Mi / 10:00 – 11:30

Plant-Animal Analogies in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries

Justin Begley, KWI International Fellow

Online (Zoom) & Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities Essen (KWI), Room 106, Goethestr. 31, 45128 Essen

There has been a tendency in the extant scholarship – harking back to Foucault – to depict analogies as remnants of a Renaissance worldview that had to be confined to the methodological periphery to enable progress in natural philosophy and natural history moving into the Enlightenment. But this talk argues that, at least when it comes to botanical writing, analogies were central to innovation from the seventeenth century onwards, allowing botanists to form models that linked animal to plant structures and functions and thereby develop novel and more convincing understandings of plant life. The positive view of analogies held by many early eighteenth-century botanists can be traced back to Aristotle’s rhetorical and natural historical writings, which showed how to use analogies to make inferences about lesser-known beings from better-known but allegedly similar ones. The ability to relate discrete data points and develop hypotheses became all the more critical because (and not in spite) of the impulse to amass observational and experimental data at this time.