337 Cohen Hall
Elly Truitt - Associate Professor of History - Bryn Mawr College
"Experience, Utility, and the Inventions of Roger Bacon"
Roger Bacon's (ca. 1214-1292) theory of scientia experimentalis (knowledge based on sensory experience) articulates a branch of natural knowledge that works alongside syllogistic knowledge, or argumentum, in the service of both epistemic and political gain. While affirming the importance of empirical knowledge, Bacon focused especially on knowledge gained through observation and participation to confirm or correct knowledge from first principles or from received wisdom, articulating instead a vision of scientific knowledge that relied on experience to confirm theoretical or text-based knowledge and on instruments or devices in the service of experimentum. His interest in knowledge through experience required him to go beyond the university curriculum of natural philosophy and to incorporate new Latin translations of Arabic texts in optics, astral science, and the secrets of nature, as well as literary and historical texts in his account of scientia experimentalis. Bacon's speculative technologies and his theory of knowledge configured his later reputation as a visionary genius. I explore how a narrative of the inventiveness of Roger Bacon has been constructed by productive, partial “misreadings” or “mistranslations” of him in later centuries.