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Juan Huarte de San Juan: biography of this precursor of Psychology

Juan Huarte de San Juan: biography of this precursor of Psychology

May 15, 2023

Juan Huarte de San Juan (1529-1588) was one of the physicians and philosophers who laid the foundations of modern psychology in Spain, a question that challenged in an important way the religious canons of the time. Among other things, he proposed that it was possible to analyze experimentally the psychological differences between human beings.

We will see in this article a biography of Juan Huarte de San Juan , as well as some of its main contributions for the development of psychology in Spain.

  • Related article: "History of Psychology: authors and main theories

Juan Huarte de San Juan: biography of the "patron" of Spanish psychology

Historical studies show that Juan Huarte He was born in the Basque town of San Juan de Pie de Puerto around 1529 . His family emigrated to Andalusia, so in 1540, Juan Huarte was already in the province of Baeza.

Later he studied medicine northeast of Madrid, in Alcalá, and then exercised the same profession in La Mancha. He later returned to Baeza, where the first edition of his great work was published Examination of wits for the sciences, in 1575.

The impact was such that his work spread rapidly through different Spanish provinces. From Bilbao to Valencia and later in the neighboring towns, since it was translated into French and Italian. By 1581 it fell into the hands of the kingdoms of Portugal, where was included in the books forbidden by the Inquisition . The same happened in the kingdoms of Spain three years later.

Juan Huarte de San Juan died around 1558. Years later, in 1594, his work was reissued with important modifications that Huarte himself had made to avoid the prohibition of the Inquisition. However, in Spain, this edition was printed and disseminated until 1846 because it was once again abolished.

  • Maybe you're interested: "Wilhelm Wundt: biography of the father of scientific psychology"

Examination of wits for the sciences

Juan Huarte de San Juan lived more than a century ago, which is why it has been difficult to recover his complete biography. In fact, little is known about the Huarte life of San Juan; he is mostly known for his work and for the impact it had on the development of modern psychology and science.

What Huarte de San Juan proposed in this work broke with the Christian idea of ​​the immortal and immaterial soul that lived in the body . In the framework of the organicist conception of the human being, Saint John argued that reason, judgment and understanding (what was understood as a soul), were not of a spiritual nature, but had a physiological and biological basis that could be studied and manipulated. And therefore, it was not properly immortal, but could get sick and perish.

But not only suggested that. His thesis also implied that the understanding was product of a particular evolutionary development, as well as education , with which, it was completely natural (not mystical or religious) to find important differences between the ingenuity of each other.

Huarte himself inscribed his research in a "natural philosophy" (which over time would become the basis of modern psychology), and positioned it in an important contrast with metaphysicians or "vulgar philosophers", just as he did. he called, referring to the medieval philosophers.

Intellect and brain relationship

Huarte de San Juan was one of the first to argue that there was a direct relationship between the intellect and the brain . Unlike his predecessors, this philosopher argued that, for the intellect to develop and manifest, it was necessary for the body to make it possible.

The sensorial and corporal experience was what gave rise to the understanding, likewise it was what allowed us to differentiate the individual way of manifesting, which later would be fixed not only in the body but in a single organ (the brain).

In other words, according to Huarte, it is thanks to these differences in the particular functioning of the organs that human beings develop different forms of intellect. Thus, some organs "more" or "better" developed than others, determine the development or corresponding intellectual functioning .

In addition, the differences in ingenuity, for Huarte, could be manifested by three specific foundations, which he explained in the same work:

  • On the one hand, nature, referring to the physiological foundations of the human being and the faculties of each .
  • On the other hand, art, which refers to the differences of ingenuities and sciences according to their political needs.
  • Finally, the harmony of the two previous ones, represented by the king for being the highest scale of ingenuity in its terms.

Finally, in Juan Huarte de San Juan we find something similar to the distinction between fluid and crystallized intelligence that would be realized centuries later of his death, given that differentiated between mental agility and the fruit of the application of previously acquired knowledge .

In short, for Huarte de San Juan, the intellect or understanding is the motor of the body, and nature is the beginning of everything. His work represented one of the first ways to understand understanding from organic activity, which significantly impacted the beginnings of modern psychology.

Bibliographic references:

  • Bellido Mainar, JR., Sanz Valer, P., Berrueta Maeztu, LM. (2012). Juan de Huarte de San Juan: a precursor of the analysis of the activity and of the occupational orientation. TOG (A Coruña) [Online]. Retrieved October 18, 2018. Available at //
  • Gondra, J.M. (1994). Juan Huarte de San Juan and intelligence differences. Psychology Yearbook. University of Barcelona, ​​60: 13-34.
  • Velarde, J. (1993). Huarte de San Juan, patron of psychology. Psicothema, 5 (2): 451-458.

Huarte de San Juan, generación del 58, octubre de 2009 (May 2023).

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