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.


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

CFP: Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy

Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy


Fifth Edition: 28-29 November 2014

Keynote speakers:

John Henry (University of Edinburgh)
Arianna Borrelli (Technical University of Berlin)


The Center for Logic and History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Bucharest is organizing its fifth graduate conference for advanced master and PhD students working on early modern philosophy. The event will be held on November 28-29, 2014 at the University of Bucharest, Romania.


We cordially invite graduate students to submit abstracts on any topic related to early modern philosophy at by August 20, 2014. Abstracts should not exceed 500 words and should be prepared for blind review. Papers will be given 40 minutes (30 minutes talk, 10 minutes open discussion). The Program Committee will notify authors of its decision by September 10.


Conference fee: € 40.

For any further questions, you can get in touch with us via email or on Facebook at


No Ghost in the Machine: Talking Heads in Sylva

At the end of Century II of Sylva Sylvarum, Bacon mentions the possibility of making a talking puppet by studying the principles that allow for the production of sound in animate and inanimate bodies:

[S]o that if a man, for curiosity or strangeness sake, would make a puppet or other dead body to pronounce a word, let him consider, on the one part, the motion of the instrument of voice; and on the other part, the like sounds made in inanimate bodies; and what conformity there is that causeth the similitude of sounds; and by that he may minister light to that effect. (SS:199)

Talking heads – of natural or artificial provenience – had been an object of fascination starting with the late Middle Ages and would continue to be one up to the eighteenth century (nineteenth, if we integrate them into the larger tradition of the “learned man’s android” as detailed by Sarah Higley [1]).  Yet the source of their fascination changed dramatically during this period, following a larger trend of naturalizing the preternatural and integrating it into “scientific” explanatory paradigms.[2]

On the natural front, Aristotle had declared severed talking heads an impossibility, on account of the fact that the lungs and windpipe were needed to produce sound (On the Parts of Animals, III:10). Despite this pronouncement, severed talking heads continued their career as a literary and hagiographical motif. Virgil and Ovid depicted the head of Orpheus, still calling out to Eurydice as it floated off to the sea. The heads of Christian saints were sometimes said to keep talking even after they were cut off (St. Edmund the Martyr in Abbo of Fleury’s Passio Santi Eadmundi a good example of this).

On the artificial front, brazen talking heads came to be regarded, in the late Middle Ages, as a symbol of dangerous knowledge. There was little insight into how they were produced, besides the fact that learned men studied the stars for favorable conjunctions to make them. Brazen heads were not to be trusted: legends had them telling the truth in a cryptic manner, so that those who relied on their advice were often led to their death. Among those who were said to have produced or owned a brazen talking head were Virgil (probably because he was a source for the legend of Orpheus), Pope Sylvester II (who was said to have died because he relied on the advice of said instrument), Robert Grosseteste, Albertus Magnus (whose creation was sometimes said to have been destroyed by Thomas Aquinas) and Roger Bacon.[3]

The cover Greene's play, showing Friar Bacon's brazen head

The cover of Greene’s play, showing Friar Bacon’s brazen head

Roger Bacon probably became the most famous of the group, as his example was later used in a popular Elizabethan play of Robert Greene’s, The Honourable History of Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay (~1594). In Greene’s play, the brazen head shatters, after it utters only a cryptic pronouncement (“Time is. Time was. Time is past.”), and Bacon eventually renounces his magic. In this example, as in earlier others, the source of the brazen head’s powers was demonic. But there is something else worth noting in this play, and that is the skepticism displayed by the Oxford doctors towards Bacon’s discovery, which reflects a wider change in attitude during the period. As one of them says:

Have I not pass’d as far in state of schools,
And read of many secrets ? Yet to think
That heads of brass can utter any voice,
Or more, to tell of deep philosophy,
This is a fable Æsop had forgot.

