I write on the history of early modern philosophy and science. Below is a list of my publications. They mostly focus on early modern experimental philosophy, Kant's views on concepts, logic, and truth, and the narrative of early modern philosophy based on the contrast of empiricism and rationalism.
If you do not have access to any of the texts below and would like to receive a copy, do no hesitate to get in touch.
Kant e la formazione dei concetti [Kant and Concept Formation], Trento: Verifiche, 2012.
[Abstract in English] [Abstract in Italian] [Table of contents] [Full text]
Available on amazon.it, amazon.co.uk.
How do we form concepts like those of three, bicycle and red? According to Kant, we form them by carrying out acts of comparison, reflection and abstraction on information provided by the senses. Kant’s answer raised numerous objections from philosophers and psychologists alike. Kant e la formazione dei concetti argues that Kant is able to rebut those objections. The book shows that, for Kant, it is possible to perceive objects without employing concepts; it explains how, given those perceptions, we can form categories and empirical concepts; and it argues that theories like Kant’s - abstractionist theories of concept formation - are more plausible than is often assumed.
Come formiamo concetti come quelli di albero, di bicicletta e di rosso? Secondo Kant li formiamo compiendo degli atti di comparazione, riflessione ed astrazione sulle informazioni fornite dai sensi. Negli ultimi decenni le teorie della formazione dei concetti come quella kantiana sono cadute ampiamente in discredito non solo tra i filosofi, ma anche tra gli psicologi. Kant e la formazione dei concetti mostra che Kant è in grado di far fronte a queste obiezioni. Il testo sostiene che, secondo Kant, è possibile percepire oggetti senza impiegare concetti; spiega come, a partire da queste percezioni, acquisiamo le categorie e i concetti empirici; ed argomenta che le teorie come quella kantiana - le teorie astrazioniste della formazione dei concetti - sono più difendibili di quanto non si tenda ad assumere.
Experiment, Speculation and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy, co-edited with Peter R. Anstey (New York: Routledge), forthcoming.
Kant and the Continental Tradition, co-edited with Sorin Baiasu (New York: Routledge), forthcoming.
Guest-edited journal issue: Experimental Philosophy, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 26 (2018), n. 5.
[Table of contents]
Alberto Vanzo, ‘Introduction’
Hagop Sarkissian, ‘Neo-Confucianism, Experimental Philosophy and the Trouble with Intuitive Methods’
Tom Sorell, ‘Experimental Philosophy and the History of Philosophy’
Aaron Spink, ‘The Experimental Physics of Jacques Rohault’
Kathryn Tabb, ‘Madness as Method: On Locke’s Thought Experimenta about Personal Identity’
Alexander Klein, ‘The Curious Case of the Decapitated Frog: On Experiment and Philosophy’
Joshua August Skorburg, ‘Jane Addams as Experimental Philosopher’
Guy Longworth, ‘The Ordinary and the Experimental: Cook Wilson and Austin on Method in Philosophy’
Siobhan Chapman, ‘The Experimental and the Empirical: Arne Naess’ Statistical Approach to Philosophy’
Guest-edited journal issue: Experience in Natural Philosophy and Medicine, Perspectives on Science, 24 (2016), n. 3.
[Table of contents]
Alberto Vanzo, ‘Introduction’
Craig Martin, ‘The Aeolipile as Experimental Model in Early Modern Natural Philosophy’
Helen Hattab, ‘Aristotelianism and Atomism Combined: Gorlaeus on Knowledge of Universals’
Benjamin Goldberg, ‘William Harvey on Anatomy and Experience’
Dana Jalobeanu, ‘Disciplining Experience: Francis Bacon’s Experimental Series and the ‘Art’ of Experimenting’
Gregory Dawes, ‘Experiment, Speculation, and Galileo’s Scientific Reasoning’
Matteo Favaretti Camposampiero, ‘Bodies of Inference: Christian Wolff’s Epistemology of the Life Sciences and Medicine’
Guest-edited symposium: Teaching Early Modern Philosophy: New Approaches, Metaphilosophy, 46 (2015), 321-435.
