PHILOSOPHY AND COMPUTATION

Ars magna generalis et ultima.

[Lyon,] Simon Vincent, [1517].

£13,500

Small 4to. ff. (iv) 124. Gothic letter, t-p and another in red and black, double column. T-p with woodcut printer’s device (Sts Peter and Paul holding Holy Shroud, Apostles to corners) and woodcut border with grotesques, 3 half-page and 4 smaller woodcut astronomical diagrams (one with original volvelles), smaller woodcut printer’s device to last, decorated initials. Some lower margins waterstained, slight browning in places, very minor marginal foxing. A good copy in contemporary limp vellum, C15 ms. used as spine lining (a breviarium?), outer edges of covers a little chewed, C19 casemarks to fly.

A good copy of the third edition of this important philosophical work, printed in the trademark elegant style of Simon Vincent’s Lyonnaise workshop. Born in the Kingdom of Majorca, Llull (or Raymond Lully or Raimundus Lullus, c.1232-c.1315) was a Franciscan tertiary, philosopher, and author of numerous works on theology, philosophy, astronomy and computation in Catalan, Latin and Arabic. ‘Ars magna’ was his scholarly masterpiece, completed in its final, simplified form in 1308. It illustrated a method (‘art’) of universal knowledge which brought together logic and metaphysics in order to determine the attributes of God. As a summary of the principles shared by all kinds of science, spanning the four elements and the cosmos, it could be applied to any question, though it was intended especially for religious debates employed to convert Muslims to Christianity. The tables and diagrams were instruments, Llull explains, ‘through which solutions could be investigated…using coherent principles, to avoiding contradictions’. Organized in 1680 combinations of letters standing for simple general principles of God’s essence (e.g., B for ‘bonitas’, H for ‘virtus’), these schemas subdivided propositions into their basic components creating ‘mechanical combinations of concepts’ and ‘a perfect artificial language’ which, once constructed, was ‘totally independent from the individual human mind’ (Rossi, ‘Studi’, 247). After an introduction to the method, the rest of the work examined some of those combinations and how even the nature of geometrical figures could be connected to them. ‘Lull regarded [his method] as a divine inspiration and thus infallible but certainly capable of being improved’ (Tomash & Williams L142). This system of knowledge based on the permutations of a small quantity of basic elements inspired Leibniz’s ‘De Arte Combinatoria’ (1666), a new form of logical calculus. An elegant, somewhat uncommon edition of this immensely influential philosophical work.

Tomash & Williams L142; BM STC Fr., p. 292; Brunet III, 1233. Not in Duveen or Ferguson. P. Rossi, ‘Studi sul lullismo e sull’arte della memoria nel Rinascimento’, Rivista critica di storia della filosofia 13 (1958), 243-79. 

L3201

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