Irish doctors and theologians on heredity and the human soul
in Renaissance humanism and ethnicity before race
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Chapter five tackles the problem of the seventeenth century theory of heredity head on. The learned Irish physician Dermot O’Meara, who attended earls of Ormond and loudly proclaimed his adherence to the new chemical medicine of Paracelsus, nevertheless employed a fundamentally Aristotelian approach in his study of hereditary disease. O’Meara and his fellow physicians were in fact very cautious in their treatment of the problem of human heredity, and the reason for this was that it raised worrying questions about the origin and nature of the human soul. In fact, if the subject of heredity really belonged to any one early modern profession, it was to the divines. The human soul had to come from God, and it had to be immortal; but a strong theory of human heredity demanded that the soul, or parts of the soul, or subordinate souls, were inherited by the child from the parents, and that this soul be a material thing, and therefore probably mortal. Christian orthodoxy thus tended to block the development of a widely accepted theory of human heredity; and all this is as evident among Irish Thomist and Scotist theologians, as among their English Protestant counterparts.

Renaissance humanism and ethnicity before race

The Irish and the English in the seventeenth century

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