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Fellow Seminar

30 April 2020

Dr. Alessandro Nannini will present online via Zoom his research proposal on the topic: "Aesthetics as "medicina mentis"? A Reconsideration of the Origins of Aesthetics as a Philosophical Science" on 30 April 2020 (Thursday) at 16:30h.


As has been widely known since the classical studies of Hadot, Foucault, and Nussbaum, the understanding of philosophy as a medicine of the mind dates back to ancient philosophy. One of the most debated challenges in recent intellectual history has been to investigate the strategies through which this perspective has contributed to shaping the rise of the early modern thought (Caygill 2010; Giglioni 2016). While the conception of medicina mentis in this period was long seen just as a moral or theological metaphor (Harrison 2007), the latest scholarship has pointed out that the cure of the self and the purge of the mind from prejudices constitutes a specific feature of modernity, ranging from rhetoric to morals, from natural science to homiletics. This model is famously indebted to the Baconian tradition, where the mind is regarded as distempered and haunted by idols, thus requiring a regimen grounded on specific exercises in order to realign with external reality and regain serenity. As Giglioni, Corneanu and Jalobeanu (Corneanu 2011; Jalobeanu 2015; Giglioni 2016) have claimed, key in this process is the sharpening of the senses and the control over imagination, so as to overcome self-delusion and devise methods for attaining practical wisdom.

Precisely the necessity to study and perfect sensibility according to its own laws leads the eighteenth-century German philosopher Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten (1714-1762) to found a specific discipline, aesthetics, understood as the "science of the sensuous cognition" (Aesthetica, 1750, § 1). However, although one of the chief goals of aesthetics consists in the emendation of the senses and imagination, as in the philosophical tradition of medicina mentis, the role of aesthetics within this theoretical framework has hitherto been completely ignored. 

The goal of my project is precisely to investigate for the first time the birth of scientific aesthetics in the light of the tradition of medicina mentis. My attempt is first of all to reconstruct the debate on the medicine of the mind in Germany in the era of the founding of aesthetics; on this basis, I intend to analyze the strategies whereby nascent aesthetics resumes and renovates such a tradition; lastly, I aim to examine how this appropriation makes a decisive contribution to the birth of modern psychotherapy in the mid-eighteenth century. In this sense, so runs my working hypothesis, not only does Baumgarten's aesthetics play a pivotal role in the framework of medicina mentis, but it is also crucial in the reconfiguration of medicina mentis as a full-fledged psychological therapy.

In this webinar, I will focus on the broad outline of the project, dealing in particular with the general question of why and how aesthetics could have emerged as a medicine for the mind and what role it was supposed to play in the preservation of health. I will leave aside for the moment the medical reception of aesthetics and its role in nascent psychotherapy.

Alessandro Nannini studied at the University of Bologna, earning a master degree in Philosophical Sciences and another one in Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology. He received his PhD in Philosophy from the University of Palermo. He was a research fellow at the University of Halle-Wittenberg, Parma, Jena, Erfurt, Bucharest, at the Klassik Stiftung in Weimar, and at the new Europe College in Bucharest. Currently, he is a member of the research group "Philosophie allemande au 18e siècle" at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Lyon. His research concerns the intellectual history and aesthetics of the Early Modern Age, especially the German Enlightenment, with particular regard to the intersections of philosophy, history of science, and Lutheran theology.





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