From natural history to science: the emergence of experimental philosophy


Director of project:
Dana Jalobeanu

Team Members:
Mihnea Dobre
Sebastian Mateiescu
Oana Matei
Doina-Cristina Rusu
Claudia Dumitru

Associate Members:
Bogdan Deznan
Sandra Dragomir
Iovan Drehe
Laura Georgescu
Madalina Giurgea
Ioana Magureanu


Description of the project

PCE grant awarded by the CNCS, 2012-2015 ( PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0719; contract no. 294/ 2011)

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This is a 3-years research grant awarded by the Romanian national agency for scientific research (CNCS) to a team of 7 researchers and students coordinated by Dana Jalobeanu at CELFIS (Center for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest) for a project aiming to explore the ways in which observation and experiment featured in various forms of natural history of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, in view of reassessing the role and function played by natural historical explorations (ranging from cosmography to medical natural histories and from diverse collections of ‘individuals’ to topical investigations of natural phenomena) in the development of experimental philosophy and ultimately of the early modern science.

The project aims, on the one hand, to disentangle the discussion on the nature and function of early modern experimentation from its age-long association with questions of testimony, credibility and evidence. Without questioning the role of experimentation in the assessment of scientific theories, we intend to show on particular cases that experiments have played an equally essential role in the context of (scientific) discovery: as problem-solving devices, tools for triggering creative analogies or devices for generating or ordering works of natural history.

On the other hand, our purpose is to reconstruct a series of particular case studies and discuss them comparatively in order to show how rich and how relatively unexplored is the field of what has been labeled as ‘natural history.’ We also aim to extend the field and the label ‘natural history’ into relatively unexplored writings that defy disciplinary boundaries. Works classified as cosmographies, geographies, travel literature, medical literature, spiritual medicine etc. will be the subject of our investigation, in so far that they can be shown to contain interesting and sophisticated observations and ingenious experiments. Last but not least we aim to trace the ways in which some of these observations and experiments ‘migrated’ from works of natural history into treatises of natural (and experimental) philosophy or ‘early modern science.’

Scientific report (2014)

Scientific report

From natural history to science: the emergence of experimental philosophy


Director of project: Dana Jalobeanu


The main result of 2014 is that we have placed our project on the map of European research in early modern scientific experimentation. We have established scientific connections with other research teams working on Francis Bacon’s natural histories in Oxford, Paris, Lyon and Berlin. During 2014 the members of the project published 8 papers (of which 1 ISI, 5 BDI and 2 chapters). 7 papers were accepted for publication (1 ISI, 1 BDI and 5 chapters). 2 papers are still under review (both ISI). In addition we have 1 forthcoming book (Jalobeanu, 2015). We are still working at 2 volumes of translations (Francis Bacon, Sylva Sylvarum and a reader of early modern cosmology) which are both included in the publication list for 2015 of the University of Bucharest Press. Our project organized or co-organized 6 international panels, colloquia and workshops in Bucharest, Bran, Vienna, and Paris. All in all, members of our project took part in 20 international conferences. We have edited 3 special issues of journals (Societate și Politică and Journal of Early Modern Studies).


Extended report

The project From natural history to science: the emergence of experimental philosophy had three important objectives for 2014. The first objective was scientific and regarded our attempt to challenge the received view on the origins of experimental philosophy by bringing into the picture a wide array of natural historical investigations. The second objective regarded the dissemination of scientific results. Members of the project took part in conferences and colloquia, organized scientific events, published collective volumes and engaged in various forms of scientific collaboration with colleagues from Europe and the US. The third objective of 2014 was to obtain the first complete draft of a translation of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum.


  1. Scientific work and results: historical and philosophical revaluations of early modern natural historical investigations.