[Full text] [Table of contents]
Alberto Vanzo, ‘Introduction’
Jeremy Barris and Paul Turner, ‘Teaching Early Modern Philosophy as a Bridge between Causal or Naturalistic Accounts and Conceptual Thought’
Tamas Demeter, ‘Before the Two Cultures: Merging the Canons of the History of Science and Philosophy’
Jessica Gordon-Roth and Nancy Kendrick, ‘Including Early Modern Women Writers in Survey Courses: A Call to Action’
Sandrine Berges, ‘On the Outskirts of the Canon: The Myth of the Lone Female Philosopher and What To Do About It’
Jacob Affolter, ‘Challenging the State: Teaching Alternative Historiographies in Early Modern Politics’
Kirsten Walsh and Adrian Currie, ‘Caricatures, Myths & White Lies’
‘Experimental Philosophy and Religion in Seventeenth-Century Italy’, in Experiment, Speculation and Religion in Early Modern Europe, edited by Alberto Vanzo and Peter Anstey (New York: Routledge), forthcoming. [Abstract]
According to Amos Funkenstein, Stephen Gaukroger and Andrew Cunningham, seventeenth-century natural philosophy was fused with theology, driven by theology, and pursued primarily to shed light on God. Experimental natural philosophy might seem to provide a case in point. According to its English advocates, like Robert Boyle and Thomas Sprat, experimental philosophy embodies the Christian virtues of humility, innocence, and piety, it helps establish God’s existence, attributes, and providence, and it provides a basis for evangelism.
This paper shows that, unlike their English counterparts, experimental philosophers in seventeenth-century Italy kept natural philosophy sharply distinct from theological and religious matters. This indicates that seventeenth-century experimental philosophy was not, as such, theologically driven or oriented. It also suggests that there was no intrinsic relation between experimental philosophy and religion. Whether experimental philosophy was presented as an ally of religion or as distinct from it was, to a significant extent, a matter of cultural politics. It depended on which rhetorical and argumentative strategies were believed to be most likely to ensure freedom of research and institutional support for the work of experimental philosophers in a specific sociopolitical context.
(with Peter Anstey), ‘Introduction’ to Experiment, Speculation and Religion in Early Modern Philosophy (New York: Routledge), forthcoming.
‘Corpuscularism and Experimental Philosophy in Domenico Guglielmini’s Reflections on Salts’, in The Idea of Principles in Early Modern Thought: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, edited by Peter Anstey (New York: Routledge, 2017), 147-171. [Abstract] [Full text]
Several recent studies of early modern natural philosophy have claimed that corpuscularism and experimental philosophy were sharply distinct or even conflicting views. This chapter provides a different perspective on the relation between corpuscularism and experimental philosophy by examining Domenico Guglielmini’s Philosophical Reflections on crystals (1688). This treatise on crystallography develops a corpuscularist theory and defends it in a way that is in line with the methodological prescriptions, epistemological strictures, and preferred argumentative styles of experimental philosophers. The examination of the Reflections shows that early modern philosophers could consistently endorse, at the same time, corpuscularism and experimental philosophy.
The articles in the special issue ‘Experience in natural philosophy and medicine’ discuss the roles and notions of experience in the works of a range of early modern authors, including Galileo Galilei, Francis Bacon, the Dutch atomist David Gorlaeus, William Harvey, and Christian Wolff. The articles extend the evidential basis on which we can rely to identify trends, changes and continuities in the roles and notions of experience in the period of the Scientific Revolution. The articles shed light on the longstanding influence of traditional views and the emergence of early modern experimental philosophy. This introduction highlights the benefits of considering medicine in connection with natural philosophy when studying early modern views on experience and summarizes the articles.
(with Peter Anstey) ‘Early Modern Experimental Philosophy, in A Companion to Experimental Philosophy, edited by Justin Sytsma and Wesley Buckwalter (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2016), 87-102. [Abstract] [Full text]
In the mid-seventeenth century a movement of self-styled experimental philosophers emerged in Britain. Originating in the discipline of natural philosophy amongst Fellows of the fledgling Royal Society of London, it soon spread to medicine and by the eighteenth century had impacted moral and political philosophy and even aesthetics. Early modern experimental philosophers gave epistemic priority to observation and experiment over theorising and speculation. They decried the use of hypotheses and system-building without recourse to experiment and, in some quarters, developed a philosophy of experiment. The movement spread to the Netherlands and France in the early eighteenth century and later impacted Germany. Its important role in early modern philosophy was subsequently eclipsed by the widespread adoption of the Kantian historiography of modern philosophy, which emphasised the distinction between rationalism and empiricism and had no place for the historical phenomenon of early modern experimental philosophy. The re-emergence of interest in early modern experimental philosophy roughly coincided with the development of contemporary x-phi and there are some important similarities between the two.
