Dr. Sean Coughlin

E-mail: sean.coughlin@hu-berlin.de

Website: https://hu-berlin.academia.edu/SeanCoughlin

Research Interests:

Ancient philosophy; ancient zoology and botany; ancient medicine; ancient pharmacology and cosmetics; models, metaphors and method used in the study of life and living things in the Graeco-Roman world; history of vitalism; scala naturae


Sean Coughlin is visiting research fellow at the Institut für Klassische Philologie at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. He has held research positions at Excellence Cluster Topoi, the Research Training Group-Philosophy, Science and the Sciences, and SFB 980-Episteme in Bewegung; he has worked as a laboratory assistant in neuroscience at McMaster University in Canada and he has worked researching manuscripts and printed editions of ancient Greek and Latin medical writings at the Corpus Medicorum Graecorum in Berlin. He was educated in philosophy and classics at McGill University where he received his BA in 2005, before going on to complete a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Western Ontario in 2013.

Sean’s research focuses on natural science in the ancient world: what people thought natural science is, what natural things they thought were worth studying, what methods they thought should be used to study them, and what metaphors and models they used to understand them. He is co-editor, with Orly Lewis and David Leith, of The Concept of Pneuma after Aristotle (2019), and he has published articles on ancient philosophy and medicine, especially on metaphors and concepts shared among philosophers and doctors. In addition, his work on techniques in ancient pharmacology and perfumery has been exhibited at the National Geographic Society Headquarters in Washington DC. 

He is currently completing several book-projects: one on Stoic physics and medicine in the fragmentary writings of Athenaeus of Attalia (first century), founder of the Pneumatist school of medicine; another, on the reception of Galen’s pharmacology in Aetius of Amida (6th century); and another, a translation and commentary of Michael of Ephesus’ biological writings for the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle series.

Project Abstract

The project continues my work on the Pneumatist school of medicine, focusing on the contribution of the early Pneumatists, Athenaeus of Attalia, Agathinus of Sparta, and Magnus (of Ephesus?), to the science of the pulse.

There are two objectives to the project: first to assemble the evidence for the Pneumatists’ contribution, and second, to reconstruct the debates between the Pneumatists and earlier physicians, and among the Pneumatists themselves, concerning how to recognize, explain, and measure the pulse; and how to understand the rhythmic movements of the pulse in relation to other life-cycles and rhythmic movements of the body.

This project, along with the work of Orly Lewis, constitutes the first study of the Pneumatists’ on the pulse in over a century, and along with the work of Peter N. Singer, perhaps the first focused study of the science of the pulse in Greco-Roman antiquity. The primary output of this project will be the pulse sections of the first edition of fragments with commentary of Athenaeus of Attalia and the early Pneumatists physicians.

Curriculum vitae


PhD (2013), Philosophy, University of Western Ontario

MA (2007), Philosophy, University of Western Ontario

BA (2005), Philosophy and Classics (Hons.), McGill University

Fellowships and Positions

Since 2019 | Visiting Fellow, Institut für Klassische Philologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Since 2019 | Researcher, Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences

2017–2018 | Research Fellow, Excellence Cluster Topoi, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

2017 | Visiting Fellow, Martin Buber Society of Fellows, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

2017 | Visiting Research Fellow, Research Training Group–Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

2016–2017 | Postdoctoral Fellow, SFB 980, Episteme in Bewegung

2014–2016 | Postdoctoral Fellow, Excellence Cluster Topoi

Selected Publications

“Athenaeus of Attalia on the Psychological Causes of Bodily Health”. In C. Thumiger and P.N. Singer (eds.). Mental Illness in Ancient Medicine. Leiden: Brill. 2018, pp.109–142.

The Concept of Pneuma after Aristotle. Sean Coughlin, David Leith, and Orly Lewis (eds.). Berlin: Edition Topoi, 2019.

Sean Coughlin and Orly Lewis. “What was ‘Pneumatist’ about the Pneumatist School of Medicine?”. In Coughlin, Leith and Lewis (eds.). The Concept of Pneuma after Aristotle. Berlin: Edition Topoi, 2019.

“Two Models of Bodily Coherence and Incoherence in Aristotle’s Biology”. C. Thumiger (ed.). Ancient Holisms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (forthcoming 2020).

Sean Coughlin and Maria Börno. “Galen on Bad Taste: Hippocratic Exegesis in Galen and his Predecessors”. In V. Nutton and L. Totelin (eds.). Technai–Special Issue. (forthcoming 2020).