Our first objective was to work towards producing an increasingly refined picture of the diversity of natural historical approaches in the early and mid-seventeenth-century England and France, in order to show that most current historiographical and conceptual models of the “scientific revolution” fail to take into account the multi-layered impact of natural historical investigations upon the emergence and development of mid-seventeenth-century experimental philosophy (science). This was done by extending our historical and philosophical investigations, which, for the past two years, focused on Francis Bacon and the natural histories of the early seventeenth century in such a way as to include works by Giovan Battista della Porta, John Wilkins, Galileo Galilei, Samuel Hartlib, Gabriel Plattes, Hugh Platt, Jacques Rohault and Isaac Newton. Members of the project have traced the influence and impact of Francis Bacon’s natural historical project upon mid and late seventeenth-century experimental philosophers in both England and France. Some of our investigations focused upon key concepts such as “specialized observations,” and “expert reports,” while others centered upon questions regarding the organization and structure of natural historical projects and the inter-relations between natural history, natural philosophy, and natural magic. In terms of results, Dana Jalobeanu has published an ISI paper on the “Elements of natural history in Sidereus nuncius” (Revue Roumaine de Philosophie 58 (1): 55-77); Oana Matei has documented the emergence of a special kind of Baconian natural historical investigation in mid-seventeenth century England in her ISI article on “Husbandry Tradition and the Emergence of Vegetable Philosophy inside the Hartlib Circle,” (Philosophia. International Journal of Philosophy 16 (2015) (forthcoming)) and in another article, “Technologies of Amelioration: Husbandry, Alchemy and Vegetable Philosophy in the Works of Gabriel Plattes,” currently under evaluation at AMBIX. Dana Jalobeanu and Doina-Cristina Rusu have also worked on the investigation of several case studies regarding the inter-relationship between natural history and natural magic in Francis Bacon, Giovan Battista Della Porta and Hugh Platt. Doina-Cristina Rusu has published a paper on “Abolishing the Borders between Natural History and Natural Magic: Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum and the Historia vitae et mortis,” (Societate și Politică 8 (2): 23-42). In parallel with the investigation of such case studies, members of the project were interested in conceptual and historiographical clarifications. Mihnea Dobre has discussed the most recent proposal to define a Baconian natural history in terms of a “Bacon-Boyle-Hooke (BBH)” type of natural historical investigation (Anstey, 2014), and has shown that it applies not only to the English context, but also to French Cartesians (most notably Jacques Rohault). Dobre’s article on this subject is a BDI article entitled “Considerații despre filosofia experimentului în perioada modernă timpurie,” (Revista de filosofie 61 (6): 631-642). Further work by Dobre on this matter has been presented at a number of conferences (see next section) and has been sent for publication (see the list at the end of the report).

An important direction of investigation this year was that regarding Francis Bacon’s reception in mid-seventeenth century France. This particular direction has proved extremely fruitful both in terms of ensuing publications and in terms of initiating international collaborations (see next section). Dana Jalobeanu has published an article on “The French Reception of Francis Bacon’s natural history in mid-seventeenth century,” (in a volume edited by E. Cassan, Bacon et Descartes: Genese de la modernite philosophique, Edition ENS, Lyon 2014). Another article by Jalobeanu investigates the first French translation of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum and has been accepted to publication in a special issue of Intersections: Interdisciplinary Studies in Early Modern Culture (2015). Mihnea Dobre has investigated the
“Experimental Cartesianism,” of the mid-seventeenth century in two articles, one soon to be published in a volume edited by Koen Vermeir and Jonathan Regier, Space, Knots and Bonds: At the Crossroads between Early Modern “Magic” and “Science” (Dordrecht: Springer, forthcoming 2015) and another one recently submitted for publication in an ISI journal, Early Science and Medicine (“What can a Cartesian philosopher learn from medicine? Francois Bayle on reason and experience”). In the same direction of investigating the impact of Bacon’s natural historical investigations, some members of our projects have inquired into Newton’s Baconianism and the peculiar “mixture” of Baconianism, Cartesianism and Newtonianism characteristic of late seventeenth-century physics. Dana Jalobeanu has published a paper on “Constructing natural historical facts: Baconian natural history in Newton’s first paper on light and colours,” (Zvi Biener, Eric Schliesser, eds., Newton and Empiricism, Oxford: 2014) and Mihnea Dobre has published a paper on “Mixing Cartesianism and Newtonianism: the Reception of Cartesian Physics in England.” (Gianna Gasiampoura ed., Scientific Cosmopolitanism and Local Cultures, Athens: 2014).

In parallel to these attempts to extend the investigations into early modern natural histories, “scientific observations,” and “expert reports,” members of our project have continued their work on Francis Bacon’s natural history, abstract physics and natural magic. Dana Jalobeanu has published a BDI paper on “A natural history of the heavens: Francis Bacon’s Anti-Copernicanism” (W. Neuber, T. Rahn, C. Zittel, The making of Copernicus, Brill: 2014). Also, two papers by Jalobeanu, on “Francis Bacon’s experimental construction of space,” and “The marriage of physics and mathematics: Francis Bacon on measurement, mathematics and the construction of a mathematical physics” were accepted for publication (in a volume edited by Jonathan Regier and Koen Vermeir, Space, Knots and Bonds: At the Crossroads between Early Modern “Magic” and “Science,” (Dordrecht: Springer, forthcoming); and in a volume edited by G. Gordon, B. Hill, E. Slowick and K. Waters, Language of nature, Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science (2015)). Doina-Cristina Rusu’s paper on “Manipulating matter and its appetites: Francis Bacon on natural laws and contingency,” has been accepted for publication (P.D. Omodeo, R. Garau, Contingency and Natural Order in Early Modern Science, Boston Studies in the Philosophy and History of Science, forthcoming). Another paper by Rusu entitled “Critica autoritatii si folosirea surselor: Francis Bacon despre compilarea istoriilor naturale” will appear shortly in a volume edited by C. Stoenescu, Etica cercetării, Editura Universității din București (2014).

In order to achieve these scientific results, two members of our project, Doina-Cristina Rusu and Oana Matei have spent 3 weeks in London (26 August-13 September), working at the British Library and The Warburg Institute. Their research trip proved beneficial for both their paper-writing activities and for the activity of translating Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum.

