Later medieval philosophers would claim that all bodies are compounds of matter and form. Yet, among themselves, their ways of conceiving of the two components tended to differ substantively. The conference “Late Medieval Hylomorphism” aims at disentangling the specificities of a long-lasting debate on hylomorphism, the scope and originality of which is still unknown. While hylomorphic issues in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth century have received some scholarly attention, the later history of Scholastic hylomorphism is still to be explored.
What were the main disputes concerning hylomorphism in the period? What were the main positions? Who were the interesting thinkers defending unusual points of view? These questions unfold at different levels of the ontological examination of substances. For instance, the debate about the modality of existence of prime matter conceived of as either a pure potency or an entity in act had profound impact on the later tradition up to the seventeenth century. In a similar manner, the contentious thirteenth- and fourteenth-century question of whether there is a plurality of substantial forms in any compound is present into the early modern period; but were new positions, arguments, and ideas develop over the course of the centuries? Moreover, an important view in thirteenth-century hylomorphic debates was the so-called theory of “universal hylomorphism”, which seems to disappear from the later debate; but is this in fact the case? A like question can be asked about the Augustinian notion of seminal reasons (rationes seminales).
Additional central questions about the later medieval debate on hylomorphism ask about the ontological distinction between super- and sublunary matters, and the roles played by prime matter and substantial form in the process of substantial change. And underlying all these issues, thinkers had to address the lurking worry that no well-grounded reasoning on matter and form is possible when neither of the hylomorphic constituents can be known.
Our conference aims to bring together scholars working on hylomorphism especially between the early fourteenth and the early seventeenth century. We encourage submissions on any aspect of hylomorphism in the period.
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.
~ Call for Abstracts ~
Hylomorphism into Pieces:
Matter, Atoms, and Corpuscles in the Late Middle Ages
Stockholm and Leuven, 7-8 April 2022
Sylvain Roudaut and Nicola Polloni
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.
The next session of “The Elusive Substrate” is getting closer. This time we will delve into 12th-century theories of matter!
The second meeting of The Elusive Substrate is in one week.
This time we shall engage with the delicacies offered by late antique hylomorphism and its challenging theories of matter.
With the third video of Minima Multimedialia I went back to Gundissalinus. I couldn’t resist. And I owed him.
Hope you like it. The next one will be on Roger Bacon. He deserves more than one video, I guess. But I have no idea when I will have the time to make a new one (TES is coming).
One week to go! The first session of The Elusive Substrate is almost here.
Just remember that if you want to attend, you have to register (just send me an email).
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.
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.
Three very interesting series of meetings are going to take place (remotely, of course) in the near future. The IEM Seminar in Pamplona, the Ibn Daud conference in Madrid, and the Tea Time with Bacon meetings of the RBRS.
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.
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.
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.
Finally, the first copy of my book has arrived!
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).
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.
Here’s the video of the fantastic keynote lecture by Cecilia Trifogli at the workshop “Prime Matter: The Ontological Stakes of Physical Endurance” (HU Berlin, 28 Feb 2020).
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!
Here’s the programme of “Matters Entangled”, the symposium Elena Baltuta and I have organised at HU Berlin. All are welcome to attend! This is going to be memorable…
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!
A couple of photos from the superb talk given by Giouli Korobili on Aristotle and Roger Bacon. Sorry for the lack of video—my fault!Continue reading
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.
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.
I have been invited to give a lecture at the University of Cordoba. Topic: assimilation of Islamicate knowledge by Latin philosophers and scientists.
You can view the video recording of this lecture HERE
Ecco il programma definitivo del convegno internazionale “Da Stagira a Parigi: prospettive aristoteliche tra Antichità e Medioevo”