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Albertus Magnus on Alchemy: Its Natural-Philosophical and Metaphysical Implications

12 aprile 2024
2:00 pm
San Francesco Complex - classroom 2

Albertus Magnus’ interest in alchemy is a topic that has attracted the attention of modern scholarship for some years now. All studies dedicated to this topic have depicted Albertus’ positive attitude towards alchemy and the possibility of alchemical transmutation by referring to his De mineralibus. Specifically, in the ninth chapter of the third book of the De mineralibus, the Dominican master explicitly states that “alchemical transmutation is possible if a metal is reduced first to prime matter” and thus this statement has offered ample ground for affirming and arguing for Albertus’ favorable position towards alchemy. Yet, this Albertian statement (taken from Avicenna to be more accurate) is far from conclusive on the matter since it creates new questions that need to be answered. Namely, on the one hand, one may ask how it is possible for “prime matter” to stand without a form and, on the other, how and if an alchemical transmutation can really take place.

This presentation aims to provide answers to these questions by exploring the natural-philosophical and metaphysical implications of Albertus’ alchemy. In particular, I will deal with three topics: firstly, I will show what is the notion of “prime matter” in Albertus’ alchemy and how it connects to the Aristotelian elemental theory and the doctrine of “symbola”. Then I will discuss the metaphysical aspects of the Albertian alchemy by dealing with the “problem of substantial form” and its connection with the notion of “formative power” (virtus formativa). Finally, I will explore a connection between Albertus’ alchemy and epistemological-metaphysical issues by dealing with the question of what kind of knowledge is needed by an alchemist in order to perform an alchemical transmutation and how such knowledge can be attained?


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Thanasis Rinotas, KU Leuven