Pioneer of psychosomatics

Oliva Sabuco — a 16th Century female philosopher, a precursor of psychosomatic medicine, a figure that deserves wider recognition for proposing the relationship between emotional and physical health.

In 1587 she published a comprehensive book titled,

New Philosophy of Human Nature not Known and not Reached by
the Ancient Philosophers that Improves Human Life and Health is compiling her work, much lost under Inquisitions. They report:

Sabuco scholarly describes how emotions may impair health and cause premature death.

She urges physicians to treat in unison the whole person: body, mind and soul.

Sabuco’s thesis confronted some skepticism from the medical establishment, and from a community ready to stigmatize a woman as unfit to tackle matters dealing with taboo physiological topics.

Recognition of her work grew nevertheless steadily in Spain from the first (1587) throughout the seventh (eight with the one of 1734) editions. Sabuco’s Nueva Filosofia was known in France at the beginning of 17C, but it was in England where it was recognized as seminal work, and, soon after, “silently” quoted (plagiarized?).

Sabuco’s theory of human nature is a scientific, comprehensive and secular argument on the relations between mind and body.

She draws selectively on the Platonic conceptions of the tripartite soul, on the Aristotelian doctrine of the mean in Ethics, and on Pliny’s natural philosophy, illustrating similarities and differences among humans, animals and plants. Her philosophy of Medicine is grounded in Psychology, Metaphysics, Virtue Ethics, and plain common sense that agrees mostly with Church doctrine.

Yet, there are subtle incongruities in the text, e.g., God is brought forth as Creator and Provider throughout the seven treatises but there are no references to the Scriptures, the figure of Jesus, the Purgatory, and the Church itself and its catechism. Communication with God, and the promise of Heaven -as rewards- are indeed, conspicuous, but her theory is also tied to Cosmology and its effect on humans.

All together, a holistic view of nature prevails.

omnia vincat, candide lector, amica veritas
Clearly, reader, friendly truth prevails over all.

Colophon of Nueva Filosofia by Oliva Sabuco