Research, Produce, Circulate

Materia, 气/Qì, and Their Epistemes

Just one month to go: on 10-11 December 2021 the first Leuven-Beijing workshop in the history of premodern philosophy of nature will take place remotely (on Zoom)! The focus will be on theories of the material substrate on both European and Chinese premodern traditions. It is going to be a memorable experience! Organising this workshop with Shixiang Jin has been a feast of intellectual pleasure and as we are getting closer to the event, I felt inspired and made a short teaser.

Anyone interested in joining the workshop should send me an email: as always, it is free and open to anyone! It is going to be quite a speculative adventure exploring daring philosophical pathways and speculative problems that marked aspects of both traditions.

Research, Produce, Circulate

Hylomorphism into Pieces (CFA)

HYLOMORPHISM INTO PIECES: MATTER, ATOMS AND CORPUSCLES IN THE LATE MIDDLE AGES

Stockholm and Leuven, 7-8 April 2022

Organisers:
Sylvain Roudaut and Nicola Polloni

CALL FOR ABSTRACTS

Hylomorphism, the doctrine claiming that physical bodies are metaphysically composed of matter and form, was among the most successful, widespread, and influential theories in the later Middle Ages. Yet hylomorphism had its fair share of problems, which gradually arose during the later Middle Ages. In the 17th century, it became common to claim that the principles of matter and form are unnecessary to explain natural processes and the structure of beings. Like many conceptual shifts in the history of philosophy, detachment from the Aristotelian framework was in many respects the final result of a gradual evolution in the way in which matter and form were conceived and applied as speculative devices.

Important aspects of the strong oppositions to hylomorphism in 17th-century philosophy have been object of recent studies. Nonetheless, the story of how this doctrine and its associated concepts proper to Aristotelianism gradually declined in the late Middle Ages still has to be properly assessed, especially in consideration of the fundamental theoretical developments of the 15th and 16th centuries. Organised by Sylvain Roudaut (Stockholm) and Nicola Polloni (Leuven), the conference “Hylomorphism into Pieces: Elements, Atoms and Corpuscles in the Late Middle Ages” aims to fill this gap by studying the major steps of this story from the late 14th century to the late 16th century.

The rejection of hylomorphism as explanatory device for the constitution of natural bodies was drastically facilitated by the influence of competing justifications of the internal structure of bodies. The rediscovery of Lucretius’ De natura rerum in the early 15th century, together with new translations of other materials from Antiquity, generated new ideas about the structure of bodies and the type of explanation required for natural processes. But how were those new theories of matter received and integrated into the still dominant Aristotelian vocabulary of the time in the first place? To what extent did philosophers of the 15th and 16th centuries—including scholastic thinkers—try to reconcile hylomorphism and these new theories of matter?

Another crucial point of discussion is the theme of minima naturalia, which was originally discussed within the scholastic framework and in connection with problems proper to Aristotelian natural philosophy (such as the problems of spatial and temporal limits). But is it legitimate to regard late medieval theories of minima naturalia as corpuscularist or pre-corpuscularist conceptions of matter? To what extent did those theories pave the way for more radical corpuscularist conceptions of nature?

Finally, in Aristotelian natural philosophy, hylomorphism was accompanied by another theory of composition, taking bodies as elemental mixtures—those two types of composition being notoriously hard to reconcile. In what way did atomism affect the relation between those theories and benefitted the bottom-up approach typical of elemental composition? Similar questions can be asked about the notions of act and potency, which were increasingly detached from Aristotelian hylomorphism due to the development of corpuscularist accounts of motion.

With a hybrid format, Hylomorphism into Pieces will take place on 7-8 April 2022 in both Stockholm and Leuven, as well as in anyone’s laptop via Zoom. Interested participants should send their proposal (short abstract and title) to Sylvain Roudaut (sylvain.roudaut[at]hotmail.com) and Nicola Polloni (nicola.polloni[at]kuleuven.be) by 30 October 2021. Acceptance of the proposals will be announced by 15 November 2021. Please, contact the organisers for any query you might have.

Research, Produce, Circulate

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.

Milestones, Research, Produce, Circulate

The Elusive Substrate

It took more than a year to organise. And it will take more than one year to be completed. It starts with Julius Cesar and ends with Yongzheng, more than eight thousand kilometres away and seventeen centuries later. And it is all about matter!!

Here’s the poster of The Elusive Substrate: Prime Matter and Hylomorphism from Ancient Rome to Early Qing China. It’s going to be quite a journey, historically and philosophically.

Research, Produce, Circulate

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.

Research, Produce, Circulate

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, Produce, Circulate

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.

Research, Produce, Circulate

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.

Matter Reading Group
The reading group “Matter and Nature: Robert Boyle and the Criticism of Aristotle” will take place regularly from 24 April 2020, yet we will meet on Skype rather than in person. This can be a great occasion to extend the reading group to many other interested people. In case anyone wants to join the party, just drop me a line.

Prime Matter Workshop II
The second Berlin workshop on matter (“Prime Matter: The Metaphysical Foundation of Reality”) was supposed to take place at HU Berlin on 14 May 2020. Unfortunately, I had to cancel that date and I am currently looking for a suitable date in late July 2020. HU Berlin has recently cancelled all meetings and events until 20 July 2020, so it is not an easy task.
HU measures against COVID-19 can be consulted at this link.