‘Experiment and Speculation in Seventeenth-Century Italy: The Case of Geminiano Montanari’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 56 (2016), 52-61. [Abstract] [Full text]
This paper reconstructs the natural philosophical method of Geminiano Montanari, one of the most prominent Italian natural philosophers of the late seventeenth century. Montanari’s views are used as a case study to assess recent claims concerning early modern experimental philosophy. Having presented the distinctive tenets of seventeenth-century experimental philosophers, I argue that Montanari adheres to them explicitly, thoroughly, and consistently. The study of Montanari’s views supports three claims. First, experimental philosophy was not an exclusively British phenomenon. Second, in spite of some portrayals of experimental philosophy as an ‘atheoretical’ or ‘purely descriptive’ enterprise, experimental philosophers could consistently endorse a variety of natural philosophical explanations and postulate theoretical entities. Third, experimental philosophy and mechanical philosophy were not, as such, antagonistic. They could be consistently combined in a single philosophical enterprise.
This chapter discusses the relation between Christian Wolff’s philosophy and the methodological views of early modern experimental philosophers. The chapter argues for three claims. First, Wolff’s system relies on experience at every step and his views on experiments, observations, hypotheses, and the a priori are in line with those of experimental philosophers. Second, the study of Wolff’s views demonstrates the influence of experimental philosophy in early eighteenth-century Germany. Third, references to Wolff’s empiricism and rationalism are best identified or replaced with references to his endorsement of the tenets of experimental philosophers and of a mathematical demonstrative method.
This paper illustrates Immanuel Kant’s views on the role of experiments in natural science, focusing on their relations with hypotheses, laws of nature, and the heuristic principles of scientific enquiry. Kant’s views are contrasted with the philosophy of experiment that was first sketched by Francis Bacon and later developed by Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke.
(with Peter Anstey) ‘The Origins of Early Modern Experimental Philosophy’, Intellectual History Review, 22 (2012), 499-518. [Abstract] [Full text]
This paper argues that early modern experimental philosophy emerged as the dominant member of a pair of methods in natural philosophy, the speculative versus the experimental, and that this pairing derives from an overarching distinction between speculative and operative philosophy that can be ultimately traced back to Aristotle. The paper examines the traditional classification of natural philosophy as a speculative discipline from the Stagirite to the seventeenth century; medieval and early modern attempts to articulate a scientia experimentalis; and the tensions in the classification of natural magic and mechanics that led to the introduction of an operative part of natural philosophy in the writings of Francis Bacon and John Johnston. The paper concludes with a summary of the salient discontinuities between the experimental/speculative distinction of the mid-seventeenth century and its predecessors and a statement of the developments that led to the ascendance of experimental philosophy from the 1660s.
‘Empiricism and Rationalism in Nineteenth-Century Histories of Philosophy’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 77 (2016), 253-282. [Abstract] [Full text]
This paper traces the ancestry of a familiar historiographical narrative, according to which early modern philosophy was marked by the development of empiricism, rationalism, and their synthesis by Immanuel Kant. It is often claimed that this narrative became standard in the nineteenth century, due to the influence of Thomas Reid, Kant and his disciples, or German and British Idealists. The paper argues that the narrative became standard only at the turn of the twentieth century. This was not due to the influence of Reid, German or British Idealists as they did not endorse the narrative, although Thomas Hill Green may have facilitated its uptake. The narrative is based on Kant’s historiographical sketches, as corrected and integrated by Reinhold. It was first fleshed out into full-fledged histories by two Kantians, Wilhelm Gottlieb Tennemann and Johann Gottlieb Buhle. Numerous historians, several of whom were not Kantians (such as Friedrich Ueberweg and Richard Falckenberg), spread it in the English-speaking world. However, the wide availability of their works did not suffice to make the narrative standard because, until the 1890s, the Hegelian account was at least as popular as theirs. Among the factors that allowed the narrative to become standard are its aptness to be adopted by philosophers of the most diverse persuasions, its simplicity and suitability for teaching.