  1. Dissemination of scientific results

The second objective for 2014 regarded the dissemination of scientific results achieved so far. This was done through conference participation, organizing international colloquia and workshops, and editing collective volumes with international participation. In addition, we have posted some of our scientific results and several questions regarding our current investigation on the project blog (

Our goal for 2014 was to make our results more visible internationally, as well as to establish forms of international collaborations with historians of science, historians of philosophy and philosophers of science. The main result for the year was the establishment of a collaborative project with the two international teams currently enrolled into large-scale projects of editing Francis Bacon’s natural histories in English (The Oxford Francis Bacon Project) and French. Subsequent results were collaborative projects initiated with Laboratoire SPHERE, Paris 7 and Technical University, Berlin. Thus, Dana Jalobeanu has organized an international panel in the conference Scientiae 2014 (Vienna, 23-25.04.2014): A higher kind of natural magic: Francis Bacon and Giovan Battista Della Porta on “philosophical instruments” and the creative powers of experimentation (Members of the panel: Arianna Borrelli (Technical University, Berlin), Cesare Pastorino (Technical University, Berlin), Koen Vermeir (Laboratoire SPHERE, Paris 7), Sergius Kodera (University of Vienna)). The panel proved to be influential towards an extended collaboration between the University of Bucharest and Universite Paris 7 and Technical University, Berlin. One of the first results of this collaboration is the organization of an international colloquium in Paris, Finding a path through the woods: analyzing Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum (December 12-13, 2014). At this international colloquium, participants from France, England, Germany, Argentina, Canada and Romania will discuss several important aspects of Francis Bacon’s natural historical project (in relation to Bacon’s natural magic) and will put together a book proposal for a collection of papers destined to clarify some key issues of Bacon’s Sylva. A second international colloquium also co-organized by our project will take place in March 2015 in Berlin (at the Technical University).

The members of the project also organized four international events in Romania: a round-table in the Princeton-Bucharest seminar in early modern philosophy (on Naturalism: Cardano, Telesio, Bacon; participants Doina-Cristina Rusu, Mihnea Dobre and Daniel Garber (Princeton)); two international workshops in Bucharest: 1. “Mechanicism, mathematics and experiment: Early modern intersections, January 16-17, having as participants Catherine Goldstein (CNRS, Paris), Sophie Roux (Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris), Charles Wolfe (University of Ghent), Tamas Demeter (Hungarian Academy, Budapest) and Tinca Prunea Bretonnet (New Europe College, Bucharest) and 2. “Histories and philosophy of scientific experimentation,” 27 November 2014, with John Henry (University of Edinburgh), Arianna Borrelli (Technical University, Berlin), Cesare Pastorino (Technical University, Berlin), Cornelis Schilt (University of Sussex), and the yearly Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy (Invited speakers: John Henry (University of Edinburgh), Arianna Borrelli (Technical University, Berlin), Doina-Cristina Rusu). It is worth noting that the workshop on the Histories and Philosophy of Scientific experimentation was co-organized with New Europe College (more precisely, through a collaboration between our grant and an ERC Starting Grant managed by New Europe College). In the same direction of collaborating with other scientific projects developed in Romania, we have organized two research seminars at the newly founded Research Institute of the University of Bucharest (SSU-ICUB), within the series Archives in the Digital Age: Re-shaping the Humanities. The first was called “Reshaping the Humanities” and brought together papers on Bacon’s manuscripts by Dana Jalobeanu and Angus Vine (University of Stirling), on the Hartlib circle by Oana Matei, and on Henry Oldenburg’s letters by Iordan Avramov (The Bulgarian Academy of Sciences & New Europe College). The second seminar was entitled “Manuscrisul 2001 de la Biblioteca Mazarina. Un exercitiu de istorie intelectuala in jurul scrisorilor lui Descartes despre Euharistie” and was organized jointly with the team of the Cartesian framework project (directed by Vlad Alexandrescu, PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0998). Participants at this seminar were Mihnea Dobre, Vlad Alexandrescu and Grigore Vida. These events at SSU-ICUB also helped our team disseminate its research results and network with Romanian researchers from other fields (notably history and theology).

In addition to organizing panels and international colloquia, the members of our project took part in the important conferences of the profession, Scientiae 2014 (Mihnea Dobre, Dana Jalobeanu), HOPOS 2014 (Mihnea Dobre, Doina-Cristina Rusu, Dana Jalobeanu). Furthermore, Dana Jalobeanu gave an invited talk at the conference All in pieces? New Insights into Newton’s Thought (The Huntington Library, Los Angeles, 10-11 October 2014) and Doina-Cristina Rusu gave an invited talk at the Hungarian Academy of Science, Budapest. Claudia Dumitru’s papers were also selected at three international conferences: the Dutch Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy (Groningen, 29-30 January 2014), Bucharest-Princeton Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy (8-13 July 2014, Bran), and the Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy (28-29 November 2014).

