Title: Probable Men and Improbable Women: Logic and Gender in the Renaissance
Authors: Robiglio, Andrea
Issue Date: 9-Sep-2016
Conference: Homo Logicus. Logic at the Edges of Humanity. Historical, anthropological, philosophical approaches location:European University Institute, Florence date:8-9 September 2016
Abstract: This paper contributes to a larger question concerning the modern genealogy of the concepts of evidence, reliable knowledge, and value. These are studied in relation to cognate notions such as trust, epistemic authority, and recognition. A first element is the nature and the role of “probable thinking” as it has long been employed in both Law and Logic. This involves the legal pre-modern origins of the innovative notion of “certainty”: how is it possible to rely on human knowledge beyond the precincts either of deductive or of empirical evidence? As a consequence, the second element is the role of testimony in the constitution of reliable knowledge. Which are the anthropological requirements for any reliable testimony in matters concerning truth? Two additional elements are to be taken into account. The first one is the ingenuity of the persons involved, having in mind that one of the ancient meanings of the word “probable” did not concern state of affairs, but rational agents instead. The “vir probabilis” for the Renaissance readers of Cicero and Aristotle’s Rhetoric, is the “expert”, the man who is able to provide a successful, dialectic argument (habilis ad probandum) in support of his statements. The second element is reputation, which includes social dignity, gender, and the construction of authority. Beyond individual skills and qualities, it addresses the intersubjective dimension of conversation, the role of peers’ assessment, and the very notion of a shared, commonly accepted, set of values. The juridical treatises De testibus are commonly preceded by a section dedicated to analysis of the character and the debate on human nobility. The anthropological premise is meant to explain the witness’s trustworthiness, while it implies the exclusion of testimonies which turn out to be unreliable source for dialectical reasoning. In fact, the above mentioned requirements exclude entire groups of people, discriminated on the basis of their mental, sexual, ethnical, or political status. Few writings from the Quattrocento, however, cast doubt upon such discrimination: the women, for instance, may be good logician, as we read in the vernacular dialogue called Il Paradiso degli Alberti. Momus, the anti-hero of Leon Battista Alberti’s eponymous comedy (1450), vindicates the “logic of folly”, the right of the outsider to criticize the established ways of thinking. Against such a background, the paper focuses on figures of women who did logic, either actively (like Dante’s Beatrice) or passively (like in the case of the female readership of some logically loaded writings). Thus, we shall also try to explore the place and role of the mulier probabilis.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:De Wulf-Mansion Centre for Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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