Translating Experience into Science in the Middle Ages

Elly R. Truitt, University of Pennsylvania

This talk explores how experience—natural knowledge from the sensorium—was translated into science—understanding natural laws and causation—in both the Arabic and Latin Middle Ages.

March 05, 2021 - 12:00 pm to 1:30 pm @ Zoom
Diagram of head with faculties and senses

Beginning with Arabic concepts of trial and proof from scholars working in the 4th/10th - 5th/11th centuries, experience and its close cognate, experiment, were adopted into Latin natural philosophy in the thirteenth century as tools for confirming natural knowledge, and to signify knowledge that dealt with particular phenomena and knowledge from multiple social registers. By tracing this concept over several centuries and linguistic regimes, I demonstrate the capacious set of practices and ideas that experience denoted in thirteenth-century Latin culture, arguing that this expanded capacity represents a departure from both the earlier Arabic terms and their meanings, and the later, more specific set of scientific experimental practices in the sixteenth century and seventeenth centuries.

This event is free and open to the public. Registration has closed.

Lecture Series

Image above: From LJS 429, De philosophia naturali (between 1485 and 1499), showing diagram of head with faculties and senses, p. 11