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Forthcoming in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
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This translation of a classic and original work of intellectual history is beautifully done. Rossi?s book Clavis Universalis was first published in Italian in 1960, but Clucas translates the second, revised edition of 1983. The book is about Renaissance and 17th-century encyclopedism, hieroglyphics and cryptography, the techniques of artificial memory, the history of rhetoric, changes in views about logic and method in the scientific revolution, and new ideas about how language and images might reflect or capture reality. Frances Yates? brilliant The Art of Memory, published in 1966, has so far had much more influence in the English-speaking world. Despite warm citations and many points of contact with Yates? work, Rossi is less interested in uncovering hidden occult traditions, and more focussed on the way major 17th-century thinkers? work must be understood against the rich background of schemes for universal grammar and local memory. He shows that scholars working on Bacon, Descartes, and Leibniz miss key references to this intellectual heritage. Half of the book introduces relevant mnemonic, rhetorical, linguistic, medical and occult writings. Rossi includes illuminating discussions not only of Ramon Lull, Petrus Ramus, Cornelius Agrippa, Giordano Bruno and all, but also of fascinating minor writers like Guglielmo Gratorolo who systematized advice on medical aids to memory in the mid-16th century, and the wonderful Johannes Spangerbergius, who classified various forms of amnesia in 1570. He then argues that polemic against the arts of memory in both Bacon and Descartes coexisted with intense interest on their part in the supplementing of weak powers of natural memory by various artificial aids and objects outside the boundaries of skull and skin. Rossi tells the strange stories of the great 17th-century encyclopedists and universal language schemers ? Alsted, Comenius, Wilkins, Dalgarno ? making important connections between Wilkins? scheme and worries about methods for botanical classification in the early Royal Society. The final chapter is a tour-de-force on ?the sources of Leibniz?s universal character?, placing him (as Clucas neatly puts it) ?at the "end" of a Renaissance intellectual tradition rather than reading him "forwards" as an innovative precursor of modern formal logic?. Historians of science, linguistics, and philosophy have built on many aspects of Rossi?s work since 1983, and Clucas contributes an outstanding introduction which summarises key strands of recent scholarship.
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Updated 17 May 2002.