Important and significant contributions to the objective of disseminating scientific results and making the project more visible are the collective volumes and the special editions we have published. Doina-Cristina Rusu has edited a special issue on Experimental Practices and Philosophical Traditions: Organizing and Disseminating Knowledge in Early Modern Europe, Societate si Politica 8 (2) (2014) and Claudia Dumitru has edited a special issue entitled The Quest for Certainty at the Crossroads of Science, Religion, and Philosophy in the Early Modern Period, Societate si Politica 8 (1) (2014). Dana Jalobeanu has co-edited with Cesare Pastorino a special edition of the Journal of Early Modern Studies (Dana Jalobeanu, Cesare Pastorino, Instruments and arts of inquiry: natural history, natural magic and the production of knowledge in early modern Europe, special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies April 2014). All these three special issue feature peer-reviewed papers of authors coming from various research universities from the US and Europe.


  1. The translation project


The third major objective for 2014 was to finish the first draft of a complete translation of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum. This was a major undertaking, and the resulting manuscript represents more than 500 pages of text, footnotes and commentaries. All members of the project were involved in the translation project and they have contributed not only with translation but also to the extensive glossary and commentary. In the process of translation we have collaborated with the English team (coordinated by Kathryn Murphy, University of Oxford) and the French team (coordinated by Claire Crignon, CNRS Lyon). We plan to use year 2015 to discuss and correct the manuscript and to submit it for publication.

A second project of translation was developed throughout 2014, namely the attempt to put together a reader on early modern cosmology, containing texts by Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Galileo Galilei, John Wilkins, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and Berkeley. Texts were translated from English, Latin and French. This project also involved graduate students who, in this way, became natural collaborators of our team.

Brief Report 2014

In 2014, our research team focused on the dissemination of results and networking. Thus, part of the objectives of this year were to collaborate with other scholars working on adjacent themes and to present the results of our research in workshops, conferences, and colloquia. At the beginning of the year, we announced three main objectives:
1. to broaden the context of our research to the entire early modern period. This objective aimed at connecting some of the research of the past year, which explored particular experiments and experimental practices, to the larger framework of early modern experimental philosophy.
2. to write and present papers in international conferences and workshops.
3. to prepare a first draft of the Romanian translation of Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum.
In terms of outcome, we fully completed our expectations. We published several articles, as can be seen by visiting our publications page. At the same time, members of our team were involved in several conferences, including Scientiae 2014 (Vienna), HOPOS 2014 (Ghent), Bucharest-Princeton Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy (Bran). Members of our project organized two workshops, Mechanicism, mathematics and experiment: Early modern intersections (16-17.01.) and Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy (28-29.11.). Our project was part of the teams organizing the Bucharest-Princeton Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, “History and Philosophy of Early Modern Experimentation” workshop (27.11.), and a conference on Sylva sylvarum organized in Paris (12-13.12.).
Not least, our team has prepared the first draft of the Romanian text of Sylva Sylvarum (see the Translation project page). For the next year, we are planning to correct the translation and give a final version for publication.

Workshop: History and Philosophy of Early Modern Experimentation


Our team – in collaboration with the New Europe College (via the ERC Starting Grant “Medicine of the Mind in Early Modern England”) – is organizing a workshop on the history and philosophy of early modern experimentation. The workshop is to take place at the Faculty of Philosophy (Splaiul Independentei 204) on November 27 2014. The full programme is below.


9:30 Opening remarks

09:40-10:40 Dana Jalobeanu (University of Bucharest) – Francis Bacon on the Experimental Construction of Space

10:40-10:50 Coffee Break

10:50-11:50: Cornelis J. Schilt (University of Sussex) – “Elected by God”: Isaac Newton’s Early Optical Publications and Alchemical Secrecy

11:50-12:00 Coffee Break

12:00-13:00 John Henry (University of Edinburgh) – The Only Game in Town? Why Did Early Modern Reformers of Natural Philosophy Turn Almost Exclusively to the Occult to Replace Scholasticism?

13:00-15:00 Lunch

15:00-16:00 Oana Matei (University Vasile Goldis, Arad & University of Bucharest) – Ralph Austen’s Observations and the Use of Experiment

16:00-16:10 Coffee Break

16:10-17:10 Arianna Borrelli (Technical University Berlin) – Experiment Description and Concept Formation in Giovanni Battista Della Porta’s Writings

17:10-17:20 Coffee Break

17:20 Cesare Pastorino (Technical University Berlin) – Accounting and Early Modern Experimental Reporting: A Few Preliminary Notes

The Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy 2014 – Programme

Here is the programme for this year’s edition of the Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy, to be held at the Faculty of Philosophy (Splaiul Independentei 204 – see on a map) on 28-29 November 2014.

afis bucharest graduate 5th

Friday, November 28

9.00-9.30: Opening address, coffee

9.30-10.30: Invited talk: John Henry (University of Edinburgh) – The Newtonian Moment: How Action at a Distance Became Part of Mainstream Physics (Uniquely) throughout the Long Eighteenth Century.

