Masterclass on the Nature and Status of Principles in Western Thought

An Interdisciplinary Masterclass on the Nature and Status of Principles in Western Thought

15–18 March 2016

Organizers: Dana Jalobeanu (IRH-ICUB) and Peter Anstey (IRH-ICUB/ Sydney University)
Invited speakers: Vincenzo de Risi (Max Planck Institute, Berlin) and Aza Goudriaan (Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam)

The purpose of this interdisciplinary master class is to examine the nature and status of principles across a variety of disciplinary domains and a variety of historical periods. The concept of principles is almost ubiquitous in Western thought: it is used in philosophy, natural philosophy, ethics, art, mathematics, politics and theology. One only needs to cite some of the canonical works of early modern philosophy, natural philosophy or art to appreciate the centrality of the notion: for example, Descartes’ Principia philosophiae (1644), Newton’s Principia (1687) and Taylor’s New Principles of Linear Perspective (1719). Yet to date there are few if any systematic treatments of the subject. This master class will address the following questions in relation to classical, Hellenistic, Renaissance and early modern thought:

Which disciplines appealed to principles?
What sorts of principles did they deploy?
How does one get epistemic access to these principles?
And what roles did principles play in the period and discipline under scrutiny?
How does the use of principles vary across disciplines and across historical periods?
Is the principles concept stable or subject to change?
Is there a typology of principles?
What is the relation between principles, axioms, hypotheses and laws?

The master class will include lectures, reading groups and seminars, as well as more informal activities (tutorials, and discussions). The master class will be set within the interdisciplinary environment of the Institute of Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest. It aims to bring together up to fifteen post-docs and postgraduate students from different fields and willing to spend four days working together within the premises of the Institute, and under the supervision of experts in the field. The master class will also benefit from logistical support of CELFIS (Center for the Logic, History and Philosophy of Science), Faculty of Philosophy. Each student attending the master class will have the opportunity to give a twenty-minute presentation on the final day. Student contributions are voluntary.


15 March: Principles: the conceptual terrain

09.30-10.00 Coffee and welcome address

10.00–12.00 Introductory lecture & discussion:

Peter Anstey, ‘Four approaches to principles: typology, epistemic access, theories and historiography’

12.00–14.00 Lunch

14.00–17.00 Reading group:

R1. Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, Book One, §§1–4 and 10.

R2. Isaac Barrow, The Usefulness of Mathematical Learning, London, 1734 [1664], pp. 100–­35


16 March:  Principles in ancient thought

 10.00–12.00 Lecture & discussion:

Vincenzo de Risi, ‘The role of principles in mathematics from Antiquity to the early           modern age’

12.00–14.00 Lunch

14.00–16.00 Reading group:

R3. Proclus’s commentary to Euclid’s Elements.

R4. Leibniz on provability of principles.


17 March: Principles in early modern theology

10.00–12.00 Lecture & discussion:

Aza Goudriaan, ‘Identifying principia in early modern theology’

14.00–17.00 Reading group:

R5. Ioannes Altenstaig & Ioannes Tytz, Lexicon theologicum, Cologne, 1619, 739-742 (s.v. Principium etc.)

R6. Rudolph Goclenius, Lexicon philosophicum, Frankfurt, 1613, 870-874 (s.v. Principium)


18 March: Principles in the eighteenth century

10.00–12.00 Lecture & discussion:

Peter Anstey, ‘Eighteenth-century principles: religion, politics, art and natural


12.00–14.00 Lunch

14.00–17.00 Reading group:

R7. George Cheyne, Philosophical Principles of Natural Religion, London, 1705

R8. Brook Taylor, New Principles of Linear Perspective, London, 1719

R9. Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, Traité des systèmes, The Hague, 1749, chapters 1–4 and 11–18.

17.00–18.00    Concluding remarks