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Logic and the Art of Memory: The Quest for a Universal Language
by Paolo Rossi
translated by Stephen Clucas
University of Chicago Press, 2001
Cloth: 978-0-226-72826-1

The mnemonic arts and the idea of a universal language that would capture the essence of all things were originally associated with cryptology, mysticism, and other occult practices. And it is commonly held that these enigmatic efforts were abandoned with the development of formal logic in the seventeenth century and the beginning of the modern era. In his distinguished book, Logic and the Art of Memory Italian philosopher and historian Paolo Rossi argues that this view is belied by an examination of the history of the idea of a universal language.

Based on comprehensive analyses of original texts, Rossi traces the development of this idea from late medieval thinkers such as Ramon Lull through Bruno, Bacon, Descartes, and finally Leibniz in the seventeenth century. The search for a symbolic mode of communication that would be intelligible to everyone was not a mere vestige of magical thinking and occult sciences, but a fundamental component of Renaissance and Enlightenment thought. Seen from this perspective, modern science and combinatorial logic represent not a break from the past but rather its full maturity.

Available for the first time in English, this book (originally titled Clavis Universalis) remains one of the most important contributions to the history of ideas ever written. In addition to his eagerly anticipated translation, Steven Clucas offers a substantial introduction that places this book in the context of other recent works on this fascinating subject. A rich history and valuable sourcebook, Logic and the Art of Memory documents an essential chapter in the development of human reason.
Paolo Rossi is a professor emeritus in the Department of History and Philosophy at the University of Florence. His many books include Francis Bacon: From Magic to Science and The Dark Abyss of Time.

Stephen Clucas is a lecturer in the humanities at Birkbeck College.
  • Contents 
    • Translator's Introduction
    • Preface
    • Preface to the second edition
    • The Power of Images and the Places of Memory
    • II 
    • Encyclopaedism and Combinatoria in the Sixteenth Century
    • III 
    • Theatres of the World
    • IV 
    • The Imaginative Logic of Giordano Bruno
    • Artificial Memory and the New Scientific Method: Ramus, Bacon, Descartes
    • VI 
    • Encyclopaedism and pansophia
    • VII 
    • The Construction of a Universal Language
    • VIII 
    • The Sources of Leibniz's Universal Character
    • Appendices
      • The Liber ad memoriam confirmandam of Ramon Lull
      • II 
      • An anonymous vernacular treatise of the fourteenth century
      • III 
      • Two fifteenth-century manuscripts on the are memorativa
      • IV 
      • Documents on the activities of Pietro da Ravenna
      • Three late sixteenth-century manuscripts on the ars memorativa
      • VI 
      • Petrarch as teacher of the art of memory
      • VII 
      • An unpublished text by Giulio Camillo
      • VIII 
      • Memory exercises in seventeenth-century Germany
      • IX 
      • The article on ‘L'art mnémonique’ from Diderot's encyclopaedia
      • D'Alembert and ‘real characters’
    • Notes
    • Index

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