Looking into the Unknowable: Premodern Conundrums of Prime Matter

The Ordered Universe Project is delighted to announce that long-time friend of the project Dr Nicola Polloni will be in Durham on Tuesday 5 March 2019 to give a lecture about one of his research interests: the notion of prime matter, especially in consideration of Premodern discussions of matter-theories in philosophy and science c. 1200-1700. See below for more details.

2019 03 Nicola Polloni web


Dr Polloni will present his lecture entitled ‘Looking into the Unknowable: Premodern Conundrums of Prime Matter’ in Durham University’s Department of History in Room SR1 on Tuesday 5th March at 12pm. Dr Polloni is an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow in the Institut für Philosophie at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. The lecture is free to attend and all are welcome.

In his own words, Dr Polloni describes his research interests in the following way:

My main research interest is the notion of prime matter, especially in consideration of Premodern discussions of matter-theories in philosophy and science (1200-1700). Following Aristotle, Premodern metaphysicians postulated the existence of an unqualified prime matter whose traits are non-resolvable into the qualifications of a “materiality” that natural philosophy and science usually ascribe to material things (i.e., things made of matter). The discrepancy between the concepts of matter and materiality (their theoretical surplus on metaphysical and physical considerations of substance) is a meaningful thread which led to key-adjustments and a later abandonment of matter-theories based on Aristotle in the Early-Modern Period. My hypothesis is that central epistemological reasons were behind this detachment from prime matter. Premodern thinkers adopted diverse strategies to root the conditions of knowability and intelligibility of prime matter on a solid ground. My current analysis displays the relevance these thinkers bestowed upon the task of establishing an epistemic ground for prime matter, a lack of which would have weakened the whole edifice of Aristotle’s natural philosophy—as it did eventually.

Another strand of my research is the examination of how texts, doctrines, and instruments circulated in Premodern times throughout the Mediterranean Basin and beyond the limits of socio-cultural niches. I have worked for years on the history of cultural and scientific cross-pollination in Medieval Iberia, with special attention paid to the “Toledan ontologies” related Dominicus Gundissalinus (twelfth century)—Avicenna, Ibn Gabirol, al-Ghazali, Ibn Daud. My research focuses on the effects the dissemination of these theories throughout Premodern Europe has had, particularly concerning the English tradition (Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon). Indeed, in my opinion the influence of Islamicate texts and practices on the Latin reshaping of Aristotelian natural philosophy is essential to understand the processes that led to the seventeenth-century shift.

If you would like to download a copy of the poster then a pdf is available by clicking here.

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