The papers in the symposium ‘Teaching Early Modern Philosophy: New Approaches’ provide theoretical reflections and practical advice on new ways of teaching undergraduate survey courses in early modern philosophy. This introduction lays out the rationale for the symposium and summarizes the papers that compose it.
Although the notion of empiricism looms large in many histories of early modern philosophy, its origins are not well understood. This paper aims to shed light on them. It examines the notions of empirical philosopher, physician, and politician that are employed in a range of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century texts, alongside related notions (e.g. ‘experimental philosophy’) and methodological stances. It concludes that the notion of empiricism that is employed in many histories of early modern thought does not have pre-Kantian origins. It first appeared and became widely used in late eighteenth-century Germany, in the course of the early debates on Kant’s Critical philosophy.
Several scholars have criticized the histories of early modern philosophy based on the dichotomy of empiricism and rationalism. They view them as overestimating the importance of epistemological issues for early modern philosophers (epistemological bias), portraying Kant’s Critical philosophy as a superior alternative to empiricism and rationalism (Kantian bias), and forcing most or all early modern thinkers prior to Kant into the empiricist or rationalist camps (classificatory bias). Kant is often said to be the source of the three biases. Against this criticism, this paper argues that Kant did not have the three biases. However, he promoted a way of writing histories of philosophy from which those biases would naturally flow.
In his essay against Eberhard, Kant denies that there are innate concepts. Several scholars take Kant’s statement at face value. They claim that Kant did not endorse concept innatism, that the categories are not innate concepts, and that Kant’s views on innateness are significantly different from Leibniz’s. This paper takes issue with those claims. It argues that Kant’s views on the origin of the intellectual concepts are remarkably similar to Leibniz’s. Given two widespread notions of innateness, the dispositional notion and the input/output notion, intellectual concepts are innate for Kant no less than for Leibniz.
‘Kant and Abstractionism about Concept Formation’, in The Problem of Universals in Early Modern Philosophy, edited by Stefano Di Bella and Tad Schmaltz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 305-323. [Abstract] [Full text]
This chapter outlines Kant’s account of empirical concept formation and discusses two objections that have been advanced against it. Kant holds that we form empirical concepts, such as colour concepts, by comparing sensory representations of individuals, identifying shared features, and abstracting from the differences between them. According to the first objection, we cannot acquire colour concepts in this way because there is no feature that all and only the instances of a given colour share and the boundary between colours is conventional. According to the second objection, assuming that all instances of a given colour share certain features, we can identify them only if we already possess a concept of that colour. None of the two objections is convincing as it stands. Kant can offer replies to both objections that are consistent with his views and with empirical evidence concerning the perception and representation of colours.
This paper replies to Claudio La Rocca’s criticisms of the account of Kant’s views on concept formation that I developed in Kant e la formazione dei concetti. On my account, Kant holds that, although all conscious experiences of adult human beings are informed by the categories, it is possible to represent objects by means of non-conceptualized intuitions. La Rocca rejects this claim. He holds that, for Kant, it is possible to represent objects only by employing the categories. In the first part of this paper, I discuss the passages cited by La Rocca. In the second part, I argue that Kant’s account of the formation of the categories presupposes that it is possible to represent and group objects without employing any concepts.
‘Kant’s False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures in Its Intellectual Context’, in Marco Sgarbi and Matteo Cosci (eds.), The Aftermath of Syllogism (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), 157-190. [Abstract] [Full text]
This chapter discusses the relation between Kant’s views on the foundations of syllogistic inference in The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures, the views of eighteenth-century German authors who wrote on syllogism, and the conception of metaphysics that Kant developed in 1762-1764. Kant’s positions are, on the whole, rather original, even though they are not as independent from the intellectual context as Kant’s later, Critical doctrines. Despite Kant’s polemical tone, his views on syllogism are not mainly motivated by polemical purposes. They are strongly influenced by his views on the method of metaphysics.
