Career Updates, Research and Activities

Output Report 2017

Time for my annual output report. 2017 has been a good year! Hopefully, 2018 will be even better.


Domingo Gundisalvo. Una introducción

Madrid: Editorial Sindéresis, 2017. 165pp. ISBN: 9788416262342.

Gundisalvo desempeñó su papel principal como filósofo, y como tal, fue el primero en acoger críticamente las doctrinas avicenianas, farabianas, gabirolianas y aristotélicas. En este sentido, Gundisalvo nos proporciona un panorama donde el platonismo timaico típico de la Escuela de Chartres y de Hermann de Carintia estaba en crisis y que, en varias décadas, llegó a ser superado por la revolución aristotélica del siglo XIII. En sus escritos, Gundisalvo parece quedarse entre las dos orillas de este caudal especulativo, acogiendo el aristotelismo neoplatónico árabe y rechazando fundamentos doctrinales timaicos, sin renegar de su formación platónica y boeciana. Por consiguiente, además del explícito valor de sus traducciones y de aquellos textos que tuvieron una gran difusión y recepción, como el De divisione o el De unitate, resulta evidente el valor implícito de la figura de Domingo Gundisalvo como filósofo un contexto cultural irrepetible como lo fue Toledo en el siglo XII.


Gundissalinus and Avicenna: Some Remarks on an Intricate Philosophical Connection

Documenti e Studi sulla Tradizione Filosofica Medievale 28 (2017): 515-552.

This article analyses the peculiarities of Dominicus Gundissalinus’s reading and use of Avicenna’s writings in his original works. Gundissalinus (1120ca – post 1190) is indeed the Latin translator of Avicenna’s De anima and Liber de philosophia prima, but also an original philosopher whose writings are precious witnesses of the very first reception of Avicennian philosophy in the Latin West. The article points out the structural bond with the Persian philosopher upon which Gundissalinus grounds his own speculation. This contribution stresses, in particular, the important role played by Avicenna’s psychology, epistemology, and metaphysics in order to provide Gundissalinus with a different set of answers to at least two main questions. On the one hand, the problem of creatural existence and cosmological causation, concerning which Gundissalinus tends to doctrinally merge Avicenna with Ibn Gabirol. On the other hand, Avicenna’s influence is crucial for Gundissalinus’s attempt at elaborating a new system of knowledge, which was supposed to be able to include the new sciences made available by the translation movement, but that also needed to be internally organised through firm epistemological principles. Beside his crucial contribution as translator, Gundissalinus’s first philosophical encounter with the Avicenna paved the road for the subsequent reception of the Persian philosopher’s works, opening a hermeneutical perspective which would be pivotal for the thirteenth-century discussions on soul, knowledge, and being.


Appropriation, Interpretation and Criticism: Philosophical and Theological Exchanges Between the Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Intellectual Traditions

Edited by Alexander Fidora and Nicola Polloni. Barcelona – Roma: FIDEM, 2017. ISBN: 978-2-503-57744-9. 336 pp.

The volume gathers eleven studies on the intellectual exchanges during the Middle Ages among the three cultures which existed side by side in the same geographical area, i.e. the vast space from the British Isles to the Sahara Desert, and from the Douro Valley to the Hindu Kush. These three cultures – who may not be reduced to their confession or ethnicity – are historically related to each other in many respects, both material (trade, wars, marriages) and immaterial (the interdependence among their religious narratives and their philosophical speculations). The studies herein presented focus on some peculiar examples of the transcultural interactions among exponents of the Arabic, Hebrew and Latin philosophical and theological traditions. While we do not want to downplay the fundamental role of the religious contexts, our focus on the linguistic denominations of these cultures aims at drawing attention to the conceptual medium, or rather media, which underlined and shaped the interactions and interplays among these traditions – interplays that were characterized by the contact of these three languages being used by people of different religious beliefs in their quest for knowledge: Spanish Jews writing in Arabic, Jews collaborating in the translation of Arabic texts into Latin through the vernacular, Western Muslims whose writings were read mainly by Jews and Christians in Hebrew and Latin.


Toledan Ontologies: Gundissalinus, Ibn Daud, and the Problem of Gabirolian Hylomorphism

In Appropriation, Interpretation and Criticism: Philosophical and Theological Exchanges Between the Arabic, Hebrew and Latin Intellectual Tradition, ed. byA. Fidora and N. Polloni (Barcelona and Roma: FIDEM, 2017), 19-49.

