CFP: Instruments & arts of inquiry: natural history, natural magic and the production of knowledge in early modern Europe

CFP: Instruments & arts of inquiry: natural history, natural magic and the production of knowledge in early modern Europe

Editors: Dana Jalobeanu, Cesare Pastorino

The second half of the sixteenth-century saw the growing popularity of accounts detailing instrumental practices and experimental recipes in at least two emerging (and extremely popular) fields: natural magic and the tradition of the books of secrets. A typical example of this cultural phenomenon was the influential work of Giambattista della Porta. By the beginning of seventeenth-century, experimental practices and instruments became equally popular in natural history. In fact, almost the same period saw the transformation — in the works of Francis Bacon — of the traditional bookish discipline of natural history into a collaborative, experimental and practically oriented study of nature.

What was the relation between these apparently parallel transformations taking place in these subjects? Does it make sense to think that the Baconian transformation of natural history from a “science of describing” to an experimental and practically oriented discipline was influenced by the technologies and “recipes” elaborated by the practitioners of natural magic and the “Secrets” tradition? How about other forms of natural history? Did the “wonderful” instruments and “magical” techniques so common in the books of secrets “migrated” into more “sober,” more systematic works of natural history? Or, to put it in a different way, did natural historians borrow their instruments, technologies and practices from natural magicians and authors of secrets? And, if so, what were the mechanisms behind such borrowings?

This special issue of the Journal of Early Modern Studies seeks papers exploring the intersections between the disciplines of natural history, natural magic and the books of secrets tradition in the early modern period. We are particularly interested in the various ways in which texts and practices in the tradition of natural magic and the books of secrets were absorbed, transformed and integrated in the renovated natural histories of the seventeenth century.

JEMS is an interdisciplinary, peer-reviewed journal of intellectual history, dedicated to the exploration of the interactions between philosophy, science and religion in Early Modern Europe. It aims to respond to the growing awareness within the scholarly community of an emerging new field of research that crosses the boundaries of the traditional disciplines and goes beyond received historiographic categories and concepts.

JEMS publishes high-quality articles reporting results of research in intellectual history, history of philosophy and history of early modern science, with a special interest in cross-disciplinary approaches. It furthermore aims to bring to the attention of the scholarly community as yet unexplored topics, which testify to the multiple intellectual exchanges and interactions between Eastern and Western Europe during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

JEMS is edited by the Research Centre “Foundations of Modern Thought”, University of Bucharest, and published and distributed by Zeta Books.

The main language of the journal is English, although contributions in French are also accepted.
Deadline: 1st of October 2013.

On the reception of Bacon’s views in 1625

A while ago, in the Scientiae 2013 conference-panel on “Francis Bacon’s Art of Discovery: origins and development,” I’ve raised the problem of talking about “Baconianism” in the second half of the seventeenth century. The context discussed in that paper was that of the French Cartesianism, a very implausible source for such a discussion, if we are taking seriously the traditional stories about the seventeenth-century thought. The cases discussed in that paper – Nicolas Poisson, François Bayle (via Samuel de Fermat), and Descartes himself – reveal an interesting approach to “Baconianism,” which I would like to complement in this blog-post with several new questions. More recently, in a panel-discussion at the 4th Bucharest Colloquium in Early Modern Science, I’ve asked some questions about Mersenne’s early reception of Bacon’s views on method.

In 1625, Marin Mersenne published his treatise on La Vérité des sciences, which, in the ch. 16 of Book 1 deals with Bacon’s method. From the text, Mersenne’s sources seem to be Bacon’s Great Instauration and The Advancement of Learning. Mersenne’s first objection to Bacon is that most of the things he says are not needed or insufficient. Mersenne explicitly refers to medicine as refuting Bacon’s views: “il se trompe en plusieurs choses, comme quelques excellens Medecins ont reamarqué, lors qu’il parle de la Medecine, & qu’il dit que l’histoire, & l’experience de plusieurs choses qu’il nomme, n’a point encore été faite” (p. 209).

Why would medicine come to represent such a clear evidence against Bacon’s views?

What kind of medicine is discussed here?

