The Geometry of Virtue: Transmitting Knowledge through Diagrams in the Early Modern Aristotelian Tradition
The aim of this presentation is twofold. On the one hand, it outlines the rise of tables and diagrams in the early modern period as both empirical and hermeneutical tools. On the other, it also reconstructs a specific material artifact, Francesco Patrizi’s unfinished project of moral commonplacing, such as it is documented in MS Palatino 909 in Parma, by considering first its spectre of responses to Aristotelian ethics, and second its methodological contribution against filing, sorting, and list-making techniques. The first part of the lecture starts from a discussion of how tabular learning, and its search for perfect dichotomies, became a philosophical paradigm in the pedagogical practice of Peter Ramus, in anatomy, and in many other domains. Other than as a visual strategy or an engine of order and ordinatio, diagrams are seen here as a type of instrument engaged in the ‘epistemic shift’ between ordinary things and the demarcation of proper scientific objects; and while examples are pivoted around cosmology and natural philosophy, I also explore implications reaching to disciplines of knowledge like rhetoric and the history of archives. Against this European background, the second part of the lecture reevaluates the intellectual exchanges between Patrizi and Theodor Zwinger in the 1580s, and shows Patrizi – taken also as manuscript collector and dealer – emerging from mixed artisanal and learned practices. Despite being a major originator of anti-Aristotelian arguments that would bear fruits throughout the seventeenth century, I argue that Patrizi in MS Pal. 909 reveals a great, geometrical awareness of Aristotelian ethics and strives to capture its essence as a preparatory toolbox of information management.