IMAGINABLE IMPOSSIBILITIES AND THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS.

IMAGINABLE IMPOSSIBILITIES AND THOUGHT EXPERIMENTS.
THE TRADITION OF THE OXFORD CALCULATORS AND ITS INFLUENCE ON EARLY MODERN LOGIC AND NATURAL PHILOSOPHY

This project aims to investigate the tradition of the Oxford Calculators and the influence that the Calculators’ works had on logic and natural philosophy in Italy from the late 14th to the 16th century. The Oxford Calculators were a group of scholars active at Oxford between 1325 and 1350, mostly known for having introduced physical topics into the medieval tradition of sophismata and for their mathematical approach to natural philosophy.After 1350, the logical methodology and the new insights in natural philosophy developed by the Calculators became widely influential on the Continent, and especially in Italy, where their works were enthusiastically adopted and constituted a fundamental part of the logical curriculum during the Renaissance.

A better knowledge of the logicians’ lives and of their social, cultural and academic context would enable us to understand why this peculiar interconnection of logic, natural philosophy and mathematics took place at Oxford and not elsewhere, and why the tradition of the Calculators rapidly declined in England after 1350, while it continued to flourish in the Continent. This study would also allow us to establish which sort of mutual connections were there between Oxonian and Parisian logic in the first half of 14th century. Other research that needs to be done concerns the transmission and the history of publication of these logical works in the Continent, and especially in Italy, during the 15th and 16th century.

Finally, I think that an accurate study on this topic will allow us to more precisely determine in which way and to what extent the 14th century tradition of logical sophismata and thought experiments influenced Early Modern natural philosophy and contributed to the rise of modern science.

The first objective is to assess whether the Calculators developed a consistent theory of modalities, and how this would be connected to other theories available in the 13th and 14th century. This will require cataloguing and analysing the Calculators’ use of imaginable cases, and the various senses of possibility that are at play in such cases. The second objective is to evaluate the impact that the Calculators’ works had on early-modern logic and natural philosophy, and to determine to what extent their achievements in the areas of mathematics and physics – together with their thought-experiment methodology – contributed to the shift from medieval scientific paradigms to a modern scientific view.  This includes the study of the transmission of the Calculators’ works to the Continent during the 15th and 16th century. I will especially investigate the use of Calculators’ texts in the works of Blaise of Parma, Paul of Venice, Peter of Mantua, Gaetano Thiene, Giovanni Marliani and John Dullaert, Gerolamo Cardano and Galileo Galilei.

The project is innovative because it calls into question the standard opposition between medieval and early-modern scientific paradigms, by investigating the unique interplay between traditional Aristotelianism and innovative scientific ideas that shaped the transition from late medieval to early-modern philosophy. Besides its historical interest, the project is related to many significant philosophical issues, such as the ones concerning the nature and varieties of modalities, or the role that thought experiments play in philosophical and scientific methodology.

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