10.30-10.40: Coffee Break

10.40-11.20: Niels Martens (University of Oxford): Against Comparativism about Mass

11.20-12.00: Ovidiu Babes (University of Bucharest) – The Role of Demonstration in Descartes’ Early Works
12.00-13.40: Lunch

13.40-14.20: Andrei Nae (University of Bucharest) – The Therapeutic Function of Education in Bacon and Locke

14.20 – 15.00: Alexandra Bacalu (University of Bucharest) – Remedies Using the Imagination and the Passions in Early Modern Thought

15.00-15.20: Coffee Break

15.20-16.00: Anna Ortin (University of Edinburgh) – Hume, the Problem of Content, and the Idea of the Identical Self

16.00-16.40: Julieta Vivanco Undurraga (University of Navarra) – Contractualism, Representation and Natural Rights in Samuel Pufendorf

16.40-16.50: Coffee Break

16:50-17.50: Invited talk: Doina-Cristina Rusu (University of Bucharest) – Forms and Laws of Nature in Francis Bacon’s Natural Philosophy.

Saturday, November 29

9.30-10.30: Invited talk: Arianna Borrelli (Technical University Berlin) – Notions of “Spirit” and the Conceptualization of Experience in Early Modern Natural Philosophy

10.30-10.40: Coffee Break

10.40-11.20: Maike Scherhans (University of Oradea) – “What does it look like?” – Thomas Sydenham, John Locke and the Observational Method

11.20-12.00: Xinghua Wang (University of Tennessee, Knoxville) – Locke on Personal Identity

12.00-13.40: Lunch

13.40-14.20: Claudia Dumitru (University of Bucharest) – Locke and the Artificial Language Movement

14.20 – 15.00: Toth Oliver Istvan (Central European University) – The Role of Inherence in Spinoza’s Ethics

15.00-15.20: Coffee Break

15.20-16.00: Filip Buyse (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University) – Spinoza and the Laws of Parts which Adapt Themselves to the Laws or Nature of Other Parts

16.00-16.40: Sean Winkler (University of Leuven) – The Relationship between Spinoza’s Physics and his Doctrine of Conatus

A Cartesian challenge to the early modern philosophy of experiment

Much has been written about seventeenth-century experiments and experimental philosophy. My paper for the CELFIS seminar of October 8 aimed at engaging with that tradition. In particular, I was concerned with the recent discussion by Peter Anstey of the so called BBH model of the experimental philosophy (BBH stands for the name of Bacon, Boyle, and Hooke). As a reaction to Thomas Kuhn and Peter Dear, Peter Anstey’s article provides a very nice introduction into the Baconian experimentation and its main developments in the second half of the seventeenth century. Both Boyle and Hooke engage with a form of experimentation that is labelled here “Baconian.” It is not, however, the purpose of this small blog post to engage with the details of Anstey’s article, but rather to try to complement his analysis with a new example of experimentalism that can be found in a completely different source. This is the case of the experimental work of the Cartesian natural philosopher, Jacques Rohault.

In my lecture, I’ve referred to two experiments that were performed by Rohault: with pneumatic devices, on the one hand, and with glass drops, on the other hand. It is well known that Boyle was the main contributor to the pneumatic or baroscopic experiments of the 1660s. Hooke was among the first to examine glass drops and to provide an explanation for both the production of the small glass objects and for the curious phenomena produced by those. Interestingly, Rohault deals with both of these issues in experimental terms.

Now, one might very well wonder why is important that a Cartesian philosopher was providing an explanation for some intriguing experiments; after all, he is a Cartesian, therefore a speculative philosopher (see the Otago blog here and here), and he would explain all phenomena according to the principles of Cartesian physics. Yet, this classification of seventeenth-century philosophers into “experimental” and “speculative” should not be an impediment in searching for explanations in one’s writings. But there is more than that and I argued in my paper that it is precisely Rohault’s experimental approach to the study of the two phenomena that would make difficult to draw a clear boundary between his work and the works of the most representative experimenters of the BBH model.

I have argued elsewhere that Rohault treats the study of the properties of the air in experimental terms. He does not simply jump from the conclusions derived in the general part of Cartesian physics (which is most often claimed that he does), but actively engage in experiments and observations.

With respect to the study of glass drops, Rohault is also concerned to perform all the needed observations before providing an explanation. This is also what Hooke did in his Micrographia.

As a tentative conclusion for this very sketchy blog-post, I claim that based on these two experiments, Rohault should be placed in the same context with Boyle and Hooke, so as a representative of the BBH model. If, on the contrary, one would like to point to his “Cartesianism,” then, one simply overlooks his experiments and this would raise new worries for the use of historical categories: if one dismisses some experimental practices only on the basis of placing the practitioner to one or another camp, then, the problem is not any more with the use of experiment in natural philosophy, but with the way various natural philosophies of the period were classified in our histories.

