Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Agricola's Loci Communes

Rudolphus Agricola (1443–85) was very important in the history of thinking about commonplaces (and accordingly in the history of commonplace books). Indeed, it is difficult to under-estimate his influence on early modern logic. Agricola revised the "system" of commonplaces in systematic way. There were for him exactly twenty-four places, divided into groups, namely ten internal and fourteen external places. The internal places are further broken down into seven intrinsic and three extrinsic places, and the external places into four cognates, three circumstances, five accidents and two repugnances. The resulting table looks like this:
  • Internal
    • Intrinsic
      • Definition
      • Genus
      • Species
      • Property
      • Whole
      • Part
      • Conjugate
    • Extrinsic
      • Adjacent
      • Act
      • Subject
  • External
    • Cognates
      • Agent
      • End
      • Effect
      • Intention
    • Circumstances
      • Place
      • Time
      • Possession
    • Accidents
      • Contingency
      • Pronouncement
      • Name
      • Comparison
      • Likeness
    • Repugnances
      • Opposite
      • Different

This does not look very chaotic at all. In some sense it looks like Kant's system of the categories. But it would be a mistake to assimilate it too much to it. In some ways it's closer to his Dialectic, as logic had two functions for Agricola:
He thought (following Cicero) that logic had two functions:
  1. finding arguments (inventio)
  2. judging or arranging the material found (iudicium)
The first part was most important to him. But however that may be, one of the most important points of of common place thinking is to impose a common order, to have a place for everything and to put everything in its place.

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