Potestas Essendi

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

Past Talks: 2017


January 2017 – Talk: Contrasting Perspectives: The Latins, the Arabs, and the Rise of a New Approach to Philosophy, International Colloquium Filosofia Medieval: em curso e em toda a extensão, Universidade de Oporto, Porto (PT), 12-13 January 2017.

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-09-03-13The translation movement from Arabic into Latin had long-lasting effects on Medieval speculation, allowing the Latin philosophers to deal with new doctrines, problems, and approaches thanks to the translated works by Aristotle, Avicenna or Averroes. While the acceptance and criticism of many of these theories will be fully achieved in the second half of the thirteenth century, the first phase of assimilation of the ‘new’ doctrines is marked by an enthusiastic and, perhaps, ingenuous approach. In my talk, I will analyse some examples of this Latin appropriations of ‘Arabic’ philosophy, dealing with some intriguing authors between the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century (Gundissalinus, Daniel of Morley, Alexander Neckam, and Robert Grosseteste).

January 2017 – Public Lecture: La ciencia de ‘los otros’. Peculiares asimilaciones de teorías árabes por la tradición filosófica latina (1150-1210), Universidad de Córdoba, Cordoba (Spain), 26 January 2017.

16178727_1826910720909142_3108695540884087591_oUno de los topoi más típicos de la percepción común de la Edad Media por los no especialistas es el reconocimiento de un choque de civilizaciones entre los musulmanes y los cristianos. Este topos, arraigado en eventos históricos muy peculiares como la reconquista en la península ibérica o las cruzadas en el Oriente Medio, se ha vuelto en uno de los pilares de la retórica política de hoy en día. Como bien sabéis, durante los mil años que componen la Edad Media, la historia de las relaciones entre cristianos, musulmanes y judíos muestra características y peculiaridades muy diferentes de esta idea común. Es una historia compleja de encuentros y enfrentamientos, curiosidad y aversión, colaboración y aislamiento. Y todavía, desde una perspectiva cultural y filosófica, se trata de la historia de una fusión continúa entre horizontes diferentes y a menudo opuestos, marcada por la influencia continuativa de la filosofía griega en las tres tradiciones filosóficas abrahámicas y de cada una de estas tres – o mejor dicho, cuatro, considerando la reflexión bizantina como algo diferente de la latina – en las otras, con diferentes grados de aceptación, problematización y repulsión. Córdoba, la ciudad de Averroes y Abraham ibn Daud. Estamos en uno de los lugares más simbólicos de este largo proceso que ha marcado indisolublemente la construcción y el desarrollo de la filosofía occidental, y hoy os presentaré algunos aspectos del aproche de los primeros filósofos latinos a interesarse en la reflexión filosófica y científica en lengua árabe. Sin pretensión alguna de exhaustividad, analizaremos algunos ejemplos de tres características de este primer aproximacioón a la cultura árabe entre la segunda mitad del siglo doce y el comienzo del siglo trece: el sincretismo teológico, la consideración de los árabes respeto a los griegos, y el sentimiento de inferioridad cultural de los latinos hacia su propia producción científica y filosófica.

January 2017 – Lecture: The Toledan Translation Movement, first lecture of the Research Seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215), organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group, 20 January 2017. Permalink

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This lecture is centred on the rise and development of the Arabic-into-Latin translation movement in Toledo in the second half of the twelfth century. A short presentation of the cultural landscape of the twelfth-century philosophical debate offers the context on which and from which the first translations were realised with the aim of providing new scientific and philosophical texts to the Latin scholars. Mirroring the rising Greek-into-Arabic translations that were taking place between Southern Italy and the Byzantine territories, a first generation of translators spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula (and beyond), making available to the Latin audience a wide number of scientific writings. A fact directly related to the developments of the political situation after the taking of Toledo (1085) and the Almoravid dominion in Al-Andalus. The passage to the second generation of Arabic-into-Latin translators is marked, too, by the socio-political situation of the Iberian Peninsula. In the second half of the century, the main centre of the translating activity is Toledo, and the lecture considers the different factors that made possible the establishment of the translation movement in that town. Finally, the biographies and contributions of the three most important Toledan translators – Gerard of Cremona, Dominicus Gundissalinus, and Michael Scot – are briefly presented and discussed, pointing out the pivotal role they played in the ‘philosophical revolution’ that was going to take place in Latin Europe thanks to the ‘new’ works translated into Latin.

