Project code: PN-III-P1-1.1-PD-2016-1496
Principal investigator: Dr. Fabrizio Baldassarri — (personal website)(academia)
Abstract. This research project aims to delve into a mostly overlooked topic of the history of philosophy and the history of sciences, the philosophical role attributed to vegetation for the understanding of life in early modern Europe. During the Renaissance and early modernity the questions concerning living beings became particularly controversial, as life phenomena difficultly matched the Scholastic interpretative programme attributing life to souls and spirits, and substantiating the academic knowledge of the epoch. From mechanical philosophy to alchemical traditions, alternative systems developed different interpretations of life, resulting in fiercest clashes without a clear and definite solution. Life apparently remained an undefinable, though crucial feature of philosophy and biomedicine. An innovative role within this controversial situation was provided by vegetal studies, as plants silently witnessed life in beings. This was not an untraditional claim, as the Scholastic tradition conceived life starting with the vegetative faculties of the soul. However, it is only during the 16th and 17th centuries that vegetal studies acquired a more crucial condition in this respect, as a change from the vegetative soul to metabolism characterized the biomedical revolution concerning life. While plants emerged as compelling items of knowledge – the Botanical Renaissance composed a relevant section of the naturalistic studies of the period through collecting and classifications of natural, vegetal diversities – a philosophical interpretation of plants as representing the minimal level of vitality led studies to important and fascinating attempts to redefine life. This project seeks to reconstruct this section of the history of vegetal life especially focusing on René Descartes’ and the Cartesian’s attempts. Related to the botanical and medical work in the United Provinces, an early modern vegetal philosophy emerges, resulting in a crucial philosophical interpretation of life.
Project development for 2018
Published or forthcoming papers:
- “Descartes’ Bio-Medical Study of Plants: Vegetative Activities, Soul, and Power”, in Early Science and Medicine, vol. 23/5-6, 2018, pp. 509-529.
- “I moti circolari nella meccanica della vita in Descartes: embriologia e nutrizione nella medicina e nella botanica”, in Physis: Rivista di Storia della scienza, 2018, forthcoming. [in Italian]
- “The Mechanical Life of Plants: Descartes on Botany”, in British Journal for the History of Science, forthcoming.
Fascicle of journal:
- 1. Manipulating Flora: Seventeenth-Century Botanical Practices and Natural Philosophy, ed. by F. Baldassarri, O. Matei, in Early Science and Medicine (Brill), vol. 23/5-6, Winter 2018. (Forthcoming.)
- G. Manning, C. Klestinec (eds.), Professors, Physicians and Practices in the History of Medicine: Essays in Honor of Nancy Siraisi, Cham., Springer, 2017, on Gesnerus: Swiss Journal of the History of Medicine and Science, forthcoming, vol. 75/2 (2018).
- Session Organization for the History of Science Society (HSS) Annual Meeting, Seattle (US). 1-4 November 2018
Panel title: “Plants as Case Study in the History of Philosophy, Science, and Medicine”.
- Report Title: “Plants as Models in Early Modern Medicine: The Case of Jean Riolan the Younger, William Harvey, and Marcello Malpighi”, panel session: “Plants as Case Study in the History of Philosophy, Science, and Medicine” – Speaker at: HSS Annual Meeting. Seattle, Washington. November 1-4, 2018.
- Report Title: “A Green Thread from Galen to the Early Modern Medicine: The Analogy between Animals and Plants” (website) – Speaker at Galen and the Early Moderns, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice (Italy). Organized by Matteo Favaretti Camposampiero and Emanuela Scribano. October 25-26, 2018.
Scientific report for 2018
Project development for 2019
A1. Invited speaker at Kolloquium in Wolfenbuettel (DE), “Do Plants Have Souls? The Vegetable Soul and the concept of Life”, 21 January 2019
A2. Invited speaker at Premodern Conversations, Max-Planck Institut for the History of Science in Berlin. Organizers Maria Avxentevskaya and Katja Krause. Title: “Plants versus Machines. Life in the Cartesian Mechanization of the Vegetative Soul”. 7 February 2019.
A3. Invited speaker at Summer School: “the Kiln, the Alembic, and the Clockwork: Early Modern Representations of the Body and tis Changing Matter”, Pisa. Organizers: CSMBR, and Fabrizio Bigotti. Report Title: “Spirits and Juices in Descartes’ Natural Philosophy” 29-31 March 2019 + roundtables
A4. Speaker at “Laws of Nature: the emergence of a new concept in early modern Europe”, Bucharest University, organizer: Mihnea Dobre. Report Title: “Laws of Nature in Living Nature: A Cosmological Reference in Descartes’ Study of Plants”, 16 April 2019.
