Athanasius Kircher's Magical Instruments: An Essay on Science, Religion and Applied Metaphysics (1602-1680)

Abstract : In this paper I endeavour to bridge the gap between the history of material culture and the history of ideas. I do this by focussing on the intersection between metaphysics and technology - what I call 'applied metaphysics' - in the oeuvre of the Jesuit scholar Athanasius Kircher. By scrutinising the interplay between texts, objects and images in Kircher's work, it becomes possible to describe the multiplicity of meanings related to his artefacts. I unearth as yet overlooked metaphysical and religious meanings of the camera obscura, for instance, as well as of various other optical and magnetic devices. Today, instruments and artefacts are almost exclusively seen in the light of a narrow economic and technical concept. Historically, the 'use' of artefacts is much more diverse, however, and I argue that it is time to historicize the concept of 'utility'.
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Koen Vermeir. Athanasius Kircher's Magical Instruments: An Essay on Science, Religion and Applied Metaphysics (1602-1680). Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A, Elsevier, 2007, 38 (2), pp.363-400. ⟨10.1016/j.shpsa.2007.03.008⟩. ⟨halshs-00641624⟩

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