Purdue University Graduate School
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The Alchemical Order: Reason, Passions, Alchemy and the Social World in the Philosophy and Cosmology of Jean d’Espagnet

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posted on 2022-04-28, 14:14 authored by Alexander Scott DessensAlexander Scott Dessens

Jean d’Espagnet (c. 1564–1637?) was a magistrate and presiding judge at the parlement of  Bordeaux  in  the  late  sixteenth  and  early  seventeenth  centuries.    He  served  on  the  court  from 1590 until retiring in 1615, from 1600 as a président, a venal office of significant power and social standing. After retirement he wrote three books which comprise his literary and intellectual legacy.Together they speak to the fertile philosophical ground of the late Renaissance and present a vision of order and God’s cosmos deeply influenced by Neoplatonism,  Hermetism,  Paracelsianism, Neostoicism,  and  medieval  alchemy,  as  well  as  d’Espagnet’s  judicial  education  and  social experience as a magistrate.  This dissertation explores the foundations of d’Espagnet’s philosophy of nature, tracing the development of certain philosophical ideas from ancient sources such as the Platonic and Hermetic traditions through medieval and Renaissance philosophers like Ramon Lull, Pseudo-Geber, and Marsilio Ficino to d’Espagnet and his contemporaries.  Paracelsian chemical medicine found some  acceptance during d’Espagnet’s lifetime, though not without struggle and dangers to its adherents.  This project also examines the context of d’Espagnet’s life and experience as a judicial elite in a kingdom and community beset by religious strife and political uncertainty.It argues that d’Espagnet and his fellow magistrates desperately sought order in the midst of these troubles,  and  that d’Espagnet echoed across all his writings this  concern  for  order  alongside a particular set of ideas about gender, shared by his fellow magistrates, according to which feminine passions  were  the  root  of  disorder  and masculine  reason was  the  antidote.    This gendered understanding of order was fundamental to d’Espagnet’s thought and reinforced by his syncretic reading of ancient and modern philosophical textsalongside his own experience, leading him to produce a unique and consistent syncretic philosophy that sought to answer definitively some of humanity’s oldest questions about the nature of matter, man, and the cosmos.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • History

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

James R. Farr

Additional Committee Member 2

Melinda S. Zook

Additional Committee Member 3

Frederick R. Davis

Additional Committee Member 4

Mack P. Holt

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