Georg Ernst Stahl

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This article is about Georg Stahl, the German chemist and physician. For Georg Stahl, the German artist, see Georg August Stahl.
Georg Ernst Stahl
Georg Ernst Stahl.png
Georg Ernst Stahl
Born 22 October 1659 (1659-10-22)
Ansbach
Died 24 May 1734 (1734-05-25)
Berlin
Nationality German
Fields chemistry
Institutions University of Halle
Alma mater University of Jena
Known for phlogiston theory
fermentation
Influences J.J. Becher

Georg Ernst Stahl (22 October 1659[1] – 24 May 1734) was a German chemist, physician and philosopher. He was a supporter of vitalism, and until the late 18th century his works on phlogiston were accepted as an explanation for chemical processes.[2] He died in Berlin.

Life and Education[edit]

He was born in St. John's Parish in Ansbach, Germany on October 21, 1659. His father was Johann Lorentz Stahl.[3] He was raised in Pietism, which influenced his viewpoints on the world. His interests in chemistry were due to the influence a professor of medicine, Jacob Barner, and a chemist, Johann Kunckel von Löwenstjern.[4] In the late 1670s, Stahl moved to Germany to study medicine at the University of Jena. Stahl’s success at Jena earned him a M.D. around 1683 and then he went on to teach at the same university.

Teaching at the university gained him such a good reputation that in 1687 he was hired as the personal physician to Duke Johann Ernst of Sachsen-Weimar. In 1693, he joined his old college friend Friedrich Hoffmann at the University of Halle.[4] In 1694, he held the chair of medicine at the University of Halle. From 1715 until his death, he was the physician and counselor to King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia and in charge of Berlin's Medical Board.[3] He had two wives, who had died from puerperal fever in 1696 and 1706. He also had a son Johnathan and a daughter who died in 1708.[2]

Medicine[edit]

Stahl's main focus was on the distinction between the living and nonliving. Although he did not support the views of iatro-mechanists, he believed that all non- living creatures are mechanical and so are living things to a certain degree.[3] His views were that nonliving things are stable throughout time and did not rapidly change. On the other hand, living things are subject to change and have a tendency to decompose.

Stahl professed an animistic system, in opposition to the materialism of Hermann Boerhaave and Friedrich Hoffmann. His main argument on living things was that there is an agent responsible for delaying this decomposition of living things and that agent is the anima or soul of the living organism. The anima controls all of the physical processes that happen in the body. It not only just controls the mechanical aspects of it but the direction and goals of them too.[2] How the anima controls these processes is through motion. He believed that the three important motions of the body are the circulation of blood, excretion and secretion.

These beliefs were reflected in his views on medicine. He thought that medicine should deal with the body as a whole and its anima, rather than the specific parts of a body. Having knowledge on the specific mechanical parts of the body is not very useful.[2] His views had been criticized by Gottfried Leibniz with whom he exchanged letters, later published in a book titled Negotium otiosum seu σκιαμαχία (1720).[5] Also, during the first part of the 18th century, Stahl's ideas on the non-physical part of the body were disregarded while his mechanistic ideas on the body were accepted by the works done by Hermann Boerhaave and Friedrich Hoffmann.[6]

Chemistry[edit]

The best of Stahl’s work in chemistry was done while he was a professor at Halle. Just like medicine, he believed that chemistry could not be reduced to mechanistic views. Although he believed in atoms, he did not believe that atomic theories were enough to describe the chemical processes that go on. He believed that atoms could not be isolated individually and that they join together to form elements. He took an empirical approach when establishing his descriptions of chemistry.[4]

Stahl used the works of Johann Joachim Becher to help him come up with explanations of chemical phenomena. The main theory that Stahl got from J.J Becher was the theory of phlogiston. This theory did not have any experimental back up until Stahl worked on it. Stahl was able to make this theory applicable to chemistry.[4] This theory was later replaced by Antoine-Laurent Lavoisier’s theory of oxidation.[3] He also propounded a view of fermentation which in some respects resembles that supported by Justus von Liebig a century and half later. Although his theory was replaced, Stahl's theory of phlogiston is seen to be the transition between alchemy and chemistry.[4]

Works[edit]

  • "Zymotechnia fundamentalis" (1697)
  • "Disquisitio de mechanismi et organismi diversitate" (1706)
  • "Paraenesis, ad aliena a medica doctrine arcendum" (1706)
  • "De vera diversitate corporis mixti et vivi" (1706)
  • "Theoria medica vera" (1708)
  • "Georgii Ernesti Stahlii opusculum chymico-physico-medicum : seu schediasmatum, a pluribus annis variis occasionibus in publicum emissorum nunc quadantenus etiam auctorum et deficientibus passim exemplaribus in unum volumen iam collectorum, fasciculus publicae luci redditus / Praemißa praefationis loco authoris epistola ad Michaelem Alberti" (1715) Digital edition by the University and State Library Düsseldorf
  • "Specimen Beccherianum" (1718)[2]
  • Philosophical Principles of Universal Chemistry (1730), Peter Shaw, translator, from Open Library.
  • "Materia medica : das ist: Zubereitung, Krafft und Würckung, derer sonderlich durch chymische Kunst erfundenen Artzneyen" (1744), Vol. 1&2 Digital edition by the University and State Library Düsseldorf

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stahl's date of birth is often given erroneously as 1660. The correct date is recorded in the parish register of St. John's church, Ansbach. See Gottlieb, B.J. (1942). "Vitalistisches Denken in Deutschland im Anschluss an Georg Ernst Stahl". Klinische Wochenschrift 21 (20): 445–448. doi:10.1007/bf01773817. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Stahl, Georg Ernst." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 12. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2008. 599-606. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 May 2013./
  3. ^ a b c d "Georg Ernst Stahl". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 25 May. 2013/
  4. ^ a b c d e Magill, Frank N. "Georg Ernst Stahl." Dictionary of World Biography. 1st ed. 1999. Print.//
  5. ^ Smets, Alexis. The Controversy Between Leibniz and Stahl on the Theory of Chemistry Proc. 6th Int. Conf. Hist. Chem.
  6. ^ Vartanian, Aram. "Stahl, Georg Ernst (1660–1734)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Donald M. Borchert. 2nd ed. Vol. 9. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2006. 202-203. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 26 May 2013.