Research and Activities

The Philosophy and Science of Roger Bacon

What a pleasure to finally see this book published!

Yael Kedar and I have edited it in honour of a very special person, Jeremiah Hackett, who has given so much to scholarship and to whom I owe an huge debt of personal gratitude.

I am also grateful to all the contributors that made this volume possible. And it is a very good book indeed, in honour of a fantastic scholar whose studies have marked indelibly the understanding of medieval philosophy and science.

Scattered Thoughts

Some reflections on the notion of “psychological safety” in academia

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been reading some recently published papers marked by some harsh rhetoric bordering on personal offence to other colleagues in the field. Something similar is happening with peer-review reports from referees with whom we are collaborating – a situation that some colleagues at other journals have told me they have experienced as well. It might be just an outcome of the pandemic, which is affecting so much our daily lives in ways that are not fully realised or processed. Yet, it made me think of a notion that I consider central to my activity as scholar, although it is mostly nurtured in the private sector: the notion of psychological safety.

Elaborated and discussed by Amy Edmondson (2018), psychological safety is the basis of an inclusive, creative, and caring work environment. Broadly speaking, it corresponds to the mindset by which every member of a working team feels free to speak their mind freely, without having to fear any consequences at either personal or professional levels. This – of course – does not imply that there are neither wrong or right answers nor bad or good decision. It just makes clear that the way by which feedbacks are given is directly related to the construction of any work environment. In turn, a positive work environment is crucial because the output of a collaborator is profoundly affected by it in terms of motivation, attachment to and caring for the business, and creativity. The latter in particular is central to academia. If any advancement of knowledge is to be found in the elaboration of different points of view and the divergent interpretations that change the way by which we look at something, then, it is evident how important a creative approach is. Yet to properly been nurtured, creativity requires a constructive, positive, and open environment – it needs psychological safety. Only in this way scholars – especially young scholars – can feel free to propose something new without fearing ostracising consequences.

In my opinion (and it is a very humble opinion, since I am not a psychologist nor a pedagogist), the construction of a psychologically safe environment in academia implies the adoption of two simple and correlated “practices” that are very well known by academics – or at least, they should be. Firstly, (1.) any feedback should always be a constructive feedback since it has to correct a weakness by instructing (i.e., making them understand, not just execute) a different point of view. This is a basic approach of teaching and, accordingly, one should expect academics to apply it constantly, with both students and colleagues. Sadly, this does not appear to be the case, at least not very often. I believe that one of the causes of this attitude is the lack of proper training of the teaching staff (and, therefore, it affects students before fellow scholars, which is even worse), but I will leave this point to another time. Secondly, (2.) when giving a feedback our mindset should be grounded on another notion, that of divergent thinking (first proposed by Guilford 1956). We should be open to consider another point of view, even the opposite stance, with an open mind. In most cases, there is no need to even mention this fundamental aspect. I know many colleagues that have humbly changed their positions after having considered things from a different point of view and I have myself done the same. However, this scientific humility is something that has to be nurtured by each one of us. The reason is simple and connected to the interpretative stratification of our work.

Let’s suppose that A elaborates an interpretation of x during their early career. A receives good feedbacks and uses the A-interpretation to read also y and z. Throughout many years, A has written very much about x, y, and z using the A-interpretation. This allows A to use it in further cases and that piece of knowledge (the A-interpretation) becomes a given of A’s reading of the tradition, as a first layer of a stratified interpretative knowledge that A uses while teaching and doing research. Now, let’s think that B proposed a radically different interpretation of z. The B-interpretation impacts not only on A’s interpretation of z, but also on the A-interpretation of y and x, changing the way in which z, y, and x are considered. Finally, let’s suppose that the B-interpretation is more valid than the A-interpretation, for it is based on more data and is more philosophically sound. And imagine what would happen if A is the referee of B’s article, the reviewer of B’s book, the respondent of B’s talk, or a member of the hiring committee of a post for which B is competing. Deontologically, we should assume that A, appreciating the work made by B, positively (i.e., without biases, whatever A’s final decision is) evaluates B’s interpretation. However, why should A do so, considering that B’s interpretation corresponds to the weakening of the work that A has done during the past decades? We tend to trust personal ethics in this, and we should. To that end, however, it is necessary for A – for all As – to preliminarily understand the transitional status of any interpretation and that interpretations and theories are not absolutely right only because they have been accepted now or in the past. This corresponds to practicing divergent thinking, to open our perspective to alternative readings without any unjustified pretension to hold preliminarily the truth about that.

