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.’

Finding a Path Through the Woods

In December, some of our team members (Dana Jalobeanu, Oana Matei, Doina-Cristina Rusu and Claudia Dumitru) attended Finding a Path through the Woods, a two-day conference on Sylva Sylvarum in Paris, organized by Dana Jalobeanu and Koen Vermeir. The event was one in a series of seminars and workshops on Sylva that started in Princeton in 2012 and will be continued with a meeting in Berlin in March 2015.

The most important result of this meeting was putting together a preliminary list of topics or problems that could form the core of a volume of scholarly articles on Sylva Sylvarum. The reading groups were particularly helpful in this respect. You can see most of the issues discussed by our team at the second reading group of the conference, on spirits and pneumatic substances in Sylva, in this post. We also had a chance to meet the French team translating Sylva Sylvarum (Claire Crignon, Sylvia Kleiman), who contributed to the first reading group.

Doina-Cristina Rusu and Claudia Dumitru also presented papers at this conference. Doina talked about Francis Bacon’s use of sources, expanding on his famous metaphor about ants, spiders and bees. By analyzing some of the material in Sylva Sylvarum in relation with its sources (Giambattista della Porta and Hugh Platt), she tried to show that Bacon follows his own methodological injunctions and, far from simply lifting material from others, he reflects on it critically and transforms it. That would mean that the bee (who digests and renders useful the stuff it feeds on) is a symbol not only for philosophy, but also for natural history undertaken philosophically. Claudia talked about a specific set of experiments from Sylva Sylvarum – those dealing with sounds. She tried to show how one problem that was vital to the Aristotelian background theory, that of the irreducibility of sound to motion, shapes much of Bacon’s inquiry in Sylva and arguably puts him against the dominant trend in the later part of the seventeenth century.


Francis Bacon’s typology of pneumatic substances

For Bacon, spirit in general is a “breath compounded of an airy and a flamy substance” (OFB VI 321). One extreme is that of the air (rather cold and inactive), the other that of fire. But the mixture of air and fire is not mechanical (OFB XII 355); it is a complete mixture (which cannot be simply evaluated in terms of more air/less fire; or more fire/less air, but has a ‘mysterious’ character, OFB XII 352, 376 etc.). In between ‘air’ and ‘fire,’ we have a whole range of spirits: the non-living ones “are nearly consubstantial to air,” while the “vital spirits come closer to the substance of fire.”(OFB XII 354-5) One fundamental principle in Bacon’ natural philosophy is that there is no tangible body devoid of spirit. By contrast, spirits can be ‘free’ or ‘enclosed’ in matter. Meanwhile, spirits also come in all sorts of shapes and forms: and although Bacon sometimes attempted classifications of pneumaticals (i.e. according to their rarity in HDR) it is clear that their diversity resist any form of unique classification.

In the late natural histories, one can find series of experiments which seem to attempt to classify pneumaticals according to their properties. In some cases, the classification takes into consideration observational properties of pneumatics (hence, the resulting ‘classification’ will be called ‘phenomenological’). In some other cases, (esp. Sylva) the principle of classification seem to be the prevailing process (i.e. physical classifications). There is arguably also an attempt to divide spirits and matter in metaphysical terms.

It is not only that these classifications are not unique, they are also overlapping. However, the recurrence of such attempts to classify spirits in the late natural history seem to signify that Bacon was persuaded of the importance of achieving some form of classification, or typology of pneumatic substance.

Meanwhile, Sylva constantly insists on the diversity of spirits and the diversity of properties characterizing spirits. Spirits are “nothing else but a natural body, rarefied to a proportion, and included in tangible parts of bodies;” in addition, they are many differences between spirits: “they be no less differing one from the other than the dense or tangible parts.”(SEH II 381)

Phenomenological classifications

  1. Classification of spirits according to their rarity (HDR)
  2. Classification of spirits according to their heat (sources of heat, how the heat is processed…) (OFB XII 359)

Close distillation (forcing matter/spirit to react to heat in a close container) (SS I 99), and other experiments with closed containers destined to mix air and flame or watery and oily

  1. Classification of spirits according to the qualities of the mixture of air and flamy (which gives it empirical characteristics such as “greediness,” “lassitude” …).

Physical classifications

  1. Classification according to the organization of spirit in matter (branched, cells, cut-off)
  2. Classification according to the even/uneven distribution of spirit in matter and the fineness of the spirit AND/OR strenght[1]
  3. Classification according to the processes that gets activated

Spirits are said to be the causes of all processes (SS I 98) (but whether a process or another takes over is also a property of spiritual substance?)

Classification in terms of activity (resulting from the activated appetites)

[1] Spirits “weak” “clinging loosely, … practically consubstantial with plain air,” “dwelling mainly the outer parts of the body.;” “transient guests” in bodies – Versus spirits “stronger,” “further inside,” “submerged and buried deeper in the solid parts of the thin.” (OFB VI 291) Also, there is a rule in HVM which links the even/non-even distribution of the spirit with its properties/activity – abundance of spirit non-evenly distributed makes the spirit more predatory OFB XII 361.

Metaphysical classification (?)

