Directed study

Friday, January 07, 2005

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

A diagram of the Ars Combinatoria by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 - 1716) is reproduced (here). This system is based on the four elements (ignis - fire, aer - air, aqua - water, terra - earth), the four material states (humiditas - moisture, siccitas - dryness, frigitatas - cold, caliditas - warmth) and two possible rotational directions (remissa e summa). Of course, not all combinations are permitted — what, for example, are we supposed to imagine with dry moisture?

There are three reading directions which denote the different combinations:
the Contradictory (terra and aer, for example);
the Possible (for example, siccitas and caliditas);
the Impossible, (frigititas and caliditas).

It is just this restriction in combinability that permits the transfer of Leibnitz's system to colours. Here, too, there are contradictions which will not mix. How, for example, does a reddish-green or a bluish-yellow appear? This has continued to occupy us into modern times. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) wrote in his "Remarks Concerning Colours" (1,14): "If there would be persons to whom such expressions as "reddish green" or "yellowish blue" were genuinely natural, and who thus possessed capabilities which we lack, we would as a result not be obliged to acknowledge that they saw colours which we did not see. There is a generally accepted criterion with regard to what a colour is, namely one of our own".

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