I truly believe that a conjunction of these two basic practices – giving constructive feedbacks and nurturing divergent thinking – can help us constructing a better academia marked by openness, inclusivity, and, crucially, focused on the advancement of knowledge. It allows to correct mistakes and misinterpretations in a positive way, fostering a constant-learning attitude in everyone, from PhD students to full professors. It leads to sounder, steadier theories and interpretations, whose evaluation is grounded on a consideration of opposed readings and points of view. It requires us to become reflective practitioners in our work as researchers and teachers. And it creates a global work environment in which everyone feels safe to speculate and interpret, create and recreate, without biases.

Research and Activities

Available soon: Philosophy and Science of Roger Bacon

The Philosophy and Science of Roger Bacon: Studies in Honour of Jeremiah Hackett. Edited by Nicola Polloni and Yael Kedar (Routledge, 2021)

I am particularly fond of this volume. Firstly, it is a very interesting volume that disentangles Roger Bacon’s philosophy very nicely. Secondly, I have had a lot of fun editing it with my dear friend Yael Kedar. Thirdly, the volume is dedicated to a very special person, Jeremiah Hackett, that has given so much to so many people in terms of research and beyond.

I can’t wait to have a printed copy of it! Routledge did an amazing job: the volume is already on Amazon and in April will be available to everyone. In the Spring, we shall definitively find a moment to celebrate Jerry Hackett’s contributions and discuss this volume, too.

Outreach, Research and Activities

MeLO Seminar 2021 (Winter-Spring)

After much work, the first meeting of the MeLO Seminar is going to be tomorrow. The reason why Christophe and I decided to create this seminar was to get together and talk medieval philosophy during these trying times. We could not foresee such enthusiasm and willingness to get involved. The resulting programme is very promising. And I look forward to starting the seminar tomorrow, with Dominic Dold’s fascinating discussion of the medieval intertwining of zoology and metaphysics.

Mapping the Journey, Research and Activities

Medieval Logic and Ontology

After so many socially distanced months, we all hope that 2021 will bring something different (and better) than this tormented 2020. Quite in line with the hopes of a brighter (or at least more social) future, there is some news I shall give here.

Christophe Geudens and I have started planning something new and very promising for 2021: the MeLO Seminar! The acronym stands for “Medieval Logic and Ontology” Seminar. The plan is to bring together people from all over the world to discuss papers, ideas, and new interpretations of medieval theories from these two disciplines.

Thanks to the enthusiastic replies from many friends and colleagues, the programme looks amazing (you can read it here). We are going to meet fortnightly – lots of fun ahead! If you want to participate, just drop us a line.

It is our hope that the MeLO Seminar will help to soften the loneliness of the next few months, which are going to be quite demanding, as we wait for this pandemic to end.

Mapping the Journey

Twenty-nine kilometres away

I couldn’t resist. After all, it was my first time ever. And it is so close to here. Notwithstanding the bad weather and the pandemic, guided by two brave historians of philosophy (Jenny Pelletier and Nicolas Zeks), I have finally (yet shortly) visited Brussels! Further explorations are needed in the (hopefully near) future.

During this horrible pandemic, getting onto a train for a 29km ride to Brussels seemed like a real trip! Especially thinking that this year, for the first time in 36 years, I won’t be able to spend Christmas with my family in Tuscany.

At least, 2020 will be over in a few weeks.

This makes me think back to last December, when Alexander, Pedro, and I were writing the introduction to the new issue of Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval. And I – foreseeing a bright and sweet new year – suggested to joyfully wish “a special 2020 to everyone!”

As I have recently said to Alexander and Pedro, this year I won’t write a single word of the introduction to the December 2020 issue of Revista Española de Filosofía Medieval!!

Career Updates, Mapping the Journey

Lots of good news condensed in one general update

Finally, 2020 is almost finished. It felt like a decade. Just thinking that January, when I was moving to Oxford for my research stay, was only eleven months ago, well, it just doesn’t seem right. In the months following the beginning of the pandemic many things have happened. Many more were supposed to happen (from the second Berlin workshop on matter to my trip to Asia), but they didn’t. And between the first lockdown and lockdown 2.0, I didn’t feel like it was the right time to give any updates. Needless to say, now I have to give many news at once – lots of good news, actually. I will do my best to be as concise as possible.