February 2017 – Lecture: Dominicus Gundissalinus: Metaphysics and Cosmology, second lecture of the Research Seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215), organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group, 3 February 2017. Permalink

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 07.30.57.pngThis lecture examines the metaphysical and cosmological reflection by Dominicus Gundissalinus (1125ca.-1190ca.), translator from Arabic into Latin and original philosopher active in Toledo in the second half of the twelfth century. After a short exposition of the contents and theoretical developments of Gundissalinus’s two cosmological writings – De unitate et uno and De processione mundi – the focus is centred on the peculiarities of Gundissalinus’s interpretation of the Arabic sources he used, and particularly Avicenna and Ibn Gabirol, and Gundissalinus’s attempt at assimilating their metaphysical doctrines into the Latin philosophical tradition. Particular attention is also paid to the progressive problematization of Ibn Gabirol’s ontology (namely, universal hylomorphism) by Gundissalinus. This problematization is accompanied and led by Gundissalinus’s progressive acceptance of the ontology proposed by Avicenna in Liber de philosophia prima, I, marking a theoretical shift between De unitate et uno and De processione mundi, the latter being possibly Gundissalinus’s last treatise to be written.

March 2017 – Lecture: Gundissalinus’s Psychological Reflection, third lecture of the Research Seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215), organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group, 3 March 2017. Permalink

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Following the examination of the main metaphysical problems with which Gundissalinus dealt in his cosmological works (see AAIWG/RE-2), the third lecture of the research seminar is dedicated to the analysis of Gundissalinus’s discussion of psychology. The lecture exposes the main features presented by Gundissalinus in his De anima, and the peculiarities on the use of his Arabic and Latin sources (from Avicenna to Augustine, and vice versa), regarding the four main themes discussed in Gundissalinus’s writing: the existence of the soul, its ontological composition, its origin and immortality, and the psychological faculties.

March 2017 – Talk: Effectus, affectus, and defectus: Causality and Causation of the Substrate, Conference Aspectus and Affectus: Robert Grosseteste, Understanding and Feeling, Georgetown University, Washington D.C., 30 March-1 April 2017.

BGeorgetown Poster.jpgased on the same Latin verb facio, the terms ‘affectus’, ‘effectus’, and ‘defectus’ are widely used by the Latin philosophers in reference to different disciplines and peculiar problems of the reflection on, among others, being, soul, and knowledge. By a metaphysical viewpoint, these concepts are bound to each other as they describe three ontological situations reciprocally connected as different aspects of a causal event. From that event, something (a.) is caused following the casual footprints of the event (effectus); (b.) it receives (and, in some case, provides) an accidental or substantial disposition (affectus), which is characterised by (c.) its lack of different characteristics or further improvement of those characteristics that the thing already has from the causal event (defectus). Often developed through slightly different vocabularies and theoretical contexts, the doctrinal genesis of this causal dynamic is connected to Aristotle’s thematization of physics and metaphysics, and its interpretations by the Muslim and Jewish philosophical traditions. Finally available to the Latin philosophers since the end of the twelfth century, these pivotal sources will reshape the medieval debate on physics and metaphysics up to the Early-Modern Period. In my talk I will examine a border-line case of this metaphysical dynamic: the substrate of corporeal bodies, matter, and its role in the constitution of the hylomorphic compound. Specifically, I will focus on the problematic position of matter as a per se ontological defectus (i.e., complete lack of actuality) which affects and effects the caused being, examining the opposed approaches to this problem offered by Ibn Gabirol and Avicenna, and their Latin developments.