There are various objections raised by Mersenne to Bacon, but for this blog-post, I would like to point only to another passage, where he praises the Englishman’s experimental activity on/ with animals, vegetables, and different materials of alchemical use: “Ce que je trouverois bon en sa doctrine, est qu’on feît toutes sortes d’experiences pour découvrir comment les esprits des plantes, & des animaux exercent leurs operations: & leur multitude: comment & par quelle vertu les eaus Royalles, fortes, & toutes celles que l’Alchymie nous donne, dissolvent l’or, l’argent, le cuivre, l’étain, le fer, & les autres métaus, & mineraus: porquoy elles ne dissolvent pas le verre, les pierres, les plantes, &c.” (p. 211).

Why is Mersenne highlighting these aspects? Is this because Bacon picks up some experiments and practices from outside of the philosophical domain and adjusts them as proper philosophical problems?

If this means doing experiments on all sorts of materials, to which one has to try various operations – in other words, variation both within the materials involved and in the experimental procedures – something that has been done by other natural philosophers (and craftsmen) of the early modern period, then what makes it “Baconian”?

And as a final question, these passages seem to suggest that Bacon’s experimentalism says something to his seventeenth-century contemporaries when he talks about medical and alchemical problems. Why are these two disciplines receiving more emphasis in the reception of Bacon’s views rather than other philosophical disciplines?

We would love to hear your comments, suggestions and thoughts on these matters, so please leave us a comment.

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:

Report for the 4th Bucharest Colloquium

4th Bucharest Colloquium in Early Modern Science

Experiments and the Arts of Discovery in the Early Modern Europe

12-14 May 2013

Center for the Logic, History and the Philosophy of Science

Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest

This international colloquium has been organized within the framework of the research project From natural history to science: the emergence of experimental philosophy (CNCS grant PN-II-ID-PCE-2011-3-0719, contract no. 294/05/10/2011). Our aim was to put together scholars working on various forms of early modern experimentation and explore several important themes about the sixteenth and seventeenth-century experiments. Among these themes, we would like to highlight the discussion of one of the most important sources of Francis Bacon’s natural histories, the work of the Italian natural philosopher Giovanni Battista della Porta (papers presented in the colloquium by Sergius Kodera and Arianna Borrelli), as well as setting the general framework of experimental natural history (Peter Anstey) and the new medical “experiments” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (Evan Ragland). How Bacon and della Porta relate to each other with respect to experiments presented in their books – many of Bacon’s experiments form the Sylva Sylvarum are from Porta’s Magia naturalis – was part of another (larger) question we ask in our research project: what is “Baconian experimentation”? This question was explored within the first two days of the colloquium in round-up discussions (Dana Jalobeanu, Cesare Pastorino, Sebastian Mateiescu, Claudia Dumitru, James Everest, Mihnea Dobre, Oana Matei, and Richard Serjeantson). More of the context about Bacon’s philosophy was uncovered in the second day of our colloquium. Thus, Daniel Garber explored the relation between Bacon’s Latin natural histories and his Sylva. Sorana Corneanu examined the relation between traditional rhetoric and Baconian theory of imagination. Benedino Gemelli discussed the reception of Bacon and his experiments in the famous Dutch natural philosopher, Isaac Beeckman. Vlad Alexandrescu pointed out another possible connection between Bacon and René Descartes. The final day of the colloquium was opened by Mordechai Feingold’s lecture “What was the ‘Experimental Philosophy’?,” which raised several important problems that were discussed in the final round-up discussion “Experiments in Early Modern Philosophy: historical and historiographical questions” (Dana Jalobeanu, Cesare Pastorino, Peter Anstey). Although was not initially in the colloquium program, Roger Ariew presented a paper on Fromondus’s views about comets. Koen Vermeir explored how mathematics, imagination, and experiments lead to “mathematical experiments” in John Wilkins. Alberto Vanzo discussed a case of Italian experimental activities in the late seventeenth century.

This very brief overview is merely a glimpse into the many fruitful discussions that were generated by papers presented in the 4th Bucharest Colloquium in Early Modern Science. Given the high quality of these papers, we are planning to publish a proceeding of this event.