rise to them. Though standing in a real continuity with those natural, causal agents, human psyche knows itself as existing discontinuously from them and as enacting, in and through the dimension of time, kinds of knowledge and types of experience which display complex potentialities that appear to be irreducible, or, at the least, not fully measurable: in art, in science, and also in cultic action.

Affiliations: 1: Boston University


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1. Magnus Albertus B. Alberti Magni Ratisbonensis episcopi, ordinis Praedicatorum, Opera Omnia . . cura ac labore Augusti (et Aemilii) Borgnet 1890-99 Parisiis apud L. Vivès [See also the extraordinary online search-engine covering a selection of the complete works at .]
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