Alexander von Humboldt

Sometimes, one has to take life with a bit of Aristotle and admit that “totum et completum est quod habet principium et finem”. Started two years ago, my experience as Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow is complete and the fellowship over. In my life, I have never felt like this before. The Berlin years have given me so much in terms of research, creativity, friendship, and much more. Thinking of how my approach was when I moved there from Durham and how it is now, well, the comparison is impressive, at least to me. I will be forever grateful to Dominik Perler for his gorgeous guidance and remarkable patience during these past two years. And I will keep with me for the rest of my life a sweet and thankful memory of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

It is true what they say, that “once a Humboldtian, always a Humboldtian” – the Associazione Italiana Alexander von Humboldt will be my new home now. The spirit and example of Alexander von Humboldt will continue to inspire me and so many others in the world. Yet, something will be missed. It is the unparalleled sense of belonging to something truthfully unique and good in the widest meaning of this term. It is the memory of days spent between Bonn and Berlin with my Humboldtian friends, plans to explore Germany that never were concretised, chats with professors, researchers, and MPs while sharing some canapés in beautiful building in Mitte. Proudly and gratefully, I will keep these sweet memories with me for the rest of my life and taste them every now and then to counter the usual bitterness of academia.


Leuven

A new adventure has started. I have left Berlin and moved to Leuven, where I am FWO Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Philosophy of KU Leuven. Amazing, isn’t it? And in fact I am excited, delighted, and still struggling to believe that I am really here (also because the pandemic is having me working from home). Lots of new ideas and plans are currently been shaped – you will see. New promising collaborations shall be mingled with old ones into a boiling cauldron the likes of which have never been seen since Hermann of Carinthia’s. Above all, I am thrilled at the opportunity to work with scholars like Russell Friedman, Andrea Robiglio, Pieter d’Hoine, and Jan Opsomer – the best of the best!

The new project, The Shadow Within Nature: Epistemology and Ontology of Prime Matter in the Late Middle Ages (1250-1430), follows the outcomes of my Berlin project but with a different perspective. Ontology comes back at the centre of the stage. And with it, the trickiest of all hylomorphic problems: how can hylomorphism be applied to the study of nature and explain a plurality of natural phenomena and theoretical assumptions that seem to contradict it? Moving within the coordinates set by Pasnau and Maier – but sometimes daring to break them – I will try to disentangle matter from matter and element from element of this long history of ontological controversies.


Habilitation!

The last big piece of information of this Autumn is very good news, too. Working in academia is often weird, especially during this pandemic. You do your research, write your articles, give your talks on Zoom. But you are so very often alone – even when you are not. I guess another specificity of non-tenured scholars is to wonder whether other scholars truly appreciate your work beside the good feedbacks one receives. This is why it has been unusually delightful for me to have been habilitated for associate professorship in history of philosophy by the Italian Ministry of Education! Terrific news, I know, and it means so much to me. Most importantly, I now feel like I do belong. Many will think that such formalities are not important, that it is the work we do that define us both as people and academics. And that being habilitated doesn’t give you a tenure. Both points are true, but they do not have any impact on the unique moment of being finally habilitated. It is a matter of recognition and acknowledgement, something of which I am deeply grateful and honoured.

I said above that I had two pieces of information. And I do. I have also been certified as assistant professor of philosophy by the Spanish Ministry of Education! Such a fantastic news, I am proud and flattered. Another demonstration that sacrifice and work are never in vain. I look forward to collaborating even more with my Iberian colleagues in the near future. And duly celebrate with them this good news and the others!

There would be much more to say: more news, ideas, and updates. There will be time for that, as I will try to update this section more often.

Research and Activities

The Philosophy and Science of Roger Bacon

It took some time. But finally, Yael and I have sent the volume manuscript to Routledge! This is a special volume aimed at celebrating a very special person, Jeremiah Hackett, and his crucial contributions to the understanding of medieval philosophy. Not incidentally, the volume focuses mostly on Roger Bacon, the philosophical and scientific theories he elaborated, and the philosophical debates in which he took part.

Continue reading
Career Updates

New job!

After months of uncertainty (a secondary outcome of the pandemic), finally some splendid, fantastic news: I have been awarded a FWO senior research fellowship at KU Leuven! During the next three years I will have the much consequential opportunity to work on late medieval theories of matter (both ontological and epistemological) mentored by Russell Friedman!

Continue reading
Research and Activities

Nature and Emergence (research reading group)

Organised by Nicola Polloni and Dominic Dold, the research reading group begins on 1 April 2020 and will meet biweekly on Zoom. We will read the four books of Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time, and Deity. Participants are supposed to read the texts (usually two chapters per meeting) before the biweekly session in which the texts will be discussed.