This paper reconstructs Kant’s view on the existential import of categorical sentences. Kant is widely taken to have held that affirmative sentences (the A and I sentences of the traditional square of opposition) have existential import, whereas negative sentences (E and O) lack existential import. The paper challenges this standard interpretation. It is argued that Kant ascribes existential import only to some affirmative synthetic sentences. However, the reasons for this do not fall within the remit of Kant’s formal logic. Unlike traditional logic and modern standard quantification theory, Kant’s formal logic is free from existential commitments.
Many scholars claimed that, according to Immanuel Kant, some judgements lack a truth-value: analytic judgements, judgements about items of which humans cannot have experience, judgements of perception, and non-assertoric judgements. However, no one has undertaken an extensive examination of the textual evidence for those claims.
Based on an analysis of Kant’s texts, I argue for two claims:
(1) According to Kant, only judgements of perception are not truth-apt. All other judgements are truth-apt, including analytic judgements and judgements about items of which humans cannot have experience.
(2) Kant sometimes states that truth-apt judgements are actual bearers of truth or falsity only when they are taken to state what is actually the case. Kant calls these judgements assertoric. Other texts ascribe truth and falsity to judgements, regardless of whether they are assertoric.
Kant’s views on truth-aptness raise challenges for correspondence and coherence accounts of Kant’s theory of truth; they rule out the identification of Kant’s crucial notion of objective validity with truth-aptness; and they imply that Kant was not a verificationist about truth or meaning.
Kant’s writings on logic illustrate the comparison argument about truth, which goes as follows. A truth-bearer p is true if and only if it corresponds, or it agrees, with a portion of reality: the object(s), state(s) of affairs, or event(s) p is about. In order to know whether p agrees with that portion of reality, one must check if that portion of reality is as p states. Using the terms of the comparison argument, one must compare p with that portion of reality. This is impossible, because the only knowledge of reality we can have is in the form propositions, beliefs, or judgments, whose agreement with reality is as much in need of justification as the agreement of p with reality. Therefore, it is impossible to know which truth-bearers are true.
In this paper, I reconstruct Kant’s version of the comparison argument. I argue that, for Kant, the argument is sound only under the assumption of transcendental realism. Transcendental idealism avoids the sceptical consequences of the comparison argument.
Kant claims that the nominal definition of truth is: ‘truth is the agreement of cognition with its object’. In this paper, I analyse the relevant features of Kant’s theory of definition to explain the meaning of that claim and its consequences for the vexed question of whether Kant endorses or rejects a correspondence theory of truth. I conclude that Kant’s claim implies neither that he endorses, nor that he rejects, a correspondence theory of truth. Kant’s claim is not a generic way of setting aside a correspondence definition of truth, or of disregarding it as uninformative. Being the nominal definition of truth, the formula ‘truth is the agreement of cognition with its object’ illustrates the meaning of the predicate ‘is true’ and people’s ordinary conception of truth. True judgments correspond to the objects they are about. However, there could be more to the property of truth than correspondence.
Ernst Cassirer claimed that Kant’s notion of actual object presupposes the notion of truth. Therefore, Kant cannot define truth as the correspondence of a judgement with an actual object. In this paper, I discuss the relations between Kant’s notions of truth, object, and actuality. I argue that Kant’s notion of actual object does not presuppose the notion of truth. I conclude that Kant can define truth as the correspondence of a judgement with an actual object.
‘Sull’interpretazione coerentista della concezione kantiana della verità’ [On the Coherentist Interpretation of Kant’s Conception of Truth], Studi kantiani, 21 (2008), 77-95. [Abstract] [Full text]
This paper argues that Kant, in his Critical period, did not have a coherence theory of truth. The paper outlines three coherence theories of truth and two coherence theories of empirical truth that Kant might have adopted. The three theories of truth are incompatible with Kant’s texts. The two theories of empirical truth are compatible with the texts. However, there are no convincing reasons to hold that Kant adopted those theories.
