Potestas Essendi

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

Upcoming Talks

Upcoming Talks

November 2017 – Talk: Sciences of Matter? Knowledge of the Material Substrate in the two Bacons, 2017 Meeting of the History of Science Society, Toronto (ON), 9-12 November 2017.

Separated by more than three centuries, the figures of Roger Bacon (ca. 1220 – ca. 1292) and Francis Bacon (1561 – 1626) are exemplar cases of the problematic relation between philosophy and science. Both attempted to revolutionize the scientific method of their day by criticizing causes of error, albeit under opposite circumstances. On the one hand, Roger attacked the ‘scholastic method’ as entangled in the passive use of philosophical authorities rather than in knowledge- making based on experience. On the other, Francis elaborated a new speculative method which, in his eyes, could supersede the Aristotelian tradition grounded on late scholasticism, which included Roger’s views. Both thinkers thus studied physics with their peculiar interest, yet both had to also address the problem of matter as the irreducible root of physical reality. Roger lamented the lack of a detailed discussion on matter in the Aristotelian corpus, whereas Francis stressed the excesses of the Aristotelian approach to physics in answering the question of the knowability of matter, that is, if matter in itself—rather than what is material—can be known. My paper will focus on this fundamental aspect of the history of a “science of matter” in the Middle Ages and in the Early Modern Period. In particular, I will show how and why the birth of the “science of matter” would require the definitive sacrifice of the philosophical notion of matter proper to the Aristotelian tradition, and replace it with a quantitative (and thus mathematizable) concept of matter.

November 2017 – Talk: Accordance and Strife: Encounters with Modernity at the Beginning of the Thirteenth Century, 2017 Conference of the American Catholic Philosophical Association Philosophy, Faith and Modernity, Dallas (TX), 16-19 November 2017.

The twelfth-century Arabic-into-Latin translation movement is a crucial moment for the history of medieval thought. In just a few decades, hundreds of new scientific and philosophical texts would be available to the Latin scholars, profoundly re-shaping the very bases on which speculation was built. In the words of the translators, their effort was aimed at renovating a debate still based on limited sources and a sterile approach. But this ‘modernization’ of science and philosophy would also shake the very foundation of the traditional relation between religion and philosophy. New or renewed sciences, such as alchemy and astrology, spread throughout Europe, together with philosophical authors (Aristotle, Avicenna, Ibn Gabirol, and later, Averroes) whose perspectives on natural philosophy and metaphysics seemed to put the ‘old’ conception of philosophy and theology at stake. My paper will focus on the arrival of these texts in France and England at the very beginning of the thirteenth century, examining some exemplar cases (such as John Blund, William of Auvergne, Robert Grosseteste) of attitudes toward the ‘new’ sources, up to the condemnation of Aristotle’s libri naturales in 1210 and 1215. In particular, I will stress the peculiarities of the encounter these thinkers had with their modernity, and the different strategies they enacted to deal with the novelties of ‘the Arabs’.


March 2018 – Talk: A Matter of Possibility: Nicolaus Cusanus, Gundissalinus, and Thierry of Chartres on the Material Substrate, 2018 Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans (LA), 22-24 March 2018.

My paper will analyse Nicholas of Cusa’s discussion of the material substrate and the influence he seems to receive from two quite peculiar twelfth-century sources: Thierry of Chartres and Dominicus Gundissalinus. In particular, I will address two main questions on matter. On the one hand, the problems arising from the consideration of coming-to-be of the substrate in the doctrinal framework offered by the creative relation between God and Universe. On the other hand, I will focus on the conceptual bond linking matter to possibility, and the non-Aristotelian positions on the substrate held by the three authors: positions substantially different, but bound together by a certain degree of continuity in both questions and answers concerning the fundamental physical and metaphysical role played by matter.  


Past Talks

Lectures & Talks: 2017 

Lectures & Talks: 2016  

Lectures & Talks: 2012-2015