The Emergence of Mathematical Physics in the Context of Experimental Philosophy 

The Emergence of Mathematical Physics in the Context of Experimental Philosophy 

PNIII- P4-ID- PCE 2016-0228, 2017-2019. 

Project website:

This project is a cross-disciplinary investigation into the emergence of a particular form of mathematization, a specific blending, into one compound, of theoretical sciences and experimental methods. We call this mixture “mathematical physics,” to distinguish it from other seventeenth century competing attempts to mix physics and mathematics. Mathematical physics so understood is both an actor’s category and a term we propose for historiographic use. Disentangling its main characteristics requires a fair amount of historical expertize, as well as philosophical and historiographic investigations. This is what our project aims to undertake by putting at work the skills of an interdisciplinary team of philosophers and historians of early modern science.

The introduction of this new historiographic category is likely to bring important clarifications in many current debates in history and philosophy of science. First, it will help disentangle between two types of early modern approaches to the investigation of nature which were, so far, conflated together: a top-down, experimental and instrumental approach – the mathematical physics – and a bottom-up approach which blends axioms of mathematics with principles and axioms of natural philosophy, i.e., the physico-mathematical approach. A clearer understanding of their particularities and differences will give us a more fine-grained picture of the wide spectrum of early modern forms of mathematization in the period between Bacon and Newton, and will deepen our understanding of the intricate relations between “theories” and “experimental practices” in the early modern world. Furthermore, our proposal will open up new fields of cross-disciplinary investigation, building bridges between historians of early modern mathematics, historians of philosophy and historians of science.

Principal investigator: Dana Jalobeanu 


Dana Jalobeanu is Associate Professor in the Department of Theoretical Philosophy and Director of the Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest. She is the co-editor of the Journal of Early Modern Studies. Trained as a physicist and a philosopher, she is mainly interested in the emergence of experimental philosophy, in the seventeenth century.Recent publications: Dana Jalobeanu, The Art of Experimental Natural History: Francis Bacon in Context, Zeta Books: Bucharest, 2015, Dana Jalobeanu, “Borders,” “Leaps” and “Orbs of Virtue:” A Contextual Reconstruction of Francis Bacon’s Extension-Related Concepts, in Boundaries, Extents and Circulations: Space and Spatiality in Early Modern Philosophy, edited by Koen Vermeir and Jonathan Regier, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 41, Dordrecht: Springer, 2016, Guido Giglioni, James Lancaster, Sorana Corneanu, Dana Jalobeanu, (eds.) Francis Bacon on Motion and Power, Springer, 2016

Her role in the project will be to investigate some of the new conceptions of scientia emerging in the sixteenth and seventeenth century from  debates over Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and Proclus’ Commentary on Euclid, in the context of mixed-mathematics and experimental practices, in the works of John Dee, Thomas Digges, Francis Bacon and the first English Baconians.


Team members: 


Mihnea Dobre is a former member of the research team. His role in the project was to examine the various forms of mathematization within the early modern Cartesian circles. Dobre is teaching and doing research at the University of Bucharest. He has a PhD in philosophy (Radboud University Nijmegen and University of Bucharest). His research interest covers the history of philosophy and science and his prior work has focused on the various aspects of the early modern period, with a focus on the relations between disciplines (philosophy, science, religion). He is the author of a monograph on Descartes and Early French Cartesianism: between metaphysics and physics (Zeta Books, 2017) and co-editor of the Cartesian Empiricisms volume (Springer, 2013). For a list of Dobre’s publications and conference papers, see his page. He is book review editor at the Centaurus, An International Journal of the History of Science and its Cultural Aspects. Dobre is the PI of the research project on Early Modern Cosmology Between “Mosaic Physics” and Mechanical Philosophy (1650-1713).


grigoreGrigore Vida is a historian of philosophy and science of the early modern period, member of the Research Center “Foundations of Modern Thought” and of the Center for Logic, History and Philosophy of Science (both at the University of Bucharest). He has a PhD in philosophy from the University of Bucharest with the thesis “Metaphysics and Natural Philosophy in Isaac Newton” (2011). He has worked within a team on a Romanian edition of Descartes’ complete correspondence, and has also contributed to translations from the works of Francis Bacon. His main interest is the relation between metaphysics, natural philosophy and mathematics in the works of scientifically minded philosophers of the 17th century.

The topics he will work on in the project include: 1) the historiography of the “mathematization of nature”; 2) Descartes’ early mathematics and natural philosophy in the light of the tradition inspired by Proclus’ philosophy of mathematics; 3) Descartes’ doctrine of abstraction in mathematics, metaphysics and natural philosophy; 4) the concept of physico-mathematics in Descartes, Beeckman and Mersenne


IMG018Ovidiu Babeș is PhD student at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Bucharest, writing a dissertation on the relation between mathematics and natural philosophy in Descartes’s works. His main area of research interest is in the history of early modern science (including here natural philosophy, history of mathematics, the rise of experimental philosophy). He has worked on topics such as early modern doctrines of demonstration, the status of mixed-mathematical disciplines within the Aristotelian division of sciences, Descartes’s optics, the establishment of the Royal Society, and John Wilkins’s cosmology.

For the project, he will investigate and describe the various forms of mathematization of nature employed by figures such as René Descartes, Christopher Clavius, Isaac Barrow and John Wilkins.