Continue reading
Research and Activities

Reshaped, cancelled, and postponed events due to COVID-19

Due to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, many aspects of our lives have been or are about to be affected. In this moment of grave concern, academia must do its part to contribute to the efforts put in place by governments all over the world to delay the spread of the virus. After much pondering, I have decided to do my part rescheduling, postponing, and cancelling most of the events I had planned for the forthcoming months.

Continue reading
Mapping the Journey, Research and Activities

Berlin Prime Matter Workshop

It has been exhausting, but so rewarding! The first Prime Matter Workshop has been an incredible success. Splendid talks, awesome speakers, brilliant discussions, and a lot of people attending.

Below, some photos taken throughout the day.

Can’t wait for the second Prime Matter Workshop, on 14 May 2020!

Multimedia

Medieval Philosophical Gatherings II (Videos)

The recordings of the second cycle of the medieval philosophical gatherings are finally available. Talks by Elena Baltuta (IR), Stephen Ogden (Catholic University of America), Joshua Mendelsohn (Loyola University Chicago), Tommaso Alpina (LMU Munich), and Sebastian Bender (HU Berlin).

Continue reading
Mapping the Journey

The New Semester is Here!

The Winter Semester 2019 has just started. And with it, a fresh new reading group, this time dedicated to exploring Nicholas of Autrecourt’s Universal Treatise (more here). Also the Medieval Gatherings have started again with Elena Baltuta’s talk on Kilwardby’s intentionality of pain (you can watch the video here). The semester couldn’t have started in a better way!

Mapping the Journey, Outreach

Extending Reality

Terrific artistic time with Rosie Reed Gold at Tate Modern! Olafur Eliasson’s exhibition has been the most beautiful, captivating, metaphysical exhibit I have ever seen in my life. It is just unique!

My immense gratitude to Rosie for this splendid experience and her unparalleled artistic guidance! A lot of inspiration for new explorations of precarious ontologies with Rosie and the Extensions Project Group (https://extensionsofreality.com/) – more soon!

Continue reading
Multimedia

Medieval Gatherings I (videos)

The recordings of this semester’s medieval philosophical gatherings are finally available. Talks by Lydia Schumacher (King’s College London), Yael Kedar (Tel Hai College), David Cory (Notre Dame), Thomas Valentin Harb (HU Berlin), Mattia Cipriani (FU Berlin), and Abel Aravena Zamora (Playa Ancha). Enjoy!

Continue reading
Research and Activities

Mattia Cipriani on Thomas of Cantimpré

Shots from the enlightening talk given by Mattia Cipriani on Thomas of Cantimpré’s Liber de Natura Rerum. Almost two hours discussing source and aims, manuscripts and circulation, intricacies and implications of a fascinating author that contributed so much to the history of medieval science. Video available very soon!

Continue reading
Mapping the Journey

Multi-Cultural Borderlands of Toledo

A multiplicity of perspectives on a very special subject – medieval Toledo. The former capital of the Visigoths. One of the most prominent cities in al-Andalus and one of the most relevant reinos de taifa. For centuries, the most important town in Castile.

Organised by Yasmine Beale-Rivaya (Texas State University) and María José Lop Otín (Universidad de Castilla La Mancha), the conference “The Multi-Cultural Borderlands of Medieval Toledo” has been a unique occasion to discuss many aspects related to the uniqueness of medieval Toledo and its borderlands. Borders – political, cultural, and religious borders – that are superseded and rediscovered within a town that was perilous and illuminated, shelter and prison, heavenly and infernal at the same time.

A unique conference for a unique subject, fascinating and intriguing. More info at https://www.worldlang.txstate.edu/toledo/

As always, some photos of the conference and its awesome venue.

Mapping the Journey

AAIWG in Pisa

Amazing conference in Pisa. It was the Spring conference of the AAIWG—but bigger, juicer, and more impressive, if that’s possible. For four days, we have explored the intricacies of the philosophical tradition in its intertwining of languages and problems, shifts and ideas.

So many inputs in such a short time—something unique. I have reencountered many old friends (some for the first time in person after years of emails and Skype-calls) and made many more. New ideas have arisen and I will scrupulously nurture them. And new collaborations have started or are about to start—and you will see their outcomes hopefully soon.

For now, some photos of smart people (and I) having fun in different ways.