This contribution focuses on a particular branch of Gundissalinus’s production, namely ontology, and a peculiar feature of his reflection: the progressive problematization of his doctrine of hylomorphism. I will analyse the sources that influenced Gundissalinus’s mature discussion of ontological composition, underscoring the changes introduced by the Toledan philosopher to his previous doctrinal positions regarding the status of hylomorphic components and their cosmogonic causation. In order to do so, I will briefly examine the opposing theories elaborated by Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Sīnā, doctrines merged together by Gundissalinus in his final metaphysical reflection. Eventually, I will put forward a hypothesis about a possible medium of both Gundissalinus’s change of position and his doctrinal synthesis – i.e., Ibn Daud’s philosophical influence on Gundissalinus.



Translating Experience: Medieval Encounters with Nature, Self, and God

Durham University, 5-6 June 2017. Organisers: Katja Krause and Nicola Polloni

Pre-Modern Experiences and the Limits of Science

Panel at the History of Science Society (HSS) 2017 Meeting, Toronto (ON), 9-12 November 2017.


Traducción y circulación del conocimiento árabe a finales del siglo XII: unas notas de introducción

Conference: Oriente próximo y la cuenca del Mediterráneo. Fe, creencia y transmisión textual entre lo canónico y lo apócrifo. Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (ES), 30 November 2017.

Los mil años que separan la caída de Roma y las noventa y nueve tesis de Lutero están marcados por un incesante movimiento de personas, confines, ideas, mercancías, problemas y libros. Mediante estos movimientos, conocimientos y practicas circularon más allá de toda frontera geográfica, teológica y cultural, remodelando y refundando enteras tradiciones que estaban atadas entre sí por numerosos factores y un mar común. En sus orillas, se hablaban cuatro lenguas principales: árabe, hebreo, latín, y griego. Los movimientos de traducción que tuvieron lugar en todo el Mediterráneo durante la Edad Media y el Renacimiento estaban finalizados en superar estos límites lingüísticos y hacer disponible nuevo y precioso conocimiento. Se trata de una larga historia, cuyas raíces departen del comienzo mismo de la civilización humana.

Accordance and Strife: Encounters with Modernity at the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century

ACPA Conference Philosophy, Faith and Modernity. Dallas (TX), 16-19 November 2017.

Since its very beginning, Christian philosophy received the crucial influence of Neoplatonic metaphysics. Augustine and Boethius, are the peak of a well-known process which shaped many aspects of the reflection on God and His creation throughout the Middle Ages. Among these themes, the discussion of the ontological difference between the Creator and His creation is one of the most intriguing, and it is as well the subject of this talk. Specifically, I will exposit two different strategies in dealing with this problem, elaborated by two very peculiar thinkers of the twelfth century—David of Dinant and Dominicus Gundissalinus. Their reflections, indeed, are marked by the reception of the new translations from Greek and Arabic realised in the second half of the twelfth century, translations that were to reshape the Latin philosophical debate in its entirety. David and Gundissalinus, then, are two witnesses of a first and radical approach to these scientific novelties, aspects of that ‘modernity’ the medieval thinkers had to face in the thirteenth century, and beyond.

Sciences of Matter? Knowledge of the Material Substrate in the two Bacons

2017 Meeting of the History of Science Society. Toronto (ON), 9-12 November 2017.

Separated by more than three centuries, the figures of Roger Bacon (ca. 1220 – ca. 1292) and Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) are exemplar cases of the problematic relation between philosophy and science. Both attempted to revolutionise the scientific method of their day by criticizing causes of error, albeit under opposite circumstances. On the one hand, Roger attacked the ‘scholastic method’ as entangled in the passive use of philosophical authorities rather than in knowledge making based on experience. On the other, Francis elaborated a new speculative method which, in his eyes, could supersede the Aristotelian tradition grounded on late scholasticism, which included Roger’s views. Both thinkers thus studied physics with their peculiar interest, yet both had to also address the problem of matter as the irreducible root of physical reality. Roger lamented the lack of a detailed discussion on matter in the Aristotelian corpus, whereas Francis stressed the excesses of the Aristotelian approach to physics in answering the question of the knowability of matter, that is, if matter in itself—rather than what is material—can be known. My paper will focus on this fundamental aspect of the history of a ‘science of matter’ in the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Period. In particular, I will show how and why the birth of the ‘science of matter’ would require the definitive sacrifice of the philosophical notion of matter proper to the Aristotelian tradition, and replace it by a quantitative (and thus mathematizable) concept of matter.

