Jonathan Wright

photo neededIn hmolscience, Jonathan Wright (c.1870-c.1945) was an American physician and Greek philosophy scholar note for his 1920 article “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist”, where gives an overview of the theories of Empedocles, and his purported teacher Alcmaeon, according to Wright, during which time he connects Empedocles four element two force theory of form generation to Goethe’s "wonderful", as he calls it, Elective Affinities. [1]

In 1906, Wright began discussing Goethe-Empedocles connections. [3]

In 1920, Wright penned the following Goethe-Empedocles connection statement:

“These elements are equal, all of them, and of like ancient race; and one holds one office and another and each has his own nature”—some being predominantly warm, others cold. They were coeval and eternal—for if they perish whither should they go? (Fragment 87.) "From these arose blood and various kinds of flesh" (203), “and if your faith be at all lacking in regard to these (elements), how from water and earth and air and sun (fire) when they are mixed arose such colors and forms of mortal things,” the attraction and repulsion of modern physical chemistry, symbolized under the conception of love and hate accomplished it, a simile carried out in the meaning of Empedocles by Goethe in his wonderful novel (Die WahlverwandtschaftenElective Affinities). Combinations of the elements arose under “the uniting power of Aphrodite” (210). He seems to have thrown much, if not all, of his written work into the form of poetry and his other physical ideas as well, are full of poetical conceptions even in the reports and traditions of later writers. So Goethe made poetry of the Metamorphosis of Animals and Plants.”
— Jonathan Wright (1920), “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist” (pg. 143-44)

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Of note, Wright attributes the maternal imagination theory, or “idea of maternal impressions” as he calls it, used by Goethe, as being of Empedocles origin.

The following, per Wright's statement that Goethe's novel is a "simile carried out in the meaning of Empedocles", is a terminology table: [2]


Simile A figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as.
Analogy A resemblance in some particulars between things otherwise unlike; a comparison based on such resemblance.
Metaphor A figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness in place of another to a likeness between them.

being that it is interesting to note the term use of various authors in their description of the logic of Elective Affinities.

Wright quotes the following statement by Empedocles:

“When strife has reached the very bottom of the seething mass, and love assumes her station in the center of the ball, then everything begins to come together, and to form one whole—not instantaneously, but different substances come forth, according to a steady process of development. Now, when these elements are mingling, countless kinds of things issue from their union. Much, however, remains unmixed, in opposition to the mingling elements, and these malignant strife still holds within his grasp. For he has not yet withdrawn himself altogether to the extremities of the globe; but part of his limbs still remain within its bounds, and part have passed beyond. As strife, however, step by step, retreats, mild and innocent love pursues him with her force divine; things which had been immortal instantly assume mortality; the simple elements become confused by interchange of influence. When these are mingled, then the countless kinds of mortal beings issue forth, furnished with every sort of form—a sight of wonder.”

Wright, citing some Taylor translation of Aristotle, gives the following so-called “vacuum experiments” done by Empedocles:

Empedocles explains this by the example of the clepsydra, an instrument which has in the upper part a large hole, and in the lower part many small holes. If, therefore, this instrument is filled with water, and the upper hole is closed with the finger, the water will not go out of the lower holes, because the air cannot enter from the upper hole, in order to fill the vacuum in the place of the departing water. But when the upper hole is opened, then the air entering, the water flows downward, and departs thru the inferior holes.”

The following are a few noted quotes:

“There is no discrimination of organic and inorganic, of animate or inanimate for [Empedocles]. It is all animated, it is all instinct with life.”
— Jonathan Wright (1920), “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist” (pg. 139)

“Instead of accepting the monovalent doctrine of the nature philosopher who severally thought of water or air or fire or earth as the primordial element, Empedocles made a polyvalent system of it by adopting them all. To match the elements numerically he added the qualities, the hot and the cold, the moist and the dry.”
— Jonathan Wright (1920), “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist” (pg. 143)

“With elements, qualities, colors, humors, each four in number, there seems a striving after a tetralogy which can be referred only to Egyptian influence.”
— Jonathan Wright (1920), “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist” (pg. 144)

Empedocles was the first evolutionist.”
— Jonathan Wright (1920), “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist” (pg. 144)

Wright was found via the Google Books search keys: “Goethe, Empedocles, love, hate, affinity”.

1. Wright, Jonathan. (1920). “Empedocles the Primitive Physiologist” (Goethe, pgs. 144-45; evolutionist, pg. 144; maternal impressions, pg. 145; clepsydra, pg. 146), American Medicine, 26:139-47, Mar.
2. Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, 2000.
3. Wright, Jonathan. (1906). “The Primordial Nature of the Forceps Exerted Against the Penetration of the Surface of the Body” (Goethe, Empedocles, pg. 118), New York Medical Journal, Incorporating the Philadelphia Medical Journal and the Medical News, a Weekly Review of Medicine (pg. 117-), Jan 20.

Further reading
‚óŹ Wright, Jonathan. (1919). “Modern Commentaries on Hippocrates: From the Darkness to the Light in the Evolution of Medicine”, International Record of Medicine and General Practice Clinics, 110:485-88.

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