‘Introduction’ to Experimental Philosophy, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 26 (2018), 805--811. [Full text]
This chapter explores Kant’s, Reinhold’s, Fichte’s, and Hegel’s stances toward transcendental philosophy and transcendental arguments. Having explained the new meaning that Kant assigned to the term ‘transcendental’, the chapter surveys his attempt to develop a transcendental philosophy by employing transcendental arguments. Since these arguments presuppose unproven matters of fact, authors who were deeply concerned by scepticism deemed them unsuitable for the task. The chapter explains how Reinhold and Fichte sought to establish solid foundations for transcendental philosophy without relying on transcendental arguments. The final section of the chapter discusses whether Hegel, who rejected transcendental philosophy, employed transcendental arguments.
(with Antonio M. Nunziante) ‘Representing Subjects, Mind-dependent Objects: Kant, Leibniz, and the Amphiboly’, British Journal for the History of Philosophy, 17 (2009), 133-151. [Abstract] Full text here.
Portuguese translation as ‘Sujeitos capazes de representar, objetos que dependem da mente: Kant, Leibniz e a Anfibolia’, in Comentários às obras de Kant: Crítica da Razão Pura, ed. Joel Thiago Klein (Florianópolis: Nefiponline, 2012), 465-88. The entire volume is available here.
This paper compares Kant’s and Leibniz’s views on the relation between knowing subjects and known objects. Kant discusses Leibniz’s views in the section of the first Critique entitled ‘The Amphiboly of the Concepts of Reflection’. According to Kant, Leibniz’s main error is mistaking objects in space and time for mind-independent things in themselves, namely, for monads. The paper argues for two claims. First, Leibniz’s conception of objects in space and time is not so radically different from Kant’s conception as the latter suggests. For Leibniz, as for Kant, objects in space and time are mind-dependent. Second, a stark contrast between Kant’s and Leibniz’s philosophies concerns the status of knowing subjects. Leibniz conceives of knowing subjects as substances. Kant denies that we can know whether knowing subjects are substances. Kant conceives of knowing subjects as complex systems of cognitive capacities.
Gottlob Frege criticized Kant’s use of the term ‘representation’ in a footnote in the Foundations of Arithmetics. According to Frege, Kant used the term ‘representation’ for mental images, which are private and incommunicable, and also for objects and concepts. Kant thereby gave ‘a strongly subjectivist and idealist coloring’ to his thought. The paper argues that Kant avoided the kind of subjectivism and idealism which Frege hints in his remark. For Kant, having Vorstellungen requires the capacity of synthesis, by virtue of which the mind goes beyond its subjective states, and its modifications become presentations of an independent world.
This paper discusses an apparent contrast between Kant’s accounts of the mathematical antinomies in the first Critique and in the Prolegomena. The Critique claims that the antitheses are infinite judgements. The Prolegomena seem to claim that they are negative judgements. For the Critique, theses and antitheses are false because they presuppose that the world has a determinate magnitude, and this is not the case. For the Prolegomena, theses and antitheses are false because they presuppose an inconsistent notion of world. The paper argues that the contrast between the two works is only apparent, and provides an interpretation which removes it.
Cartesian Empiricisms, edited by Mihnea Dobre and Tammy Nyden, Society and Politics, 9 (2015), 97-99. [Full text]
Stefanie Grüne, Blinde Anschauung, Studi kantiani, 27 (2014), 163-166 (in Italian). [Full text]
Gaetano Chiurazzi, Teorie del giudizio, Archives de Philosophie, 69 (2006), 665-666 (in French). [Full text]
Robert Hanna, Kant and the Foundations of Analytic Philosophy, Verifiche, 33 (2004), 359-364 (in Italian). [Full text]
Lothar Kreimendahl, Kant-Index, vol. 38: Stellenindex und Konkordanz zu ‘Der einzig mögliche Beweisgrund zu einer Demonstration des Daseins Gottes’; Kaster Worm and Susanne Boeck (eds.), Kant im Kontext II, Verifiche, 33 (2004), 33, 364-369 (in Italian). [Full text]
Alessandra Organte, Sul concetto kantiano di nulla, Verifiche, 32 (2003), 307-311 (in Italian). [Full text]
Karin de Boer, ‘Metafisica’, in Filosofia classica tedesca: Parole chiave, edited by Luca Illetterati (Rome: Carocci, 2015).
(with Stefano Nanti) Heiner F. Klemme, ‘Internalismo motivazionale. Profilo di un punto di vista kantiano’, Verifiche, 33 (2004), 179-205 (from English to Italian).