The possibility that someone had ever built a real, autonomous talking head by consulting the stars was challenged by Della Porta, while at the same time an alternative explanation was given: it was possible that the talking head relied on long pipes conveying the sound of someone’s voice from a distance (Natural Magick, XIX:1). The same disparaging of the initial claim, followed by an explanation based on sound being carried through pipes is to be found in Campanella’s Magia e Grazia. (This explanation also happens to nicely parallel an episode from Chapter LVII of Don Quixote, where, steeped as he is in medieval romances, Don Quixote is deceived by a talking head relying not on supernatural powers, but on a system of pipes with a sharp-witted student at the end of them. The man owning the head claims that it was built by “one of the greatest magicians and wizards the world ever saw” who “observed the points of the compass, (…) traced figures, (…) studied the stars, (…) watched favourable moments, and at length brought it to the perfection we shall see to–morrow.”)

While Bacon, like Della Porta, offers a naturalistic basis for building a talking head, his project is far more ambitious, because it deals with imitating and not merely conveying the human voice, by deciphering what makes it possible in the first place.

Sources/Further reading:

[1] Higley S.L.; (1997) The Legend of the Learned Man’s Android. In: Hahn, T. and Lupack A. (eds.), Retelling Tales. Essays in Honor of Russell Peck

[2] Daston, L., & Park, K. (2001). Wonders and the Order of Nature, 1150-1750.

[3] Mills, R; (2013) Talking Heads, or, A Tale of Two Clerics. In: Santing, C. and Baert, B. and Traninger, A., (eds.) Disembodied Heads in Medieval and Early Modern Culture

Call for papers: The Quest for Certainty at the Crossroads of Science, Religion and Philosophy in the Early Modern Period

This special issue of SOCIETY AND POLITICS aims to gather together articles dealing with truth and certainty in the early modern period, a broad issue that encompasses problems of metaphysics, natural philosophy, theology, politics, law etc. SOCIETY AND POLITICS welcomes articles on any of these fields and strongly encourages cross-disciplinary approaches.

SOCIETY AND POLITICS is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal published by “Vasile Goldiș” Western University of Arad, Romania. See

Papers no longer than 8.000 words and book reviews no longer than 800 words should be submitted by email to Claudia Dumitru at by the 1st of December 2013.

For author guidelines see:

4th Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy

The Center for the Logic, History and Philosophy of Science is organizing its fourth graduate conference for advanced master and PhD students working on early modern philosophy and on the history and philosophy of science. The event will be held on May 10-11, 2013  at the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Bucharest (Splaiul Independenţei, 204).

Invited speakers:

  • Vlad Alexandrescu (University of Bucharest)
  • Peter Anstey (University of Sydney)
  • Richard Serjeantson (Trinity College, Cambridge),


  • Daniel Collette (University of South Florida)
  • Claudia Dumitru (University of Bucharest)
  • Max Gavrilciuc (University of Bucharest)
  • Lucio Mare (University of South Florida)
  • Bennett McNulty (University of California, Irvine)
  • Michael Misiewicz (King’s College London)
  • Ville Paukkonen (University of Helsinki)
  • Dan Savinescu (Babeş-Bolyai University, Cluj)
  • Daniel Schwartz (University of California San Diego)
  • Monica Solomon (University of Notre-Dame)
  • Aaron Spink (University of South Florida)
  • Sarah Tropper (King’s College London)
  • Dragoş Vădana (New Europe College)
  • Julia Weckend (University of Reading)

 Program Committee: Mihnea Dobre, Dana Jalobeanu, Sorin Costreie, Sorana Corneanu

 Organizing Committee: Dana Jalobeanu, Claudia Dumitru, Mihnea Dobre.


Friday, May 10

9.00-9.30: Opening address, coffee

9.30-10.30: Richard Serjeantson: ‘Francis Bacon and the “Interpretation of Nature” in the Late Renaissance’

10.30-10.50: Coffee Break

10.50-11.30: Daniel Schwartz (University of California San Diego): Crucial Instances and Bacon’s Quest for Certainty

11.30-12.10: Claudia Dumitru (University of Bucharest): Crucial Experiments and Demonstrative Induction in Newton’s New Theory about Light and Colors

12.10-13.20: Lunch

13.20-14.00: Monica Solomon (University of Notre-Dame): Newton’s Mathematical Time Remains Hidden in Plain Sight