CELFIS Seminar

1 October: Miklos Redei (London School of Economics),John von Neumann: the power of mathematics and the moral responsibility of scientists’

8 October: Mihnea Dobre (Universitatea din Bucuresti), ‘Filosofia experimentala a secolului al XVII-lea si experimentalismul cartezian’

15 October: Radu Ioanicioiu (Departamentul de Fizica Teoretica,
Institutul de fizica si inginerie nucleara Horia Hulubei)
, ‘Complementarity: from wave-particle duality to delayed-choice experiments’

22 October: Iordan Avramov (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences & NEC) ‘Rivers of Letters and Oceans of Print: The Many Book Roles of Henry Oldenburg, 1641-1677′

29 October: Angus Vine (University of Stirling), ‘Bacon and the Management of Knowledge

5 November: Charles Wolfe (University of Ghent), ‘From medicina mentis to materialist philosophy of mind: a problem of naturalization?’

12 November: Adriana Sora (University of Bucharest),  ‘Explicatia constiintei. Clarificări conceptuale’

17 noiembrie (seminar CELFIS exceptional): Sam Fletcher (MCMP) ‘The Topology of Intertheoretic Reduction’

19 November: Slobodan Perovic (University of Belgrade)  ‘Niels Bohr’s Complementarity and the Experimental Method’

26 November: Arianna Borrelli (Technical Univ. Berlin) ‘The search for “new physics” in today’s theoretical and experimental particle research: a philosophical and empirical study of physicists’ stances to speculative models’

3 December: Doina-Cristina Rusu (Academia Română Filiala Iași & Universitatea din București) ‘Gender issues in early modern science: books of secrets and their public’

10 December: Virgil Iordache (Universitatea din București) ‘O abordare a complexitatii problemei naturii si societatii’

15 ianuarie: Enrico Pasini (University of Pisa) TBA

21 ianuarie: Constantin C. Brîncuș (Romanian Academy, Iasi Branch) ‘The Epistemic Significance of Valid Inference – A Model-Theoretic Approach’

Francis Bacon on the acceleration of time

This is a discussion of the notion of acceleration of time in different natural processes, as occurring in Francis Bacon’s Sylva Sylvarum, Century IV, experiments [301-354].

Keywords: acceleration of time: of liquors, of putrefaction, of growth, of stature, vivification, spirits.

Among the inter magnalia naturae which Bacon discusses in his works, the acceleration of time is one of the most important, for Bacon places it next to the creation of matter in divine miracles (introduction to century IV). The Verulam presents a twofold motivation for pursuing the acceleration of time in nature: “it is a spur to nature” and “of good use”. From the first observation one can infer that Bacon seems to do nothing than to present a process which takes place inside the boundaries of nature and which normally would develop in a larger period of time. Here is a presentation of some of Bacon’s most important examples of acceleration of time: acceleration of liquor’s clarification, of maturation, of putrefaction, of birth and of growth and stature.

1. Acceleration of liquors’ clarification.

Bacon talks about different types of accelerations and starts with discussing at some length the acceleration of liquors’ clarification. Here is, in a word, the strategy for achieving this task: “to know the means of accelerating clarification, we must first know the causes of clarification” [301]. And among the causes listed, the first one can be called mechanical (weight, motion, activity, percolation, etc): the separation between grosser and finer parts of the liquor; the second cause is the settlement of equal equilibrium between tangible and pneumatic and the third cause is the refining of the spirit itself.

After Bacon lists the causes, he moves to proposing some trails, which can be classified under three categories of experiments, as follows:

▪ instances of separation: [305], [307], [308], – percolation [311]

▪ instances of equilibrium: [309], [310]

▪ instances of the refining of the spirit [306], [309], [310]


2. Acceleration of maturation [312].

Bacon talks of several types of accelerations of maturation: of drinks, fruits, impostures and ulcers, metals; he also mentions that the one on “impostures and ulcers” will be tackled throughout the section “experiments medicinal”, but this has never appeared among Sylva’s entries.

a) maturation of drinks takes place by the congregation of spirits together and so it looks similar with clarification of liquors: “is effected partly by the same means that clarification is…” [312]. Examples of maturation of drinks are seen in must, wine and vinegar [313]. It is worth to note here that Bacon is plain here that spirits are endowed with motions, as the following examples suggest: “enforcing the motion of the spirit” [314]… “enforce the spirits by some mixtures” [314]. As in general for Bacon, the spirit seems to be here a more fundamental concept as motion. The question that opens up is what is the relationship between spirit and motion and the readers of this post are invited to express their opinion on this issue, too.

b) maturation of fruits is done by “calling forth of the spirits of the body outward…”, by digestion of the grosser parts – by heat, motion, attraction, putrefaction. Putrefaction therefore starts with maturation [317].

During his talk of maturation, Bacon also makes an interesting remark on the possibility to perform transmutations on bodies: “But we, when we shall come to handle the version and transmutation of bodies, and the experiments concerning metals and minerals, will lay open the true ways and passages of nature, which may lead to this great effect” [326]. One important question to ask here is: are those transmutations done within the boundaries of nature or not? Later on in the same entry, Bacon seems to be saying yes to the first option and contrasts it with the alchemist interpretation: “The sixth is, that you give time enough for the work; not to prolong hopes (as the alchemists do), but indeed to give nature a convenient space to work in”.


3. (Inducing and) Acceleration of putrefaction.

