Quintessence (philosophy)

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Quintessence ( Latin quinta essentia , literally "fifth being") was originally the Latin expression for the fifth element, which Aristotle assumed and called ether . Today quintessence means “the essentials”, “the most important things” (for example the main idea in an argument).

In Aristotle's worldview, the ether existed as a massless, unchangeable, eternal substance beyond the lunar sphere . This “fifth element” had completely different properties than the four earthly elements of fire, water, earth and air. In the alchemy and the philosophy of the Middle Ages , the meaning of the term changed.

Word history and philosophy

Today quintessence stands for “essence, core, extract”. The word was borrowed in the 16th century from the late Latin quinta essentia , "the fifth being", which corresponds to the Greek pémptē ūsίa (πέμπτη οὐσία).

The doctrine of the elements goes back to philosophers of the Ionic philosophy . Based on ancient Egyptian beliefs , Thales considered water, Anaximenes air, Anaximander the apeiron (“the unlimited”) and Heraclitus fire as the basic material ( arché ) . Empedocles united these views in his four-element doctrine , according to which fire, water, earth and air should be the building blocks of all things. He was the only imperishable thing to explain the elements. He thus represents a physicalism .

Aristotle assigned the four elements to two basic properties (dry or damp, warm or cold) and compared them with a new, additional element. The four earthly elements fire, water, earth and air are changeable according to Aristotle and can also transform into one another. In contrast, the fifth element - the heavenly "ether" beyond the moon - was unchangeable and timeless.

In alchemy and the science of nature in the Middle Ages, the term quintessence was understood to mean “the five times extracted power of a substance”, and in the 15th and 16th centuries also a “sky” (or coelum / coelum ) obtained by “distillation” or “sublimation”. caelum ) called, universal remedy "ethereal nature" and from the 16th century onwards an extract in the sense of "finest power", "basic or core material".

An essentia quinta used to make gold from silver was obtained (according to a master Konrad) in the 15th century, for example from silver and tartar. If this "quintessence" of oily consistency was then combined with cinnabar, supposedly "gold" should result.

The transferred meaning "spiritual raw material" began in the 17th century. After all, in the 18th century the expression became a buzzword for “the real, essential”, “the result”. Attempts at Germanization such as Fifth Juice did not prevail.

In the Indian doctrine of elements in Vaisheshika , the ether corresponds to the Akasha .

See also

Individual evidence

  1. See Quintessenz at Duden online
  2. a b Etymological dictionary according to Pfeifer , Essenz und Quintessenz in DWDS , accessed on February 27, 2014
  3. ^ Medicine and Alchemy. Paracelsus Studies. Barth, Leipzig 1931 (= studies on the history of medicine , 20), p. 8 ( Coelum at Paracelsus: 'Distillations, sublimations and the related aids and substances obtained', also 'Philosopher's Stone').
  4. Martin Ruland: Lexicon alchemiae sive Dictionarium alchemisticum […]. Frankfurt 1612, reprint Hildesheim 1964, p. 159.
  5. Johannes' de Rupescissa 'Liber de consideratione quintae essentiae omnium rerum', German. Studies on Alchemia medica from the 15th to 17th centuries with a critical edition of the text. Steiner-Verlag, Wiesbaden and Stuttgart 1989 (= Heidelberg studies on natural history of the early modern period , 1)
  6. ^ Friedrich Dobler: Conrad Gessner as a pharmacist. Mathematical and scientific dissertation, Zurich 1955, pp. 9–15
  7. Andreas Libavius : “The quintessence is the mystery raised to the purity of the etheric nature and to the excellent powers. Hence they are usually called 'heaven' and 'heavenly substance' ”; quoted from: Brigitte Hoppe : Transformations of the ancient teachings of the material structure of organisms as a preparation for modern metabolic physiology. Mathematical-scientific habilitation thesis, Munich 1972, p. 228
  8. Lotte Kurras: Magister Konradus Tonsor. In: Author's Lexicon . Volume V, Col. 256.
  9. ^ Fifth juice in the German dictionary by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm.