Nicholas of Cusa and Gundissalinus: A Prelude on Matter

International Conference: East-Western Transmission of Knowledge. An International Colloquium on Methods of Research, International Colloquium Convened by Forschungsstelle Philosophie- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte der griechisch-arabisch-lateinischen Tradition (Universität Würzburg) and Cordoba Near Eastern Research Unit (University of Córdoba), Cordoba, 3 April 2018.

Back from Pamplona

I’ve just come back from a brilliant workshop in Pamplona! After months collaborating together on our project , the members of the research group ‘Hermenéutica patrística y medieval (LOGOS)’ (based at the Instituto de Estudios Medievales of the University of Navarra) finally met! What can I say? It’s been a marvellous day of study led by María Jesús Soto-Bruna: so many interesting talks, new tempting ideas, projects, collaborations… Just brilliant! So many good people there, can’t wait to the next meeting (and go back to Pamplona, hopefully!).

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Fall 2017 – Research Trip to America

Such a long trip (more than three weeks!) would require, perhaps, a long and detailed report. Luckily for you, though, I really don’t have time to do so, and I’ll limit myself to some quick notes on a superb dissemination-and-research trip.

First destination: Boston. My very good friend, Katja Krause, had organised an outstanding workshop at Harvard on a fascinating theme: science and religion. It was my first time in Massachusetts, and it has been such a splendid experience. Boston is incredibly European: so much history, everything is clean-and-polished, public transportation is perfect, no Walmart on sight (with my profound disappointment). It was like not being in America at all! The workshop went marvellously well (and how could have not been so, with such a brilliant host, Katja): different perspectives and approaches (theology, history of science, philosophy) on a delicate matter such as the relation between religion and scientific knowledge from the Late Antiquity to the Early Modernity. From Byzantine alchemy to Galileo’s astronomical observations, passing through the Arabic and Latin traditions, the workshop has been incredibly interesting, opening new lines (and collaborations) to be carefully explored.

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Workshop at Harvard
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Boston

Second destination: Toronto. My first time in Canada, too, my first time participating in a HSS meeting: curiosity, eagerness, anxiety were the traits depicting my mood when the aircraft landed at Pearson. Toronto is just so different from what I was expecting: I thought I would have been landing in a kind of Switzerland of America, with Toronto as a sort of Zurich or Bern. To the contrary, Toronto is like New York, as if they were twin sisters separated at birth and raised in two different, but not far-away, villages. Beauty and contradictions, luxury and poverty, all condensed in one big and freezing city: outstanding aesthetical instantiation of human existence, with tall buildings and British shades all over the place. The History of Science Society meeting was hosted right at the centre of the city centre – nothing more central! – at the Sheraton. Hundreds of historians of science presenting their research, approach, problems, and doubts on that long history of scientific reflection which mostly corresponds to the history of human progress. A fascinating, formative, brilliant experience, which was crowned by our panel on the limits of science (Late Antiquity to Early Modernity). That was the exquisite fruit of such beautiful minds (Steven, Katja, Yehuda, and Vincenzo) filling a ‘medieval gap’ with incredibly interesting contributions. Perhaps, the best academic moment of my trip to America, a trip which was loaded of outstanding academic moments. And yes, I did find time to quickly go to Niagara Falls (there are no words to describe that!).

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At the HSS Meeting in Toronto
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Toronto from the CN Tower

No time to rest, and I was on my way to the third destination of my trip: Dallas. Another first time, here: Texas, the wild land with lots of guns, and its ‘come and take it!’ echoing far away. I was totally ready to see those landscapes I imagined to be filled with oil extraction plants, people with Stetson cowboy hats, and money flowing all over the way… As often happens, though, I soon realised that my expectations were the outcome of unsound mental constructions (let’s just call them prejudices). Coming from Toronto (1 C°) to Dallas (28 C°), the first days were marked by a real and enveloping thermal shock. Moreover, Dallas is a rather peculiar city, very different from New York or Chicago, and far away from European Boston. There is no actual ‘downtown’, or better, for sure there is one, but it is not a real place to walk down (apart from Thanksgiving Square). It reminded me a lot of Indianapolis, which is not a bad place, but is ‘different’. I was very lucky, though, for in Dallas I met with two of my best adventuring companions, my very good friends Therese and David. As a consequence, Texas has been simply and utterly amazing! The ACPA meeting was superb: shifting from the history of science to philosophy (in a very strict sense) has been like coming back home (from a short trip, though), and the ACPA people are so friendly, interesting, and brilliant scholars! I was very happy to participate in the Dallas meeting, and I have to admit that I learnt many things and discovered new valuable approaches. A remarkable experience mingled with jalapeño margaritas, the best barbecue I’ve ever tasted (brisket, what a discovery! If you have the occasion to do so, go to Pecan Lodge in Dallas!), the rodeo in Fort Worth (unbelievable!), corn-and-pineapple-covered-with-paprika lollypops (yes, they exist to demonstrate that Hegel was wrong: what is irrational is real, too!), the G.W.B. Presidential Library, and many other splendid things. But time runs fast, and the final destination of my trip was looming up already. As soon as the meeting was over, Therese, David, and I rent a car to San Antonio, passing through Austin (outstanding museum of Texas there!) while listening to Johnny Cash.