Putrefaction precedes generation, both being taken as the true boundaries of nature “or the guides to life and death” (introduction before [329]). Putrefaction is defined as being caused by a motion “confused and inordinate”, while on the contrary, vivification appears when the motion “has a certain order” [344].


4. Experiment solitary touching the acceleration of birth.

Bacon gives here two causes for the acceleration of birth: the rapid development of the embryo and the expulsion of it from the mother [353]. He altogether rejects the old thesis that this acceleration might suffer decisively from astral influences.


5. Experiment solitary touching the accelerating of growth and stature (of children) [354]

Bacon lists here three causes for speeding up growth and stature.

  1. Plenty of nourishment
  2. Nature of nourishment
  3. Exciting natural heat

The first one is not always recommended for it can be hurtful for the child. The second warns us not to feed the children with over-dry nourishment for this impedes growth. And finally, cold nourishment should be avoided in childhood for generally “heat [and not cold] is requisite for growth”, though a mature man should be more open to cold for it helps with condensing and preserving the spirit.




Vegetable Philosophy – Three Different Stages in the Mid-Seventeenth Century Hartlib Circle

According to the Hartlib Circle members’ interest for vegetable philosophy, I have been able to identify three different approaches associated with three different stages.

The first stage (the period until 1650) is dominated by the figure of Gabriel Plattes. [1] He is the first member of the Hartlib Circle expressing his vision upon vegetable philosophy and husbandry regarded as projects of ameliorating the material of Creation (soil, plants, human beings). Inspired from Bacon’s natural philosophy and sharing the general ideas animating the Circle, he considers amelioration a process of experimentation and technological improvement of the material of Creation. Plattes reformulates the view on husbandry, promoting a new type of ‘integrated science’ able to cultivate the land and the human soul as well. Apart from other tracts on husbandry published before,[2] Plattes used the alchemical tradition but committed the application of chemistry to a moral end. He developed his own experimental view on vegetable philosophy, placing at the very core of amelioration the idea of technological advancement (a project based on transmutation experiments and cyclical chemical change). Plattes’ contribution rests in providing a number of ‘technologies of amelioration’ for the material of Creation (soil, plants, human beings), technologies of salvation compatible with both economic advancement and religious salvation.

The second stage (1650-1660) is influenced in a great deal by the figure of Gabriel Plattes. All the writers on vegetable philosophy and husbandry (Austen, Blith, Dymock, Child, Beale, Weston and, later, Evelyn)[3] mention Plattes in their works and his contribution to the field. Writers of this stage express strong millenaristic beliefs due to their association with the Hartlib Circle and Samuel Hartlib. They continue the line imposed by Plattes, of technological experimentation and amelioration of the material of Creation but add grafting experiments. In this stage we can spot a shift of attention from alchemical transmutation to gardening, from experiments with minerals and metals to experiments with plants. The Virgilian influence is evident in this stage. We can include in this stage a part of Evelyn’s activity, the one chronologically associated with the Civil War. Due to his aristocratic affiliation, Evelyn experienced social isolation and he imagined different hortulan societies, living in perfect harmony with nature, sharing interest for the study of nature and for exploring the practical and spiritual possibilities of vegetable philosophy.

The third stage (the period after 1660), associated with the beginning of the Royal Society is characterized by amelioration accents only in a small deal.[4] If Evelyn’s Elysium Britanicum (started in the late 1650s) begins with his personal interpretations of the Genesis, the accent embedded in his 1660 works (such as Sylva and Pomona) is more scientific than religious. Austen, for instance, republished his treatise of Fruit-Trees and rededicated it to Royal Society Fellow Robert Boyle (see Austen Treatise, 3rd edition Oxford, 1665; Treatise of Fruit Trees, with the Spiritual Use of and Orchard (1653 – first edition). The first edition had been dedicated to Samuel Hartlib. The Royal Society revealed the so called closely guarded secrets and the spiritual reformed, so much embraced by Hartlib, was downplayed. [5]

[1] Plattes, G., A Discovery of Infinite Treasure, London, 1639.

Plattes, G., A Discovery of Subterraneall Treasure, London, 1639.

[2] Such as Sir Hugh Plat’s Jewell House of Art and Nature, London, 1594. Although he had a deep interest in chemistry, medical chemistry and ways to improve the barren soil, Sir Hugh Plat was more influenced by the alchemical tradition (Paracelsus, John Hester, Bernard Palissy) than the desire to ameliorate the human estate.

[3] Here is a short list including treaties on husbandry and vegetable philosophy issued in the 1650s inside the Hartlib Circle :

Dymock, C., An Invention of Engines of Motion Lately Brought to perfection. … London, 1651;

[Hartlib], S., Dymock, C., An Essay for the Advancement of Husbandry –Learning: or Propositions For the Erecting a College of Husbandry … London, Printed by Henry Hills, 1651.

Hartlib, S., Samuel Hartlib his Legacy: or an Enlargement of the Discourse of Husbandry used in Brabant and Flandres … London, 1651.

