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