A5. Invited participant at “The Foundations of Another Modernity. Seventeenth Century Alternative Philosophies”. Organizers: ENS de Lyon, Delphine Antoine-Mahut, Pierre Girar, Gianni Paganini, Susana Seguin.
A6. Invited participant at “Atelier Montaigne: Journée d’étude: La Curiosité”, organized by Thierry Gonthier and Emiliano Ferrari, May 28, 2019.
A7. Invited Speaker at “Περὶ φυτῶν. Trattati greci di botanica in Occidente e in Oriente”. Organizers: Maria Fernanda Ferrini, Guido Giglioni. Report Title: “Early Modern Philosophy of Botany and the Stone Guest: Pseudo-Aristotle’s De Plantis”. June 10-11, 2019.
A8. Speaker at Scientiae 2019. Belfast, Northern Ireland. Report Title: “A Clockwork Orange: Citrus in Early Modern Philosophy”, panel session: “Seeds, Plants, and Fruits: Early Modern Investigations of Vegetal Bodies” (Organized panel), June 12-15, 2019.
A9. Speaker at HSS Annual Meeting, Utrecht (NL). Report Title: “The Mechanical Life of Plants in 17th-Century Natural Philosophy”, 23-27 July 2019. (Organized panel)
A10. Invited Speaker at “Analogies et modèles végétaux en médecine dans l’antiquité à l’age classique”. Organizers: Arnaud Mace. Université de France-Comté, Besançon. Report Title: “Same Machine, Different Structure: The Continuity between Plants and Animals in Early Modern Natural Philosophy and Medicine” 17-18 October 2019.
A11. Invited speaker at “Wunderkammern. L’arte dell’invenzione”. Oranizers: University of Trieste, Report title: “Curiosity and order of nature: Wunderkammern and early modern natural philosophy”, 30 November 2019.
B1. 2019, April-May – Visiting Researcher at Institut d’Histoire des Représentations et des Idées dans les Modernités, ENS Lyon, France, promotor prof. Delphine Antoine-Mahut.
I have discussed my research project with professor Delphine Antoine-Mahut, and with dr. Raphaële Andrault, dr. Samir Boumediene, and dr. Elisa Andretta, and achieved research on early modern medicine and study of anatomy and physiology.
B2. 2019, June-July – Visiting Researcher at Centro Dipartimentale di Studi su Descartes Ettore Lojacono, Università del Salento, Lecce (IT), promotor prof. Franco A. Meschini.
I have worked with professor Franco Aurelio Meschini on my research project, on the anatomical studies of living activities in seventeenth-century medicine, and their connections with the (anatomical) study of plants.
B3. 2019, October – Visiting Researcher at at ‘Centro Interdipartimentale di Studi sulla Storia delle Idee’ (CIRSI), Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia, Italy, promotor prof. Berenice Cavarra.
I have collaborated with professor Berenice Cavarra, working on my research project, and especially dealing with the case of plants in medical knowledge. I have also co-organized a conference, “Anti-Mechanicism and Neo-Vitalism”, with the participation of biologists, philosophers, and historians. The conference took place on October 9 and 10, and scholars investigated the study of life and living bodies through different lenses.
Organized panels and Conferences:
C1. Session Organization for Scientiae 2019, Belfast (GB).
Panel title: “Seeds, Plants, and Fruits: Early Modern Investigation of Vegetal Bodies”.
Speakers: Francesco Luzzini (Max Planck Institüt, Berlin), Lucie Cermakova (Charles University, Prague), Fabrizio Baldassarri (Bucharest University), Christoffer Basse Eriksen (Aarhus University).
List of talks:
- Francesco Luzzini, “Inversi Arboris Instar. (Re)generative Theories and Botanical Analogies In the Early Modern Debate on Mineral Ores”
- Lucie Čermáková, “Stony Seeds, Corals and Petrifying Algae: Between Mineral and Vegetal
- Fabrizio Baldassarri, “A Clockwork Orange: Citruses and Fruits in Early Modern Philosophy”
- Christoffer Basse Eriksen, “Of the seeming bigness of Walnuts: Picturing Seeds of Poppy in Early Modern England”
Panel Abstract: In this panel, we aim to investigate some specimens or vegetal items that attracted attention in the early modern time. The study of plants in the sixteenth and seventeenth century gained momentum as a study of singularities and rarities collected in herbaria or planted in botanical gardens; yet, while natural historical efforts concentrates on the diversities of plants, natural philosophers investigated the inner structure, functioning, and virtues of vegetal bodies. In this panel, we focus on a few compelling issues related to the second realm of nature: the study of generation of plants (in Luzzini’s talk), the intersections between inert and vegetal bodies (in Čermáková’s talk), the mechanical investigation of fruits in Cartesian philosophy (in Baldassarri’s talk), and the study of seeds in Seventeenth century England (in Basse Eriksen’s talk). All the talks shed light on the innovative approach early modern scholars had toward the second realm of nature.