14.00 – 14.40: Lucio Mare (University of South Florida): Leibniz’ Soul Pointilism: from the Resurrection of Body to the Indestructibility of Bugs

14.40-15.00: Coffee Break

15.00-15.40: Sarah Tropper (King’s College, London): What ‘Matter’ Might Have Been for the Young (and Older) Leibniz

15.40-16.20: Julia Weckend (University of Reading): Leibniz on Ordinary Objects

16.20-16.40: Coffee Break

16:40-17.20: Ville Paukkonen (University of Helsinki): Berkeley’s Notion of Notion

17:20-17:30: Coffee Break

17:30-18:30: Vlad Alexandrescu: Some Remarks of an Intellectual Historian Facing a Herculean Task: Translating Anew Descartes’ Correspondence.

Saturday, May 11

9.30-10.30: Peter Anstey: The Problem of Necessity in Seventeenth-Century Philosophy

10.30-10.50: Coffee Break

10.50-11.30: Mike Misiewicz (King’s College, London): “The ‘geology’ of the Short Treatise: Tracing the evolution of Spinoza’s conception of the mind-body relationship”

11.30-12.10: Daniel Collette (University of South Florida): Pascal, Spinoza, and Defining “Cartesianism”

12.10-13.20: Lunch

13.20-14.00: Aaron Spink (University of South Florida): Descartes and the Eternal Truths

14.00 – 14.40: Max Gavrilciuc (University of Bucharest): The Angelic Mind in Descartes’ Replies to Burman and Henry More

14.40-15.00: Coffee Break

15.00-15.40: Dragos Vadana (New Europe College): The Innate Knowledge of God and the Limits of Natural Theology: Descartes and Voetius

15.40-16.20: Dan Savinescu (Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj): Plurality of Worlds and Philosophy of Language in the Writings of John Wilkins

16.20-16.40: Coffee Break

16:40-17:20Bennett McNulty (University of California, Irvine): Rehabilitating the Regulative Use of Reason. Kant on Empirical and Chemical Laws

The 4th Edition of the Bucharest Graduate Conference in Early Modern Philosophy

The Center for the Logic, History and Philosophy of Science is organizing its fourth graduate conference for advanced master and PhD students working on early modern philosophy and on the history and philosophy of science. The event will be held on May 10-11, 2013 at the University of Bucharest, Romania.

Invited speakers: 

  • Richard Serjeantson (Trinity College, Cambridge)
  • Peter Anstey (University of Sydney)
  • Vlad Alexandrescu (University of Bucharest)


We welcome papers on any topic related to the early modern philosophy (roughly defined as spanning from the 15th to the 18th century) and especially those that treat this subject from the perspective of philosophy, history and/or sociology of science. Participating papers will be given 40 minutes (30 minutes talk, 10 minutes open discussion).

Submission requirements and deadline:

  • Authors should send abstracts to Abstracts should not exceed 500 words and should be prepared for blind review (no author-identifying information in the body of the abstract).  All submissions should be in PDF or Word format. Please include the following in the body of your e-mail: name, academic affiliation, paper/presentation title.
  • The deadline for submitting your abstract to the above e-mail address is February 15, 2013.
  •  Authors will be notified of the program committee’s decision by February 20, 2013.

Conference fee:


Further opportunities: 

Participants might also consider attending the “Experiments and the Arts of Discovery in Early Modern Europe” workshop that will take place at the same venue on May 12-14. The list of participants for this workshop includes Peter Anstey, Arianna Borelli, Sorana Corneanu, Maarten van Dyck, Mordechai Feingold, Daniel Garber, Benedino Gemelli, Guido Giglioni, Albrecht Heeffer, Vera Keller, Sergius Kodera, Kathryn Murphy, Stephen Pumfrey, Evan Ragland, Jonathan Regier, Justin Smith, Ian Stewart, Alberto Vanzo and Koen Vermeir.


If you have any further questions about the conference, travel arrangements, accommodation etc., you can send an e-mail to Please bookmark this post for further updates.