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Magic and the Physical World in Thirteenth-Century Scholasticism

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The turn to modern science in the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century is typically characterized as dependent on the novel adoption of a mechanical hypothesis for operations in nature. In fact, the Middle Ages saw a partial anticipation of this phenomenon in the scholastic physics of the thirteenth century. More precisely, it was just the two factors, denial of action at a distance and an emphasis on the primary materiality of causation, that constituted this early mechanism—or "protomechanism." The latter's emergence can be seen most clearly where scholastic thinkers—here, William of Auvergne, Thomas Aquinas and Giles of Rome—confronted the theoretical limits of natural cause and effect in their efforts to determine the reality of magic and locate its place in the natural world.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155, U.S.A.


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