C2. Session Organization for the History of Science Society (HSS) Annual Meeting, Utrecht (NL).
Panel title: “Herbs, Plants, and Vegetal Bodies: Botanical Knowledge in Medical, Naturalistic, and Philosophical Contexts” — Co-Organization with Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions
Speakers: Dominic Olariu (Erfurt University), Sara R. Kyle (University Central Oklahoma), Florike Egmond (Leiden University), Federica Rotelli (Firenze), Alain Touwaide (UCLA)
Panel Abstract: In this panel, we would like to approach this through different case studies. These cases involve a wide range of practices and practitioners (botanists, alchemists, physicians, natural scholars, philosophers and collectors) and concerns as, for example, (a) the exchanges of specimens, seeds, or parts of plants, (b) the study of herbs in pharmaco-therapeutics, (c) the natural-philosophical attempts to explain vegetal bodies, and (d) the natural-historical work of cataloguing specimens’ diversities. Ultimately, the aim of the panel is to explore the complexity and the intersections in the knowledge of the second realm of nature.
C3. International Conference Co-Organization, with prof. Berenice Cavarra. Conference title: “Anti-Mechanicism and Neo-Vitalism”. At University of Modena and Reggio Emilia (Italy). October 9-10, 2019. (Member of programme committee.)
Article in Journal:
D1. “The Mechanical Life of Plants: Descartes on Botany”, in British Journal for the History of Science, 52/1, 2019, pp. 41-63. [in English]
D2. Medicina e fisiologia in René Descartes, filosofo del poële e del tavolo anatomico, in process for Aracne Editrice, Roma. Forthcoming 2020 – accepted.
D3. Vegetative Powers: Endowing Bodily Life from Antiquity to the Early Modern Time, ed. by F. Baldassarri, A. Blank, Cham: Springer, “International Archives of the History of Ideas”. Forthcoming 2020 – accepted.
D4. Scientiae in the History of Medicine, ed. by F. Baldassarri, F. Zampieri, Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider, “Storia della medicina”. Forthcoming 2020 – accepted.
Chapters in volumes:
D5. “Descartes, René”, in Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy, ed. M. Sgarbi, Cham, Springer, forthcoming (2019).
D6. “Botany and Medicine”, in Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and Sciences, ed. D. Jalobeanu and Ch. Wolfe, Cham, Springer, forthcoming (2019).
D7. “Failures of Mechanization: The Vegetative Power and Early Cartesians, Regius, La Forge, and Schuyl”, in Vegetative Powers: Endowing Bodily Life from Late Antiquity to the Early Modern Time, ed. by F. Baldassarri, A. Blank, Cham: Springer. (forthcoming)
D8. “Beeckman’s Corpuscular Study of Plants”, in Isaac Beeckman in Context, ed. by K. van Berkel, A. Clements, A. van Dixhoorn, Amsterda: Amsterdam University Press, 2020 (forthcoming).
D9. “Santorio and Descartes: The Quantification and Mechanization of Passions”, in Santorio Santori and the Emergence of Quantified Medicine. Corpuscularianism, Technology and Experimentation (1614-1790), ed. by F. Bigotti, J. Barry, Palgrave. (forthcoming)
D10. “Descartes and Padua: A Network of Scholars in the Emergence of a Modern Medical Science”, in Scientiae in the History of Medicine, ed. by F. Baldassarri, F. Zampieri, Roma: L’Erma di Bretschneider. (forthcoming)
D11. Q. Hiernaux, B. Timmermans, Philosophie du végétal, Paris: Vrin, 2018, on History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, forthcoming.
D12. Lucas J. Mix, Life Concepts from Aristotle to Darwin: On Vegetable Souls, Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018, on Hopos: The journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, 9/2 (2019): 423-426.
D13. J. Dupèbe (ed. and trans.), Apologie contre Leonhart Fuchs by Michel Servet, Geneva, Droz, 2017, on Renaissance Quarterly, 72.1 (2019): 246-248.
Raport Baldassarri 2019