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Dallas
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Rodeo (Fort Worth)

The few days I spent in San Antonio were like a dream. I still happen to think on those days wondering whether they were real or not. San Antonio is such an oneiric, relaxing, awesome place, with its River Walk, the Alamo, the Missions, wildlife for free, and delicious restaurants. I went to Southern Texas to meet with two amazing colleagues from Texas State University, Yasmine and David. Medieval Iberia in Texas! We decided to start collaborating on new projects and, you will see, this is going to be terrific, for impressive things have been planned (no spoilers, though, although I can’t wait for them).

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The Alamo
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At Texas State University

Another walk through downtown San Antonio, and it was time already (?!) to go back to Europe, academically and personally enriched by this magnificent trip, with so many plans and even more things to do. And a beautiful surprise, too: I’ve been awarded a Humboldt Fellowship in Berlin, starting on September 2018!

Roger Bacon @HSS Toronto

Roger Bacon: The Philosopher's Workshop

History of Science Society
2017 Meeting

Toronto, Canada, 9-12 November 2017

Two talks on Roger Bacon:

Elly Truitt (Bryn Mawr College), “Roger Bacon’s Speculative Technologies”. Panel: Thinking with Preindustrial Machines, 13.30, Friday, 10 November 2017.

Nicola Polloni (Durham University), “Sciences of Matter? Knowledge of the Material Substrate in the Two Bacons”. Panel: Pre-Modern Experiences and the Limits of Science, 9.00, Saturday, 11 November 2017.

https://hssonline.org/meetings/2017-hss-annual-meeting/

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SMRP Sponsored Session at the ACPA

SMRP

SMRP sponsored session at the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Friday, November 17, 2017, 10a.m.-12 noon

The Westin Dallas Downtown

Causation and Science in Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

Organizer & Chair: Gloria Frost, University of St. Thomas, MN

Speaker 1: David Cory, The Catholic University of America; Notre Dame

“Is Digestion Fully Material? Aquinas on Matter and the Vegetal Soul”

Speaker 2: Zita Toth, Conception Seminary College, MO

“Durand of St.-Pourçain on Causal Interactions after the Day of Judgment”

Speaker 3:Nicola Polloni, Durham University

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

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

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 07.57.14Just a few more days… On June 5th-6th, Katja and I will be hosting the awesome conference on ‘medieval experience’ in Durham. If you cannot come to Durham, but you really would like to participate in the conference, no worries: we have prepared a dedicated Facebook page and the entire conference will be streamed live there! New technological means for a conference that we are confident will add precious contributions to the ongoing scholarly debate on the concept of experience in the Middle Ages.

Here’s the link to the FB page

…and here’s the programme!

 

New Book!

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My new book on Gundissalinus, Domingo Gundisalvo. Una introducción (Editorial Sindéresis, Madrid 2017) has appeared! Even though we should wait another couple of weeks to see it into shelves of Spanish and South-American libraries (but also on Amazon!), you can have a first flavour of it downloading my preface HERE.

Translating Experience

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What is the role of experience in medieval encounters with nature, self, and God? The Aristotelian sciences, such as astronomy and meteorology, zoology and botany, as well as other medieval disciplines such as medicine, alchemy, and magic drew on experience in different ways and to different degrees. Their applications range from singular references to experience in different arguments to collected works of experience, such as the medical literary genre of the Experimenta that focuses on medical remedies. Yet the same concepts—tajriba, nissayon, experientia / experimentum—are also used in the encounter with the self; more specifically in the realms of epistemological inquiry, internal reflection on experience of the natural world, or the question of conscience. A third prominent area where experience plays a central role in medieval discourses is encounters with the divine through rapture, prophecy, the practice of magic and necromancy—discourses in which the concept of experience finds its very limits.