Child, R., A Large Letter concerning the Defects and Remedies of English Husbandry written to Samuel Hartlib by Sir Richard Child (part of Samuel Hartlib his Legacy).

Blith, W., The English Improver Improved, The Third Impression, London, 1652.

[Virginia Ferrar, et al.], A Rare and New Discoverie of a Speedy Way, and Easie Means … for the Feeding of Silk-Worms, London, 1652.

Boate, G., Irelands Naturall History. Being a true and ample Description of its Situation, Greatnes, Shape and Nature, London, 1652.

[Hartlib] Cressey Dymock, A Discoverie For Division o Setting out of Land, as to the best Form. … London, Printed for Richard Wodenothe in Leaden-hall-street, 1653.

Austen, R., A Treatise of Fruit-Trees shewing the manner of grafting, setting, pruning, and ordering of them in all respects… with the alimentall, and physical use of fruits. Togeather with the spirituall use of an orchard: held forth in divers similitudes, etc., Oxford, For Tho. Robinson, 1653.

Blith, W.,The English Improver Improved or the Survey of Husbandry Surveyed. … the Third Impression much Augmented, London, 1653.

Plattes, G., The Profitable Intelligencer, Included in Samuel Hartlib his Legacy, 3rd edition 1655 as Mercurius Lætificans.

Austen, R., The Spiritual Use of an Orchard; or Garden of Fruit-Trees. … Oxford, 1657.

Beale, J., Herefordshire Orchards, A Pattern For all England. Written in an Epistolary Address to Samuel Hartlib Esq., London, printed by Roger Daniel, 1657.

Austen, R., Observations upon some part of Sr F. Bacon’s Naturall History, as it concernes fruit-trees, fruits, and flowers, H. Hall for T. Robinson, Oxford, 1658.

Hartlib, S., The Compleat Husbandman: or, A discourse of the whole Art of Husbandry, London, 1659, (reissue of the second edition of Hartlib’s Legacy).

[4] Evelyn, J., Sylva, Or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesties Dominions … Printers to the Royal Society, and are to be sold at their Shop at the Bell in S. Paul’s Church yard, 1664.

Austen, R., A Treatise of Fruit-Trees…Whereunto is annexed Observations upon Sr F. Bacon’s Natural History…The third impression, revised, with additions, etc., William Hall for Amos Curteyne, 1665.

Austen, R., A dialogue, or familiar discourse, and conference betweene the husbandman, and fruit-trees; in his nurseries, orchards, and gardens, etc., Oxford, printed by Hen. Hall for Thomas Bowman, 167[6].

Dymock, C., The New and Better Art of Agriculture, 1670.

Evelyn, J., Sylva, Or a Discourse of Forest-Trees, and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesties Dominions London, Printed by Jo. Martyn, Printer to the Royal Society, and are to be sold at their Shop at the Bell in S. Paul’s Church-Yard, 1679.

[5] Di Palma, V., “Drinking Cider in Paradise: Science, Improvement, and the Politics of Fruit Trees” in A. Smyth (ed.), A Pleasing Sinne: Drink and Conviviality in the Seventeenth Century England, Cambridge, Boydell and Brewer, 2004, 161-80, 165.

Naturalism: Cardano, Telesio, and Bacon


Some notes on the reading group Naturalism: Cardano, Telesio, and Bacon (Bucharest-Princeton Seminar in Early Modern Philosophy, Bran 8-13 July 2014).


Proponents: Daniel Garber, Mihnea Dobre, Doina-Cristina Rusu.

The reading group examined some of the views of Girolamo Cardano, Bernardino Telesio, and Francis Bacon. We selected passages from Cardano’s De subtilitate (book II), Telesio’s On the nature of things (chaps. 8-16), and Bacon’s Sylva (experiments 30-32, 800-830) and the Novum Organum II. From the point of view of our research project, From Natural History to Science: the emergence of experimental philosophy, this was very important as it put in comparison Bacon’s views with some of his sources. We were especially interested in exploring the views of the three philosophers with respect to spirits, qualities, principles, and elements. We discussed the relation between heat, fire, and motion. Further, we compared the nature of air and the notion of “perception” in the three philosophers, asking how this would entail more experimental possibilities.

Our discussion was framed by the cosmological views of Cardano and Telesio. In Cardano, we were interested in his tripartite division of the elements (earth, air, and water) and what would be the status of fire (seen as a quality) in this new cosmological image. Cardano’s investigation of fire and his attempt to provide new experimental techniques for studying it allowed us to raise one of the main questions of the Bucharest-Princeton Seminar; namely, what “naturalization” means? Is this a worthy concept to describe the various attempts of early modern philosophers to pursue a more systematic empirical investigation of nature?

With Telesio we turned to explore the nature of air as the intermediate medium between the sky and the earth. We addressed the problem of how heat and cold act in the world and cause all the phenomena, and we opened the question of subtlety in experimental context. This question was further addressed in the case of the passages selected from Francis Bacon. His use of the weather-glass for exploring the effects of air and heat was discussed in the selected passages. The issue of measurement and how to perform accurate observations with the instruments was singled out in our discussion.