 April 2017 – Lecture: Attempting an ‘Epistemological Revolution’: Gundissalinus’s De divisione philosophiae, fourth lecture of the Research Seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215), organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group, 7 April 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 07.31.24.pngThis 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 three exemplar cases of sciences and disciplines presented by the De divisione philosophiae: natural philosophy, metaphysics, and optics.

April 2017 – Lecture: Theoretical Enthusiasm and Doctrinal Condemnation: 1181-1215, fifth and last lecture of the Research Seminar The Penetration of Arabic Philosophy into the Latin Philosophical Tradition (1162-1215), organised by the Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’ International Working Group, 21 April 2017

Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 10.08.32The 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.

May 2017 – Talk: I numeri della natura: testimonianze numerologiche della completezza del creato in Gundisalvi e Grossatesta. Conference Rappresentazioni della natura nel Medioevo, SISPM/CIRFIM, Università di Padova, Padova (IT), 24-27 May 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-02-08 at 19.21.42.pngIl nesso tra numeri e ordine naturale, variamente trattato dalle fonti tardoantiche della speculazione medievale (Agostino, Macrobio e Marziano Capella in particolare), trova nel dodicesimo secolo una nuova portata teoretica legata alla pervasiva tematizzazione del concetto di natura. Il caso più emblematico a riguardo è sicuramente la riflessione di Teodorico di Chartres, che lega la tematica numerologica alla costituzione stessa dell’essere creaturale. Lo sviluppo di questo tema nella riflessione di Domenico Gundisalvi e Roberto Grossatesta costituisce l’oggetto del presente contributo. Per entrambi questi autori, la matematica costituisce uno strumento indispensabile per la comprensione della realtà. In Gundisalvi, probabile autore del Liber mahameleth, lo studio dei numeri ha una validità primariamente pratica che però risulta di grande rilevanza per la dimostrazione della completezza della creazione, come richiesto dal programma metafisico proposto nel De divisione philosophiae. In Grossatesta, la matematica, accompagnata dalla geometria, ha un valore cruciale e fondativo per lo studio della realtà fisica, in particolare negli scritti successivi al 1225 e alla piena formulazione della sua teoria della luce. Tanto il De processione mundi di Gundisalvi (ed. Bülow, pp. 55,6-56,12) quanto il De luce di Grossatesta (ed. Panti, pp. 84,205-85,232) si concludono con una scansione numerologica della costituzione e della natura del creato. Il mio contributo si focalizzerà sull’esame di questi due brani, evidenziandone la portata dottrinale ed esaminando le relazioni genetico-dottrinali tra i due testi, al fine di comprendere come l’applicazione della numerologia al problema della composizione fisica trovi un coerente sviluppo dalla tematizzazione chartreana a quella oxoniense della prima metà del tredicesimo secolo, passando per Toledo.

June 2017 – Talk, ‘Indeed, the soul has not been made by the first Maker’: Creation, Imitation, and Matter. Conference: Creation and Artifice, The Warburg Institute, London (UK), 1-2 June 2017.

Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 13.38.43Gundissalinus’s radical interpretation of Ibn Gabirol’s account of matter as presented in his Fons vitae has pivotal implications for the Archdeacon’s cosmogonic theory. Gundissalinus considers God’s creative action to be limited to the creation and first composition of matter and form generally speaking (De processione mundi). As a consequence, the causative and institutive process of the temporal world in itself and in its parts has to be based upon the causality of a secondary cause. In Gundissalinus’ eyes, this secondary cause does not create (for creation is always ex nihilo), but rather moulds matter through a series of secundariae compositiones which imitate God’s ontogonic causality in ‘creating’ new bodies and souls every day (De anima, De processione mundi). In my talk, I will examine Gundissalinus’s peculiar interpretation of creation from matter on the basis of his sources (starting with Ibn Gabirol and Ibn Daud), and I will draw a first sketch of the dissemination and the influence of his positions on thirteenth-century debates concerning matter and universal hylomorphism.