Ens, res, realitas. Transformations of the Ontological Lexicon in the Scholastic Tradition from the Middle Ages to Descartes and Kant

Research project


Through an approach that is both lexical and doctrinal, the project aims to analyse the continuity and discontinuity between Scholastic thought and Modern philosophy. The main objective is to create an in-depth historiographical reconstruction of the evolution of the notions of 'being' (ens), 'thing' (res) and 'reality' (realitas) between the 13th and 18th Century. In particular, the intention is to contribute to reconstructing the history from the Latin recognition of Avicenna up to Immanuel Kant, passing through significant historico-philosophical phases, such as the thought of René Descartes, the so-called second Scholasticism and the German field of the 'Schulmetaphysik'.
Between the Middle Ages and the Modern Age, a new and profound doctrinal element is introduced, which relates to the beginning of human thought and its main object; the concept of 'thing' becomes increasingly more independent – at least on an intentional level – from that of 'being', becoming the general field where every object of thought may be placed (in opposition to what is completely inconceivable). A substantial part of modern noetics is rooted in this doctrinal decision, which, however, may only start to be explored with an extensive study of the mutual relationship and continuity between the initial medieval framework and the modern evolution of the debates.
The method from which the project took its inspiration is that developed by the history of terms, concepts and ideas. As well as pursuing a series of results laid out in the individual contexts (Middle Ages, Renaissance, Humanism, Cartesian Age, Schulmetaphysik, Kantian Age), the project will attempt to retrace the 'history of the ontological question'. This endeavour will be begin with an analysis of the aforementioned concepts which are regarded as paradigmatic.
The Project incorporates four Research Units sub-divided into specific technical fields yet closely tied by their interests and objectives.
The Research Unit of Bari, coordinated by Dr. Francesco Marrone (with Professor Costantino Esposito in the role of supervisor) will deal with the relationship between the notions of 'ens' and 'res' in Latin Scholasticism between the 13th and 16th Century. As well as increasing the posterity of Avicenna Latinus, the research will also explore the medieval debate on the notions of 'ens' and 'res', paying particular attention to the recognition of the Avicennian doctrine and to the thought of Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus. Lastly, it aims to enhance the presence of this new doctrinal consideration of the 'formalists'. As part of the research project, the publication has been planned of several articles and a monograph on the notion of 'realitas obiectiva'.
The Research Unit of Pisa, coordinated by Dr. Marco Lamanna (with Prof. Michele Ciliberto as supervisor) sets out to examine the debate on the concepts of 'ens' and 'res' in the age of the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation. As regards the Renaissance, emphasis will be on the survival of the debates on the status of the concepts of 'res' and 'ens' at a time severely marked by anti-scholastic positions. Whilst, for the age of Protestant Reformation, an examination will be made of: 1) the shift of this debate from metaphysics to logic, and 2) the influence of the denominational factor on the development of the debates. The research will involve the publication, with the Unit of Bari, of a volume on the notions of 'essence' and 'thingness' between the Middle Ages and Modern Age, published by Brepols.
The Research Unit of Lecce, coordinated by Dr. Igor Agostini with the collaboration of Dr. Massimiliano Savini (supervised by Prof. Giulia Belgioioso) will develop its research in two phases: a) the preliminary definition of a certain number of fundamental terms in the lexicon of Descartes and Scholasticism, with particular reference to ontological lexis (res, ens, realitas, substantia, cogitatio); b) the retrieval of texts and printed works belonging to the Scholastic culture, which may be regarded as potential sources or antecedents of Descartes. The project will serve as an updated version, available in print and online, of the Index scolastico-cartésien of Étienne Gilson, which will be expanded in two ways: a) number of entries and b) corpus of texts. The objective is to re-examine a broad area of the Scholastic tradition, with reference to the notion of 'realitas', at least partly essential to the scotist tradition, yet absent from Gilson’s Index. The updating of the Index will be mostly achieved, under the direction of Dr. Agostini, by the young three-years searcher.
The Research Unit of Rome, coordinated by Dr. Francesco Valerio Tommasi (under the supervision of Prof. Marta Fattori), deals with the final phase of the research, chronologically speaking, and will act as a coordinator for the work undertaken collectively. A primary analysis will be undertaken of the thought of Wolff and Kant, who will serve as points of reference in the attempt to retrace and outline the setting of the relevant notions in the German 18th Century. Particular attention will be paid to the academic manuals and philosophical lexis, which, up until now, have seldom been studied. Moreover, the question of the analogy of being will be used as a catalyst to observe the semantic constellation which gravitates around the terms of 'being' and 'reality' and around their dissemination in the German language. The research unit intends to publish a monographic volume on the so-called metaphysical interpretation of Kant, as well as three essays dedicated to the subject.
The research is rooted in the historico-philosophical traditions and the history of lexis which are well-established in the respective centres and which, as a whole, outline a highly developed area of study in Italy. Yet at the same time, the Research Units will draw upon their international collaboration with leading institutions, which bear witness also to the more general interest towards the research on the topics in question. Among these is the «Istituto per il Lessico Intellettuale e la Storia delle Idee» (ILIESI), coordinated by Prof. Riccardo Pozzo and bound by age-old ties with the Department of Philosophy of the University of Rome «La Sapienza» thanks to the long-standing direction of Tullio Gregory. The Thomas-Institut of the University of Cologne, coordinated by Prof. Andreas Speer, is involved in the fields of the Middle Ages, the recognition of the Arab tradition, as well as Late Scholasticism. Dr. Laurent Cesalli (University of Lille 3 / University of Geneva) and Prof. Nadja Germann (University of Freiburg) are concerned with the publishing project On What There Was. Medieval Conceptions of Being 500-1650, East and West. The équipe «Identité et subjectivité» of the University of Caen, coordinated by Prof. J. Laurent, is involved in the study of the history of Ontology. The University of Paris-Sorbonne, the École Normale Supérieure (Paris) and the École Pratique des Hautes Études (Paris) contribute to the specific study of Cartesianism and its sources.
Based on the historiographical reconstruction, the project aims – as a side objective – to provide a framework to understand the phases of the contemporary debate, both in analytical philosophy and in certain results of phenomenology. The research will, furthermore, demonstrate how the Western conceptual and lexical heritage springs from a meeting of heterogeneous elements. In this case, through a line of research that includes, among others, the Greek, Arab-Islamic, Jewish, Christian (in turn, Catholic and Protestant), scientific and Enlightenment traditions. This 'contamination' of lexis, witnessed to a limited, but quantitatively significant extent, is relevant for the understanding of the present, along with its social and political implications.
Effective start/end date1/1/12 → …




Medieval period
Immanuel Kant
Modern age
Analytical philosophy
Duns Scotus
Henry of Ghent
Philosophical traditions
Modern philosophy
René Descartes