Matter of Change: Philosophical Claims and Religious Concerns on the Substrate

Conference: Pre-Modern Sciences and Religions. Harvard University, Cambridge (MA), 6-7 November 2017.

The concept of matter is integral to the history of philosophy, and yet, it is also a source of puzzling problems and doctrinal tensions for almost every discipline thematising its notion. One of these tensions arising from the philosophical enquiry on matter appears as crucial: that is, the relation between matter and God. Up to the end of the twelfth century, this relation is mainly established and discussed in cosmogonic terms: matter, providing the ‘ontological leap’ from spiritual to corporeal beings, must enter the description of the world institution from its very beginning, as a direct effect of God’s creation. At the same time, though, in this relation matter appears to be characterised by an intimate ‘otherness’: God’s creative power, absolute unity and true being are the opposite of matter’s inert status, intrinsically tending to multiplicity and chaos, posited ‘between some kind of substance and nothing’ (with Plato) and yet furnishing tangible existence to the bodies. In my talk, I am going to discuss four twelfth-century authors who engaged with the problem of matter and God, starting with Calcidius’s Latin translation of Plato’s Timaeus. They are Peter Lombard, William of Conches, Honorius of Autun, David of Dinant, and Dominicus Gundissalinus.

‘Indeed, the soul has not been made by the first Maker’: Creation, Imitation, and Matter

Conference: Creation and Artifice. The Warburg Institute, London (UK), 1-2 June 2017.

Gundissalinus’s radical interpretation of Ibn Gabirol’s account of matter as presented in his Fons vitae has pivotal implications for the Archdeacon’s cosmogonic theory. Gundissalinus considers God’s creative action to be limited to the creation and first composition of matter and form generally speaking (De processione mundi). As a consequence, the causative and institutive process of the temporal world in itself and in its parts has to be based upon the causality of a secondary cause. In Gundissalinus’ eyes, this secondary cause does not create (for creation is always ex nihilo), but rather moulds matter through a series of secundariae compositiones which imitate God’s ontogonic causality in ‘creating’ new bodies and souls every day (De anima, De processione mundi). In my talk, I will examine Gundissalinus’s peculiar interpretation of creation from matter on the basis of his sources (starting with Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Daud), and I will draw a first sketch of the dissemination and the influence of his positions on thirteenth-century debates concerning matter and universal hylomorphism.

I numeri della natura: testimonianze numerologiche della completezza del creato in Gundisalvi e Grossatesta

Conference: Rappresentazioni della natura nel Medioevo. Università di Padova, Padua (IT), 24-27 May 2017.

Il nesso tra numeri e ordine naturale, variamente trattato dalle fonti tardoantiche della speculazione medievale (Agostino, Macrobio e Marziano Capella in particolare), trova nel dodicesimo secolo una nuova portata teoretica legata alla pervasiva tematizzazione del concetto di natura. Il caso più emblematico a riguardo è sicuramente la riflessione di Teodorico di Chartres, che lega la tematica numerologica alla costituzione stessa dell’essere creaturale. Lo sviluppo di questo tema nella riflessione di Domenico Gundisalvi e Roberto Grossatesta costituisce l’oggetto del presente contributo. Per entrambi questi autori, la matematica costituisce uno strumento indispensabile per la comprensione della realtà. In Gundisalvi, probabile autore del Liber mahameleth, lo studio dei numeri ha una validità primariamente pratica che però risulta di grande rilevanza per la dimostrazione della completezza della creazione, come richiesto dal programma metafisico proposto nel De divisione philosophiae. In Grossatesta, la matematica, accompagnata dalla geometria, ha un valore cruciale e fondativo per lo studio della realtà fisica, in particolare negli scritti successivi al 1225 e alla piena formulazione della sua teoria della luce. Tanto il De processione mundi di Gundisalvi (ed. Bülow, pp. 55,6-56,12) quanto il De luce di Grossatesta (ed. Panti, pp. 84,205-85,232) si concludono con una scansione numerologica della costituzione e della natura del creato. Il mio contributo si focalizzerà sull’esame di questi due brani, evidenziandone la portata dottrinale ed esaminando le relazioni genetico-dottrinali tra i due testi, al fine di comprendere come l’applicazione della numerologia al problema della composizione fisica trovi un coerente sviluppo dalla tematizzazione chartreana a quella oxoniense della prima metà del tredicesimo secolo, passando per Toledo.

