Jean Francois Fernel


Fernel portraitThe French physician Jean François Fernel systematized medieval medicine. He was the first to use the term physiology, using the term to define the science that “tells of the causes of the actions of the body” (Fernel, 1542).

Fernel drew from the ancient philosophers and physicians in an effort to translate and clarify the accumulated knowledge of the past. He, like his ancient predecessors, subscribed to humor theory, and used astronomy and astrology to theorize about the body and how to treat it medically. In his famous works Dialogues and Medicina, he treated human physiology as an integrated topic.

Besides his contributions to systemizing and reorganizing physiology and neurophysiology, Fernel was the first to describe appendicitis as an inflammation of the appendix, the first to talk about peristalsis, the wavelike motion of muscle in the throat involved in digestion, and the first to describe the spinal canal.

Writings about Jean Fernel

Bennett, M.R. (2003) The early growth of neuroscientific knowledge: the integrative action of the nervous system. In M. R. Bennett and P. M. R. Hacker Philosophical foundations of neuroscience (pp. 23-25 on Fernel). NY: Wiley (Blackwell).

Forrester, J. & Henry, J. (2005) Jean Fernel’s On the hidden causes of things: Forms, souls, and occult diseases in Renaissance medicine. Brill Academic Publishers.