Knowing by doing in the sixteenth century natural magic: Giambattista della Porta and the wonders of nature

Fumikazu Saito

Abstract


In the first book of Magia naturalis, chapter 3, Giambattista della Porta (1535-1615) stated that natural magic was the practical part of natural philosophy. Della Porta referred to knowledge of a particular set of phenomena from which one could operate naturally. In fact Magia naturalis covers a broad spectrum of issues that include topics related to the art of distillation, perfumes, fireworks, cookery, fishing and hunting. The purpose of these subjects was to survey natural and artificial things to reproduce them. In this sense, one could say that natural magic was a type of art (techne) in the Aristotelian sense, because it implied the type of knowledge that depended on the ability of the ones who manipulated phenomena. This is why the concept of natural magic is usually closely associated with “skill.” The aim of this paper is to discuss natural magic as a science that was close in meaning to techne, because it involved a concrete sense of craftsmanship and the connotation of the ability to devise stratagems. However, once natural magic was no longer limited to intellectual or manual activity, it could not be considered a mere technical art or technical science (i.e., a technology or technique).

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