Effectusaffectus, and defectus: Causality and Causation of the Substrate

Conference: Aspectus and Affectus: Robert Grosseteste, Understanding and Feeling. Georgetown University, Washington DC, 30 March-1 April 2017.

Based on the same Latin verb facio, the terms ‘affectus’, ‘effectus’, and ‘defectus’ are widely used by the Latin philosophers in reference to different disciplines and peculiar problems of the reflection on, among others, being, soul, and knowledge. By a metaphysical viewpoint, these concepts are bound to each other as they describe three ontological situations reciprocally connected as different aspects of a causal event. From that event, something (a.) is caused following the casual footprints of the event (effectus); (b.) it receives (and, in some case, provides) an accidental or substantial disposition (affectus), which is characterised by (c.) its lack of different characteristics or further improvement of those characteristics that the thing already has from the causal event (defectus). Often developed through slightly different vocabularies and theoretical contexts, the doctrinal genesis of this causal dynamic is connected to Aristotle’s thematization of physics and metaphysics, and its interpretations by the Muslim and Jewish philosophical traditions. Finally available to the Latin philosophers since the end of the twelfth century, these pivotal sources will reshape the medieval debate on physics and metaphysics up to the Early-Modern Period. In my talk I will examine a border-line case of this metaphysical dynamic: the substrate of corporeal bodies, matter, and its role in the constitution of the hylomorphic compound. Specifically, I will focus on the problematic position of matter as a per se ontological defectus (i.e., complete lack of actuality) which affects and effects the caused being, examining the opposed approaches to this problem offered by Ibn Gabirol and Avicenna, and their Latin developments.

La ciencia de ‘los otros’. Peculiares asimilaciones de teorías árabes por la tradición filosófica latina (1150-1210)

Lecture. Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (ES), 26 January 2017.

Uno de los topoi más típicos de la percepción común de la Edad Media por los no especialistas es el reconocimiento de un choque de civilizaciones entre los musulmanes y los cristianos. Este topos, arraigado en eventos históricos muy peculiares como la reconquista en la península ibérica o las cruzadas en el Oriente Medio, se ha vuelto en uno de los pilares de la retórica política de hoy en día. Como bien sabéis, durante los mil años que componen la Edad Media, la historia de las relaciones entre cristianos, musulmanes y judíos muestra características y peculiaridades muy diferentes de esta idea común. Es una historia compleja de encuentros y enfrentamientos, curiosidad y aversión, colaboración y aislamiento. Y todavía, desde una perspectiva cultural y filosófica, se trata de la historia de una fusión continúa entre horizontes diferentes y a menudo opuestos, marcada por la influencia continuativa de la filosofía griega en las tres tradiciones filosóficas abrahámicas y de cada una de estas tres – o mejor dicho, cuatro, considerando la reflexión bizantina como algo diferente de la latina – en las otras, con diferentes grados de aceptación, problematización y repulsión. Córdoba, la ciudad de Averroes y Abraham ibn Daud. Estamos en uno de los lugares más simbólicos de este largo proceso que ha marcado indisolublemente la construcción y el desarrollo de la filosofía occidental, y hoy os presentaré algunos aspectos del aproximación de los primeros filósofos latinos a interesarse en la reflexión filosófica y científica en lengua árabe. Analizaremos algunos ejemplos de tres características de este primer aproximación a la cultura árabe entre la segunda mitad del siglo doce y el comienzo del siglo trece: el sincretismo teológico, la consideración de los árabes respeto a los griegos, y el sentimiento de inferioridad cultural de los latinos hacia su propia producción científica y filosófica.

Contrasting Perspectives: The Latins, the Arabs, and the Rise of a New Approach to Philosophy

Conference: Filosofia Medieval: em curso e em toda a extensão. Universidade do Porto, Porto (PT), 12-13 January 2017.

The translation movement from Arabic into Latin had long-lasting effects on Medieval speculation, allowing the Latin philosophers to deal with new doctrines, problems, and approaches thanks to the translated works by Aristotle, Avicenna or Averroes. While the acceptance and criticism of many of these theories will be fully achieved in the second half of the thirteenth century, the first phase of assimilation of the ‘new’ doctrines is marked by an enthusiastic and, perhaps, ingenuous approach. In my talk, I will analyse some examples of this Latin appropriations of ‘Arabic’ philosophy, dealing with some intriguing authors between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century (Gundissalinus, Daniel of Morley, Alexander Neckam, and Robert Grosseteste).

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