Neil Lewis Seminar on Richard Rufus
Neil Lewis (Georgetown) was supposed to come to Berlin and give a splendid seminar on Rufus’s theory of prime matter on 26 May 2020. Considering the current situation, we are considering other options online.

Medieval Philosophical Gatherings
I had in mind a fantastic series of talks for the upcoming semester but, with almost no flights over Europe, going ahead with the organisation of the Medieval Philosophical Gathering would have been just an exercise of wishful thinking. I have therefore cancelled the series of lecture for the Summer Semester 2020. A few scholars will give lectures during the reading group (that is, via Skype).

Book Presentations
Also the book presentations that were planned for the semester – starting with Nikolaus Egel’s new edition of Bacon’s Opus tertium – are cancelled. This is a shame, also because I wanted to discuss my own new book! But there will be time in the near future, once the storm has passed.

Launch of the Roger Bacon Research Society
Much effort and weeks of planning did not save the launch of the recently founded Roger Bacon Research Society. The meeting was supposed to take place at the Warburg Institute in London on 29 May 2020, hosting the first RBRS Annual Lecture by Jeremiah Hackett. We will reschedule the meeting later in the Summer or Autumn 2020.

I know, a lot of changes: the next months are not going to be easy. Yet we must do our best to keep healthy and strong, both physically and mentally. It must not be a moment of despair. As an Italian living abroad, I am myself very concerned especially for my family and friends living under lockdown in Italy. Unfortunately, it is very likely that similar measures will be taken also in other countries in Europe and elsewhere. Considering all this, a change of plans is nothing but a trifle.

Nonetheless, this does not exempt us from trying to soften the rigidity of the situation, if we can do so. For this reason, I am thinking about possible virtual activities (i.e., on Skype or YouTube) that can help breaking the solitude and boredom of home quarantine, especially if the situation were to further deteriorate. I invite all my colleagues to do the same. Let’s find ways to stay together even if we cannot do so physically. Let’s try to convert this moment of concern and limitations into a moment of shared discussions and human closeness, as much as we can.

Mapping the Journey, Research, Produce, Circulate

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!

Research, Produce, Circulate

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
Research, Produce, Circulate

Structuring Nature: Our Summer School in Berlin

The programme of our Summer School is ready! Readings and lecturers are also ready. And a lot of students have applied from Europe, North America, and Asia. Just a few more days and everything will start (can’t wait!).

Questions concerning the structure of nature, and the structure of our knowledge of the natural world have long occupied philosophers and scientists working in the Western tradition, up until the present day. Especially in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, Greek, Arabic, and Latin writers have developed a variety of approaches to construct ordered, rule-based frameworks to divide and study nature in all of its complexity.

As a result of enduring interest and continual developments, in both theoretical and practical knowledge of nature, various thinkers from these traditions have introduced novel criticisms to these systems, and others have shown through experiment and observation that long-standing preconceptions about the natural world, and our knowledge of it, do not stand up to scrutiny.

Over the course of one week, this interdisciplinary summer school will provide a conspectus of some of the many historical and modern problems associated with any attempt to formalise boundaries between minerals and other inert substances, plants, animals, and humans. It will also consider how some thinkers pushed the epistemological limits of natural science, attempting to fit new abstract theories and mathematical approaches to the study of the natural world.

“Structuring Nature” brings together a wide range of experts from ancient and medieval philosophy, classical philology, and the history of science, whose research addresses these problems in a number of language traditions, across a wide historical range. These experts will introduce students to the foundational thematic and methodological reflections on the structures of nature from antiquity to early-modern philosophy and science.

By bringing together historians of the scientific and philosophical traditions that have developed on the shores of the Mediterranean Basin, the summer school will provide the students with a unique opportunity to appreciate the historical contingencies of approaches, methods, and perspectives in the human attempts at understanding the structure of nature. In the closing discussions of each day, students will have the opportunity to critically reflect on ways of combining different methods and approaches that may eventually overcome current fragmentations and departmentalisations in the academy.

As of July 28, the summer school will be hosted in Berlin, where the students will benefit from direct access to scholars at the three organising institutions, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte.

The Summer School program will officially start two weeks earlier, on Monday, 15 July 2019. At this time, articles and other relevant materials will be circulated to provide the students with the background necessary to take an active part in the activities of the summer school. A final assessment of the students’ progress will be given to their presentations on Friday, 2 August 2019, as well as to their active attendance in all activities offered by the School.

Mapping the Journey, Research, Produce, Circulate

Vedere nell’ombra

Il primo di giugno abbiamo presentato presso la SISMEL di Firenze il volume Vedere nell’ombra. Studi su natura, spiritualità e scienze operative offerti a Michela Pereira. Dopo mesi di pianificazione, siamo riusciti a mantenere il ‘segreto’ e fare una bella sorpresa a Michela, che non si aspettava nulla. Una festa con amici e colleghi e un gran momento per ritrovarsi insieme e festeggiare una persona che ha dato così tanto a tutti noi.

A seguire, alcuni scatti presi durante il pomeriggio fiorentino.