PhiBor Talks

PhiBor Talks

A Critical Analysis of Essential (Dhātī) - Descriptional (Waṣfī) Distinction in Avicennian Logic

A lecture by Fatma Karaismail
İstanbul Üniversitesi | IMT Lucca

6 May 2024, 4pm | San Francesco Complex - Sagrestia | online at

Abstract | The aim of this talk is to critically analyze the “essential/substantial (dhātī)-descriptional/qualitative (waṣfī)” distinction in Avicennian logic, which is often claimed to exist in modern Islamic logic studies in the context of categorical propositions, and to question the possibility of obtaining a consistent essential - descriptional distinction about categorical propositions. To this end, in this talk, first, the types of necessary propositions in Ibn Sīnā (d. 428/1037) will be explained since they are largely taken as the basis for the explanations of essential - descriptional distinction in contemporary Islamic logic studies, and then two interpretations of general absolute propositions, which have critical importance in this context, will be introduced. After that, the explanations in the secondary literature on the distinction between essential and descriptional propositions will be analyzed in the center of Tony Street’s views on the subject, who has authored pioneering studies in Islamic logic. The main claim of the talk is that in Avicennian logic it is not possible to make a consistent essential-descriptional distinction that covers all categorical propositions and, as a result, the explanations of this distinction in the secondary literature are misleading.

Albertus Magnus on Alchemy: Its Natural-Philosophical and Metaphysical Implications

A lecture by Thanasis Rinotas
KU Leuven

12 April 2024, 2pm | San Francesco Complex - classroom 2 | online at
Watch here

Abstract | Albertus Magnus’ interest in alchemy is a topic that has attracted the attention of modern scholarship for some years now. All studies dedicated to this topic have depicted Albertus’ positive attitude towards alchemy and the possibility of alchemical transmutation by referring to his De mineralibus. Specifically, in the ninth chapter of the third book of the De mineralibus, the Dominican master explicitly states that “alchemical transmutation is possible if a metal is reduced first to prime matter” and thus this statement has offered ample ground for affirming and arguing for Albertus’ favorable position towards alchemy. Yet, this Albertian statement (taken from Avicenna to be more accurate) is far from conclusive on the matter since it creates new questions that need to be answered. Namely, on the one hand, one may ask how it is possible for “prime matter” to stand without a form and, on the other, how and if an alchemical transmutation can really take place.

This presentation aims to provide answers to these questions by exploring the natural-philosophical and metaphysical implications of Albertus’ alchemy. In particular, I will deal with three topics: firstly, I will show what is the notion of “prime matter” in Albertus’ alchemy and how it connects to the Aristotelian elemental theory and the doctrine of “symbola”. Then I will discuss the metaphysical aspects of the Albertian alchemy by dealing with the “problem of substantial form” and its connection with the notion of “formative power” (virtus formativa). Finally, I will explore a connection between Albertus’ alchemy and epistemological-metaphysical issues by dealing with the question of what kind of knowledge is needed by an alchemist in order to perform an alchemical transmutation and how such knowledge can be attained?

Other and otherness in the medieval world

A lecture by Kristjan Toomaspoeg
University of Salento

25 January 2024, 4pm | San Francesco Complex - Sagrestia | online at

What Can A Book Do? Reflections on the Affordances of Early Medieval Liturgical Books

A lecture by Andrew J. M. Irving
University of Groningen

25 January 2024, 9am | San Francesco Complex - Sagrestia | online at

Points and Atoms, between kalām, falsafa and geometry

A lecture by Marwan Rashed
Université de Paris-Sorbonne

8 November 2023, 10am | San Francesco Complex - classroom 2 | online at

Abstract | While Aristotle considered, in De caelo iii, that geometry could only support continuism (i.e. the doctrine of the infinite divisibility of magnitudes), in the 9th century each of the two camps relies on geometry. The upholders of the continuum appealed to the infinite divisibility implied by the incommensurability of the side and the diameter of the square, while the supporters of infinitesimal thresholds (beyond which matter could no longer be divided) also looked to Euclid for arguments in their favour. We shall try to explain this new situation by taking new texts into account.

A Fresh Look at Aristotle,
De interpretatione 9

A lecture by Francesco Ademollo
Università di Firenze | Scuola Normale Superiore

26 October 2023, 5pm | San Francesco Complex - classroom 1 | online at

Abstract | In De interpretatione 9 Aristotle argues that an unrestricted application of a certain logico-semantic principle to declarative sentences about the future leads to a kind of determinism or fatalism. I show that the principle at stake is the Principle of Bivalence and discuss the text and structure of Aristotle’s argument from this principle to determinism.

The 'Flying Man' in Avicenna's Treatise The Easterners: A Classic of  'Western' Philosophy

A lecture by Dag Nikolaus Hasse
Universität Würzburg

6 June 2023, 5pm | San Francesco Complex - classroom 1 | online at

Abstract | The thought experiment of the Flying Man, which Avicenna (d. 1037 CE) develops in several works, is controversial among scholars. But interestingly, the difference in interpretations has less to do with the content of the Flying Man than with its function. The dispute revolves around the question of what the Flying Man is for, what argumentative function it has, what Avicenna wants to show. By providing a critical edition of the psychology chapter from Avicenna's treatise 'The Easterners', I would like to shed new light on this question and show that the Flying Man is not an answer to the question of the nature of the soul. But neither is he a bridge to the discussion of substantiality that follows. What is he then?

