SummarySabuco was born 1562 in Alcaraz, Spain. She wrote Nueva Filosofia de la Naturaleza del Hombre (New Philosophy of Human Nature), which is her only known work. Although the authorship of this work is questioned, if Olivia Sabuco or her father Miguel actually wrote this work; the book remains in Olivia's name today and there appears to be evidence within the text to prove this.
In this book Sabuco wrote about the nature of human beings and impacted the future practice of medicine as well as future philosophers. Her influence is most recognized in Rene Descartes' work. Her philosophical influences were those of the classics, using such philosophers as Aristotle in reference to her work. Due to the era that Sabuco was writing in and the philosophies presented in her book, it is inferred that before publication, her work had been somewhat edited by the church.
Sabuco's thesis was "...there was a close connection between the soul and the body, which, if properly understood, would enable humans to control and improve their health and thus extend their lives." (Waithe, 265) Her ideas of human nature were based in the "interdependence of soul, body, and cosmos." Furthermore, she believed that there were three parts to human nature, which were the purely physical, the intellectual, and the moral. Sabaco goes on to say that there are three kinds of souls, vegetative, sentient, and rational. This then is constructed into a hierarchy stating that plants have "vegetative" souls, animals have "vegetative" and "sentient" souls, while humans have all three of these souls. This theory of souls creates her argument that human nature includes both the passions and mental being, but like Aristotle, she claims that there is moderation in both. The idea of imagination also plays a big role in her theory of human nature and psychology. Sabuco believed that imagination was good for one's well-being and that it was a way of avoiding boredom, which is bad for health. She recognized though, that we must "temper our imagination so that we cannot fool ourselves as to what is real." (Waithe, 272) Unlike Descartes who thought evil and sensory perceptions were the most common causes of self-deception, Sabuco thought this was letting one's imagination carry them away from reality and imagination could become a faulty coping mechanism. She goes on to propose emotions that she believed to cause illness or in extreme cases, death. Then also explains emotions that would better one's well-being. Sabuco also touches on concepts of biology in animals and anthropology to explain her ideas on medicine, while also discussing morality in the practice of medicine. She believes that wisdom provides the way for humans to become happy and healthy beings.
Personal ResponseI find it amazing that a woman of this era was able to have such an impact on an area of study such as medicine, while doing it through a forum (philosophy) that is today still dominated by men. Also, that she influenced such a significant philosopher as Descartes. Although her education is questioned, as to whether she studied under her father or another practitioner of medicine, she claimed that her education was given to her by god. This too I find interesting given her more scientific look at medicine and human nature. I thought her beliefs on imagination and how it can be used to promote health as well as destroy one's reality was her most interesting idea. She wrote, "the experience of reality is less meaningful alone than when it is combined with the emotional experience of reality. Unlike the cognitive experience, the passionate experience can make a person happy, and physically and mentally well." This also explains her thought that human nature is a balance of the passionate and the rational; who I think speaks to many people as we experience the world and later reflect on its value.
Chapter 11: “Olivia Sabuco de Nantes Barrera” of A History of Women Philosophers: Medieval,Renaissance and Enlightenment Women Philosophers A.D. 500-1600 by Mary Ellen Waithe