Despite their diversity of applications, all three encounters of experience with nature, self, and God seem to share a twofold approach: on the one hand, ‘experience’ is discussed as a noetic object to reflect upon epistemological and psychological questions; on the other hand, ‘experience’ is used as noetic tool to increase, correct, and corroborate the knowledge acquired in the different disciplines. What seems to underlie all encounters with experience and approaches to it, however, are questions of ‘translation’ on the three levels of the conceptual, the linguistic, and the material—translations that cross not only cultural and religious boundaries, but also from the real world to that of parchment.

The aim of our first conference on the vast topic of experience in the medieval world is to explore some fundamental basics in order to begin to conceive of medieval experience in a more nuanced fashion. Among the questions we would like to explore are those concerning three different perspectives:

(1) Experience as a tool of knowledge: How did medieval thinkers draw on experience in these three different encounters of nature, self, and God? Does experience assume different roles and functions within the different disciplines?

(2) Experience as an object of knowledge: Was experience conceived of differently in the two realms of the empirical and the non-empirical? Or was experience thought to involve some common core—a core concept that could be ‘translated’ from one encounter to another and from one realm to another?

(3) The aspect of ‘translating’ experience: How did medieval thinkers negotiate linguistic translations of experience from one scholarly language to another (Arabic, Latin, and Hebrew)? To what extent did these linguistic translations involve trans-cultural and trans-religious translations of experience in theory and practice? How and why did medieval thinkers translate experience from technical and difficult language to a simpler and easy-to-understand language? And last but not least, how did material translations—the very activity of writing experienced events onto parchment—affect the medieval understandings and applications of experience found in their texts?

The conference is sponsored by the Department of History and the Department of Theology of Durham University, the Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS), with the support of the Society for Medieval Philosophy (SOFIME) and the Italian Society for the Study of Medieval Philosophy (SISPM).

Conference Website

Theoretical Enthusiasm and Doctrinal Condemnation: 1181-1215

The fifth and final video-lecture of the research seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215) is online [GO to the seminar webpage]. The seminar is organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group (AAIWG).

The previous lectures have examined one of the first and most exemplar cases of Latin assimilation of Arabic philosophy, i.e., Dominicus Gundissalinus’s reflection. The final lecture of the research seminar is centred on the decades between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century, examining how the Arabic writings translated in Toledo were received, criticised, and assimilated by the Latin thinkers. The first writings to be analysed are the two anonymous treatises De causis primis et secundis and De peregrinationibus animae apud inferos (or ‘Anonymous D’Alverny’), together with Daniel of Morley’s Philosophia. In these works one can clearly see two different ‘patterns’ for the reception of the Arabic writings, different perspectives that share some interesting theoretical points. A rather different approach characterises the following generation of thinkers dealing with these texts. The lecture takes into account some exemplar cases of this attitudes (Alexander Neckam, John Blund, Robert Grosseteste). Finally, the focus is centred on Paris, and the condemnation of Aristotle’s natural philosophy and its commentators in 1210/15.

Thematic articulation of the lecture

  • The Peregrinations of the Soul in the Afterlife
  • De causis primis et secundis et de fluxu qui consequitur eas
  • Daniel of Morley
  • Contrasting Developments
  • Condemnation and Resurgence
  • Conclusive Remarks

Attempting an ‘Epistemological Revolution’

The fourth video-lecture of the research seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215) is online [GO to the seminar webpage]. The seminar, organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group (AAIWG) is composed of five video-lectures that will be uploaded on the dedicated Youtube channel during the next weeks.

This lecture examines the epistemological reflection by Dominicus Gundissalinus exposed in his De divisione philosophiae. After a brief analysis of the problems arising from the consideration of Gundissalinus’s De scientiis as an original work, the focus of this lecture is centred on the examination of Gundissalinus’s perspective in his treatise On the Divisions of Philosophy, paying particular attention to his prologue, where the Toledan philosopher presents his articulation of knowledge, and to the so-called Summa Avicennae de convenientia et differentia scientiarum praedictarum, a section in which Gundissalinus expounds the principles through which the division he proposes is pursued. The final part of the lecture is then focused on the analysis of two exemplar cases of sciences and disciplines presented by the De divisione philosophiae: natural philosophy and metaphysics.

Thematic articulation of the lecture

  • Gundissalinus’s De scientiis
  • Toward a New Articulation of Knowledge
  • The Doctrine of Subalternation
  • Natural Philosophy
  • Metaphysics
  • Final Remarks