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Per cognitionem visualem. The Visualization of Cognitive and Natural Processes in the Middle Ages

XXV Annual Colloquium of the Société Internationale pour l'Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale

Instituto de Filosofia - Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto


Porto, 14th-15th; 21st -22nd June 2021


Convenors: José Higuera - José Meirinhos
Secretary: Lídia Queiroz (FDTW Project) - Isabel Marques (IFLUP)
Design: Celeste Pedro (FDTW Project)


The purpose of this colloquium is to deepen understanding of the Medieval visual tools that represented and demonstrated philosophical and scientific knowledge and, to an extent, the accumulation of empirical data with a focus on medieval Latin, Greek, Arabic and Jewish traditions. While some sought to outline physical phenomena, others depicted cognitive processes such as deduction or inference, for instance, arbor porphyriana, astronomical diagrams, or geometrical illustrations of physical motion. In addition to this, various kinds of graphics, charts, and diagrams supported the dissemination of legal knowledge, prognostic methods, genealogical records, moral schemes, division of sciences, and medical practices.   

Visual tools, which appear frequently in Medieval manuscripts, have often been considered as «illustrative material» intended to facilitate the comprehension and interpretation of texts. This material has been widely described as the iconographic representation of Christian theology, and of the Medieval Arts and Disciplines. However, these «visual aids» offer something more than a straightforward correspondence between a conceptual interpretation and its figurative depiction. They are in fact key to understanding methods of acquiring and shaping knowledge through visual frameworks with didactical, disputational or heuristic purposes. Transforming knowledge through visual or data cumulative devices emerged as an additional way to the understanding of natural phenomena and the different sorts of relations lurking between its elements.

Following Hugh of Saint Victor's work, Patrice Sicard described the study of these kinds of images as «visual exegesis», a method of visual training derived from the Augustinian tradition (Trin. XI, 2.2), and Augustine's explanation of how the soul develops understanding through the corporal and rational observation of natural signs. Thomas Aquinas, centuries later, concerning the difference between singular objects, general concepts, and their specular representations, introduced distinctions between three kinds of visual media that are closely aligned with intellectual vision (De ver. q. 18., a. 1, ad 1um). The first of these is the light that allows the physical vision (visio corporalis); the second is the concept generated in the mind (species rei visae); and the third is a medium permitting access to the object's knowledge, such as an image that is seen «in a mirror» (sicut in speculum).

Visual representations were thus deeply involved in Medieval traditions concerning the dissemination and teaching of philosophy and science. Consequently, they were not only examples of theological or philosophical interpretation, but rather brought together manifold intellectual activities, illuminating various perceptual, cognitive, and spiritual concerns.

The colloquium will address the following issues:

- Visual tools and the representation of philosophical or scientific knowledge;
- «Visual exegesis» applied to the different modalities of the representations of knowledge;
- The relations expressed through schemes and visual classifications,
- The connection between visual perception and knowledge generated through the representation of objects;
- The gathering of perceptual data in diagrams, graphs, schemes, tables and all sorts of graphical representations;
- The visual representation of the elements and natural processes;
- The different uses of diagrams and other visual representations (teaching, mnemonic, demonstration, invention, prognosis, etc.);
- The relationship between corporal and spiritual realms expressed by visual tools;
- Reflections on reflection: mirrors and knowledge.

Due to the colloquium's broad philosophical and disciplinary scope, interdisciplinary approach is particularly appropriate.

To get the zoom links for the colloquium, e-mail: /


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