Poster picture by Danninx, under a Creative Common License

Translation and Self-Fashioning: The Letters of Bulghaith Al-Darāwi (1664-1667)

A lecture by Pier Mattia Tommasino
Columbia University in the City of New York | Visiting Professor, IMT School, Lucca

5 June 2023, 5pm | San Francesco Complex - classroom 1 | online at

Abstract | This seminar challenges the current trends in the field of global microhistory, especially the use of biography. Rather than the biography of a global go-between, this seminar offers an intensive contrastive microanalysis of ego-documents, mainly letters. It focuses on the letters exchange between the Moroccan Muhammad Bulghaith Al-Darāwi, imam of Livorno’s prisons between 1661 and 1666, and the Moroccan Jesuit Balthazar Loyola Mandes (1631-1667), Al-Darawi’s mentor during the process of Al-Darawi’s release and conversion to Catholicism. A comparative microanalysis of Al-Darawi’s letters in Arabic and the translations into Italian that Loyola Mandes penned for the Jesuits in Rome let us enter the gray-zones of Mediterranean captivity and unpack Loyola Mandes’s use of translation as a tool of self-fashioning across the Jesuit order and the Medici court. This close comparative observation of Arabic and Italian ego-documents and conversion narratives urges us to reflect on the relationship between ethnocentrism, multilingualism, and archival research.

Philosophy with or Against Medicine? Avicenna's Global Project in the Šifāʾ -Qānūn Ensemble

A lecture by Tommaso Alpina
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

21 March 2023, 5pm | San Francesco Complex - classroom 1 | online at

Abstract | This talk will focus on the ‘zoological enterprise’ that Avicenna embarks on in his Book of Animals (Kitāb al-Ḥayawān, Liber de Animalibus), his only writing on this topic. In this regard, I will aim to answer two questions: 1) What is Avicenna’s goal in writing this book? 2) How does Avicenna reach his goal? In answering these questions, it is essential to consider the composition of the whole Book of the Cure/Healing (Kitāb al-Šifāʾ), to which the Book of Animals belongs, and its complementarity with the Canon of Medicine (Qānūn fī l-ṭibb). The anatomy and physiology of the organic body, that is, of the proximate matter of the living organism, is the field where (natural) philosophy and medicine interact, overlap, and conflict. According to my interpretation, in zoology as the philosophical study of the organic body, Avicenna aims to overcome the tensions between (Aristotelian) philosophy and (Galenic) medicine and to reconcile the two traditions and their different authorities (Aristotle and Galen) of which he is the heir. To reach his goal, Avicenna makes use of three different modalities: 1) explicit refutation of Galen’s arguments and defence of Aristotle (e.g. in the case of the origination of blood vessels and nerves and the issue of cardiocentrism); 2) explicit refutation of Galen’s arguments but concomitant adherence to and silent use of parts of his arguments (e.g. in the theory of the two semina and the development stages of the embryo); 3) insertion of medical principles within an Aristotelian theoretical framework (e.g. in the theory of humors within the exposition of the three levels of composition of the organic body). The thematic contexts in which these three modalities emerge have not been arbitrarily chosen. On the contrary, they represent areas of investigation that go beyond zoology and intersect other fundamental natural sciences such as psychology and meteorology.

Porphyry on ittiḥād. "New" Materials from Porphyry, On the soul in the Muqābasāt of al-Tawḥīdī

A lecture by Michael Chase
CNRS Centre Jean Pépin-UMR 8230-ENS-PSL, Paris-Villejuif - Max Planck Institute for the HIstory of Science, Berlin

10 October 2022, 5pm | San Francesco Complex - classroom 1 | online at

Abstract | I propose that new materials from the Muqābasāt of al-Tawḥīdī should be attributed to the Arabic treatise On the Soul, which I argue is an extract from an authentic work by Porphyry. These materals contain indications of doctrines on the origin, nature and function of the union (ittiḥād) between the human soul and the divine Agent Intellect that are unattested in Porphyry’s extant Greek works, but may help to shed light on Avicenna’s hitherto unexplained violent reaction to and dismissal of Porphyrian noetics.

Una ricostruzione della lunga storia delle teorie astronomiche delle maree

A lecture by Lucio Russo
Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata

22 April 2022, 11am | San Francesco Complex - classroom 1 | online at | in collaboration with MoMiLab

Abstract | Si ritiene in genere che la prima teoria scientifica delle maree sia quella di Newton. In questa presentazione, si mostra invece che: 1) Newton arrivò alla sua sintesi attingendo in modo essenziale a due tradizioni apparentemente contrapposte: quella che attribuiva il fenomeno della marea ai moti della Terra (sostenuta, tra gli altri, da Cesalpino, Sarpi, Galileo, Baliani e Wallis) e la teoria luni-solare, giunta a Newton attraverso Marcantonio De Dominis. 2) Entrambe le teorie precedenti trasmettevano aspetti parziali e complementari dell’antica teoria ellenistica delle maree, che Newton in larga misura ricostruisce.