Spiritus vitalis/Spiritus mortualis (HVM, OFB XII 351)

(Also: (DVM OFB VI 352-3) – vital spirit, peculiar to living things OFB VI 357 – differs from the other spirits not only because it is differently organized, but because it has an inner warmth and because it feeds upon “the moist parts and joice of the living body” (OFB VI 359))

HVM: Rule/Canon IV: In all living things there are two kinds of spirits: non-living ones (Mortuales) of the kind found in inanimate substances, and the superadded vital spirits.

Vital spirit is something different from all the spirits that exist in inanimate bodies because: it needs aliment, it is somehow closely connected with the body (being ‘in charge’ of the body and all the other spirits), it ‘rules’ the other spirits and the body.

Thus we should know that there exist in flesh, bones, membranes, organs, and every single part of the human body, spirits which pervade them while they live, and which are identical to those which exist in those parts – flesh, bone, membrane and the rest – when they are separate and dead, and identical to the ones remaining in the corpse. But the vital spirit, though it rules and has some consent with them, is very different from them, as it is integral and self-consistent [integralis, & per se Constans]. Now the non-living and vital spirits differ in two main ways: the first is that the non-living spirits are not in the least self-continuous, but are as it were cut off and surrounded by the grosser body which intercepts them rather as air is intermixed in snow or froth. But all vital spirit is self-continuous through certain channels which it pervade, without being completely intercepted. This spirit too is of two kinds: the one is just branched and runs through little thead-like tubes [Ducturs, & tanquam Lineas]’ the other has in addition a cell [Cellam] so that it is not just self-continous but is also gathered together in some hollow space and, relative to the body, in an appreciable quantity; and in this cell is the source of the rivulets which go their separate ways from there. This cell is mainly in the cerebral ventricles, which in humbler creatures are narrow, such that the spirits seem to be diffused through the whole body rather than concentrated in cells, as we see in snakes, eels, and flies whose individual parts still move after being cut away. (OFB XII 351-353)

Although Bacon attempts to reduce this fundamental difference to physical and phenomenological differences, it is not entirely clear that this is a successful enterprise (or an enterprise that can succeed). In principle, the differences are:

  • Of organization (non-living spirits are cut off and not organized) and distribution (within the body; how well distributed are the vein, how far away from the cells etc. see DVM)
  • Of composition (all spirits are a mixture of air and flame, and the living one are closer to the nature of flame, but Bacon emphasizes that this is not a mechanical mixture and hence “when this rule states that vital spirits come closed to the substance of flame, it must be taken to mean that they do so more than the non-living ones, and not that they are more flamy than airy” (OFB XII 355).
  • Of behavior/appetites (the non-living spirits have two appetites/desires – to multiply, and to fly and meet with connaturals; living spirits have more appetites, for example they are “absolutely terrified of leaving its body” – which means that living spirits are “principal” spirits of bodies and they are metaphysically united with their bodies)
  • Of heat/warmth (OFB VI 357)

Another major difference is said that non-living bodies/spirit do not need aliment, while the others do (but, however, spirits in inanimate bodies ‘eat-up’ matter)

DVM: But it is unquestionably the case that among the difference of the spirit there are two in particular which have the greatest importance: for spirits differ in body or in force, for we find that some are more biting, lively and robust while others are duller and weaker. And that very force proceeds either from the nature of the thing, or from the length of time that has elapsed since the death of the body. Alternatively, spirits vary in fraction or comminution, for we find bodies in which the spirtis are more diffused and dispersed so that the portion of spirit in any given part is less than it might be, but other bodies in which the spirts have more space and larger concentrations. But again, we find that the distribution of spirits with reference to their sites is more uniform in certain bodies so that the spirits are diffused more evenly in particular parts of the body; but in other bodies they are distributed less evenly so that the residences of the spirit are more spacious in one place and more confined and circumscribed in another. (OFB VI 282-3)


Hypothesis 1: As with many of his new concepts, Bacon seems to use “spirits” in more than one way; using a range of traditional, loose meanings (spirits are the breath of life, they are the source of activity in the Universe and they originate “in the stars,” there are living spirits and non-living spirits etc.) and a more specific, technical meaning (a class of material substances characterized by rarity, heat (potential or actual heat), active powers, the capacity to diffuse at considerable distances, and other several properties such as greed which Bacon attempts to express in terms of combinations of attributes).

Hypothesis 2: There are small but significant differences between DVM and HVM on the one side and SS on the other regarding the fundamental and derivative properties of pneumaticals. These differences can originate in the fact that in SS Bacon asks different questions and is interested in different aspects of the workings of spirits than in the other two works. Thus, there is no equivalent of spiritus mortualis at work. Meanwhile, there seem to be a distinction between the principal spirit of a body and other spirits which might (or might not) inhabit the same body. The principal spirit can be the living spirit of DVM and HDR. Meanwhile, there clearly are other organized spirits at work in the same body (a scion grafted on a stock poses this problem of two principal spirits ‘fighting’ and one is overcoming the other).

Sylva Sylvarum has a number of experiments which seem to be saying that there is no metaphysical distinction between vital spirits and the others, that there is indeed a merely variation in the mixture of air and flame at work, and that one can simply vary the proportion of the two in the mixture

SS1.30 “although air and flame being free will not well mingle; yet bout in by a body that hath some fixing, they will. For that you may best see in those two bodies (which are their aliments) water and oil; for they likewise will not well mingle of themselves, but in the bodies of plants and living creatures they will.”

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) ‘Leibniz between Platonism and Aristotelism’

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.