Extended Summary (Dictionary of World Biography: The Renaissance)
From Paracelsus’ own day to the present, a fierce debate has raged about his contribution to the development of Western science. Some people in his time denounced him as a charlatan, and his modern detractors have argued that his fame is more the result of his colorful and controversial life than any original contributions he made to human thought. On the other hand, his supporters argue that he was a great medical reformer who made substantial achievements in the development of modern chemistry, that he was the founder of biochemistry, and that he also made contributions to gynecology, psychiatry, and even psychotherapy.
In chemistry, it can certainly be said that he worked toward a systematic classification of all known chemical substances and that he devised a method of detoxifying dangerous chemical compounds, which he was then able to use for therapeutic purposes. He also introduced new laboratory methods. The methods of early chemists such as Andreas Libavius, Oswald Croll, and Jan Baptista van Helmont are clearly linked to those of Paracelsus. In medicine, he left accurate descriptions of diseases and had much success in the treating of wounds and chronic ulcers.
Yet if his contributions to modern knowledge are overemphasized, the picture of his work as a whole becomes distorted. He belongs firmly in the Renaissance. His belief in the correspondence between the microcosm and the macrocosm was a commonplace of the period, but it has...
(The entire section is 334 words.)
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