Potestas Essendi

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

Current Research

The Metaphysics of Grosseteste and Bacon:
Between Philosophy and Science

Postdoctoral Research as Junior Research Fellow (CoFund)
Department of History – Institute of Advanced Studies, Durham University
July 2016-June 2018

220px-Grosseteste_bishopThe research project focuses on the metaphysics of two of the most important figures in western medieval thought, Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253) and Roger Bacon (c.1214-c.1292). Fresh light will be shone on the extent to which both were indebted to two Arabic thinkers, Avicenna (Muslim) and Ibn Gabirol (Jewish). These philosophers were, it will be argued, crucial to how Grosseteste and Bacon problematized the question of being. This question is, for both, an essential element of their scientific thought. How and why their conclusions differed is another important avenue to be explored, especially regarding the question about hylomorphic composition, its extension and cosmological causation, that is to say the conjoining of matter and form to make being, and through extension, body, including the largest body of them all, the universe. The project investigates the complex intellectual transmission from the world of medieval Iberia to the scholars of northern Europe, from Toledo to Paris and Oxford. The modalities through which the Arabic sources enabled Grosseteste and then Bacon to challenge Aristotle more effectively, and more boldly than hitherto possible.

Research Questions:

The influence of Avicenna and Ibn Gabirol on Grosseteste and Bacon will be established through analysis of the ways in which their understanding of ontology (being) develops. This involves three stages:

1) Clarification of the theoretical structure through which Grosseteste and Bacon construe their ontologies, especially with respect to cosmology. The outcome of this analysis will be a comprehensive study of their ontological understanding.

2) Analysis of the sources through which Grosseteste and Bacon developed their metaphysics. This second stage will address two areas:

  1. the influence of the Arabic sources (Avicenna and Ibn Gabirol, and their commentators) on Grosseteste’s and Bacon’s ontological reflections, pointing out how these sources interact with each other, in what speculative context they are used, and the solutions adopted by the authors in order to avoid any theoretical contradiction among them;
  2. the modalities through which these sources are used by Grosseteste and Bacon in relation to Aristotle, that is to say, an analysis of how the medieval authors use the Arabic authorities to refine understanding of Aristotelian theories and assertions.

3) Assessment of the particular influence of Grosseteste’s ontology on Bacon’s metaphysics. Having examined the theoretical impact of Avicenna’s and Ibn Gabirol’s writings on Grosseteste’s and Bacon’s discussions, it will be possible to identify the extent of Bacon’s indebtedness to Grosseteste in this respect.


The methods that will be used in order to pursue this research involve the theoretical examination of the doctrines articulated by the authors and the analysis of the sources they used. This method allows the consistency of Grosseteste’s and Bacon’s thought to be established, as well as their particular interpretation of Arabic source material and the exigencies of their immediate intellectual context.