Potestas Essendi

A Virtual Space for Thoughts on the Middle Ages, by Nicola Polloni

Potestas Essendi

‘Tempus siquidem simile est fluvio, qui levia atque inflata ad nos devehit, solida autem et pondus habentia submergit.’

Francis Bacon, De dignitate et augmentis scientiarum

The idea of creating this webpage emerged from the consideration of the ruptures dividing our societies into smaller and smaller factions, modern tribes fighting each other in base of fast-growing narratives spread through many different means of communication. These narratives, often created specifically to originate frictions and divisions, are based, in turn, on unaware (and sometimes aware) misunderstandings of basic notions and common knowledge. At the same time, while the very concept of shared society appears to be falling apart, scholars are required to walk down the hoary steps of the ‘ivory tower:’ that very tower is leaning, and it might fall as well if the knowledge produced is not disseminated, popularised, brought back to society.

Consideration of all this convinced me of the necessity to get involved, in my own small way, in this process of dissemination and popularisation. At first, I was reticent. The idea of creating an academic website is all but new, and I wanted something different, a sort of platform for sharing knowledge rather than a web-CV. Nonetheless, I realised I have the luck of working on issues that are among the most important features engaged with by those spreading narratives: cross-cultural transfer of knowledge among Christians, Muslims, and Jews, and the medieval roots of contemporary philosophy and science. All the terms of these topics are subject to common misunderstanding and apparent prejudice, and yet these misunderstandings and prejudices must be problematised and corrected, in our own small way.

History displays our common roots, and philosophy, our common understanding. Together, they show how the thousand years compositing the ‘Middle Ages’ were not a period of darkness and obscurantism: medieval people were not scared of lighting (Mongols aside), nor thought that any inexplicable thing was a miracle. They were not locked up in their small cities, fearing the end of the world, nor were they in a perennial struggle against the ‘other’ – a different religion, culture, approach. To the contrary, those societies were often marked by a remarkable openness, a curiosity and a need to understand that superseded religious, cultural, and political boundaries in that struggle for knowledge that characterises human being from the very beginning of civilisation.

Scholars, too, sometimes tend to simplify. Science does not start in the seventeenth century, but its roots are grounded deep in the history of our civilisation. Philosophy must not be reduced to history, but it cannot (and shall not) be de-contextualised or de-historicised in its analysis.  Moreover, bearing in mind Francis Bacon’s famous metaphor for which time is like a river which carried down to us what is light and blown up, while it sunk and drowned what is heavy and solid, we should always consider that that river carried hundreds of authors and works of different weight, without reducing the scope of our understanding to the major author or discipline.

In my own very small way, the contents in this webpage are aimed at furnishing both specialised and popularised material for the problematisation of these features. Here also lay the reasons of such a weird title for the webpage: potestas essendi. The power of being: the ontological precariousness which is subject to the most complete and creative freedom, when potentiality (potentia) becomes possibility (possibilitas), and possibility becomes power of becoming every existing thing (potestas). I hope the seeds of thoughts and doubts disseminated in this page will become something valuable, and be helpful to the widest public of academics and non-specialised people. I look forward to hearing any remark or question you might possibly have.

Nicola Polloni