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Physicians Philosophers: Huarte de San Juan, Pereira and Sabuco de Nantes

Physicians Philosophers: Huarte de San Juan, Pereira and Sabuco de Nantes

June 2, 2022

The medical philosophers they are independent thinkers of medical training, who assume the Hippocratic-Galenic doctrine of the typological differences based on the constitution and the temperament as causers of the psychological behaviors.

Gómez Pereira (1500-1560)

Gómez Pereira was a Spanish doctor who can be considered a precursor, almost a century in advance, of Descartes. In his work "Antoniana Margarita", Makes of thought the essence of the soul and defends the automatism of animals. The following sentence, before the famous Cartesian "cogito", can give an idea: "I know I know something, and who knows is there: then I am”.

Oliva Sabuco de Nantes

The work of Oliva "New philosophy of the nature of man"(1587) was attributed to his father, Miguel, who was blind, which gives an idea of ​​how unusual it was for a woman to sign a scientific work.


It is written in the form of a colloquium between three pastors and can be considered a treatise on the passions and their relationship with physiological life. It establishes the psycho-somatic or psycho-physiological interaction as an explanation of all kinds of human behavior. He also defends the effectiveness of verbal therapy along with other organic therapies.

Juan Huarte de San Juan (1529-1585)

Pattern of psychology in our country, is one of the Spanish authors who has achieved greater universal projection for his work "Science test for science", Published in 1575. Huarte's work was translated into Latin, English, French, Italian and Dutch, being reissued in some of these languages.


Part of the doctrine that all souls are equal, being the cerebral temperament the cause of the different abilities of man, according to the predominance in him of the primary qualities (heat, humidity and dryness). Dryness favors wisdom or intelligence, moisture memory, and heat imaginative.

Huarte qualifies as a "natural philosopher" and as such wants to look for the particular causes of any effect. Even recognizing that God is the ultimate cause, he is interested in natural causes, and avoids supernatural explanations. It will be up to the scientist to discover the cause-effect relationship between things "because there are ordered and manifest causes of where such an effect may arise“.

Huarte is an empiricist thinker. Adopt, therefore, the position Aristotelian-Thomist in defending the idea that if souls are equal, individual differences appear because of the difference between bodies. Matter is thus constituted in the differentiating principle. Huarte rejects the previous existence of a soul capable of knowing the Ideas. It recognizes, nevertheless, that the soul -both in its rational aspect as in the sensitive and vegetative one- is wise, without being taught by anyone. It establishes a mediating instrument in the brain regarding the abilities of the soul, which affects all kinds of skills.


He is the creator of a first evolutionary psychology to admit that the temperament of childhood is more convenient to the sensitive and vegetative souls than to the rational one, little by little, acquiring a temperament more inclined to imagine, understand and remember. In old people the understanding dominates because they have much dryness and low humidity, whose scarcity causes their short memory, while the opposite would happen to young people, that is why childhood would be more apt for language learning, activity that according to Huarte depends on the memory.

Huarte can also be considered as a pioneer of the eugenics , since the temperament would depend on the seed of the parents and, later, on the life regime.

The notion of temperament goes back to the Greek thinkers. Hippocrates , in the 5th century BC, explains health as the balance of four humours: blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm. If heat and humidity (air) predominate, a sanguine temperament results. If the cold and the dryness (earth), typical of the phlegm, the phlegmatic; if the heat and dryness (fire), typical of yellow bile, the temperament will be choleric, and if the cold and humidity of the black bile (water) predominates, the temperament will be melancholic. (See Table 1).

Huarte combines the Hippocrates' theory of humors with the powers of the "rational soul" established by Aristotle: memory, imagination and understanding.

The memory receives passively and keeps the data. For the brain to be a good instrument of this faculty, it must predominate in humidity. The imaginative, according to the Aristotelian notion, is the one that writes in the memory the figures of things, and the one in charge of introducing them and recovering them from memory.For the brain to be a good instrument of this faculty, heat must predominate in it: "The heat lifts the figures and makes them boil, where all that there is to be seen in them is discovered".

Understanding requires that the brain be dry and composed of very subtle and delicate parts. The tasks of understanding infer, distinguish and choose.

These three powers are mutually exclusive: with memory and the predominance of humidity, understanding is lost, which requires dryness and heat, and vice versa. The one who has great imagination will not be able to have much understanding either because the heat that precise "consumes the most delicate of the brain, and leaves it hard and dry".

Huarte refutes Cicero's opinion that all the arts could be achieved with study, since they are based on principles that can be learned. For Huarte there are three types of ingenuity : the intelligent, the memorious and the imaginative. Each occupation, on the other hand, will require a certain type of ingenuity.

A preacher needs understanding to reach the truth, memory to quote others phrases and good imaginative to know how to teach with eloquence and attract attention, so a good preacher should have great understanding and much imaginative. However, as the great imagination predisposes to pride, gluttony and lust, it recommends that the preacher not be excessively imaginative, since he could incur evil and drag the faithful to him.

A good lawyer or judge will need a great memory to learn the many laws and good understanding to distinguish, infer, reason and choose . Although it is always preferable that a lawyer has much understanding and little memory to the contrary.

Medicine also needs good understanding and memory, although it requires the imaginative for the clinical eye, the conjectures of medicine, to deal with the causes and remedies for each patient.

The military occupation requires certain malice for which a special type of imaginative is required that confers the ability to guess the "deceptions that come under some cover". In his opinion the game of chess is one of the most developed imaginative.

The office of king, finally, would find his ideal temperament in a "tempered man ", That is, with a compensated or balanced temperament. This is accompanied by a hair that is browning with age, and grace, grace and good figure. Other signs of this temperament are virtue and good manners.

If coldness and humidity predominate in the body generated, a woman will result. In his life he will manifest poorly the qualities that the soul possesses to a great degree. If heat and dryness predominate, instead a man will be born, whose qualities will be skill and ingenuity. From the variations of the corporal temperament derive the greater or smaller awkwardness in the woman and the greater or smaller ingenuity and skill in the man.

Huarte picks up from Aristotle the idea that desire, imagination and movements during the carnal act contribute to beget good children. According to this doctrine wise parents usually have foolish children, because they are clumsy for the sexual act, while the foolish and instinctive, being more capable, can generate ingenious children.

Huarte is considered a pioneer in different fields: Menéndez Pelayo is the father of phrenology ; can also be considered as the predecessor of the differential psychology and professional guidance and selection. He is also a pioneer, as we have already said, of eugenics and the psychology of the ages.


1. Introduction (June 2022).


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