Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Marco Sgarbi

Signatura Rerum Theory

  • Yohei KikuchiharaEmail author
  • Hiro Hirai
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_405-1


Natural things sometimes resemble each other. From antiquity to today, either in the East or the West, such similarity is often considered to be a hidden key toward important knowledge for human beings. To recognize this similarity needs a sort of index, which measures resemblance between things. A general index can be the external figure of natural things. This is the foundation of the theory called “signature/sign of things” (signatura rerum). According to a typical understanding of the sixteenth century, the invisible internal essence or force of natural things was visibly coined on their external figure as a sign. Human beings could decipher such signs by analogy and approach to the universal knowledge of nature or even to the will of God who engraved these signs in nature. The doctrine of signatura rerum was a manifestation of this way of reasoning and approach to nature. French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926–1984) addressed it in Les mots et les choses (The Order of Things), Chapter 2, and made it well known (Foucault. Les mots et les choses: Une archéologie des sciences humaines. Gallimard, Paris, 1966).


Analogical Reasoning Bodily Organ Natural Thing External Figure Wild Olive 
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Primary Literature

  1. Böhme J (1621) De signatura rerum. [s. l.]Google Scholar
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  5. Hirai H (2014) Images, Talismans and medicine in Jacques Gaffarel’s Unheard-of Curiosities. In Hirai H (ed) Jacques Gaffarel between magic and science. Serra, RomeGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Kyushu Institute of TechnologyFukuokaJapan
  2. 2.Center for the History of Philosophy and ScienceRadboud Universiteit NijmegenNijmegenThe Netherlands