Home > Uncategorized > Llull, revisited

Llull, revisited

Bill posted a bit about Ramon Llull, the thirteenth-century monk who developed a logical system based on combination. I wrote quite a bit about Llull and thought I’d share some images:


What’s fascinating about his system for me is not just that it’s combinatory — Optatianus Porphyrius was writing combinatory verse in the fourth century, and there’s a long history of (for instance) cento — but that he asks users to design a physical paper mechanism for combining his logical constants, thereby materializing a system that, for most other thinkers, remains conceptual. Llull, writing at the height of the Crusades, believed that by constructing a mechanism that embodies all possible syllogisms proving God’s existence, he could convert the infidels — as if these little spinning wheels of paper, spitting out argument after argument for God’s goodness or greatness or infinitude, would force them to fall to their knees in awe, and in conversion.

(The flaw of the system is obvious: Llull’s constants, which act as premises like “God is good,” are themselves statements not self-evident to all.)

Llull was wildly popular (and widely misunderstood) during the Renaissance. The image above is from Athanasius Kircher’s textbook on Llull (the Ars magna sciendi sive combinatorica, 1669), in which Kircher tells the book’s users to cut out the circles to create a computer. Kircher also revised Llull’s system by “tagging” his logical constants with symbols, constructing all these wonderful little tables of symbolic relationships:


To the 21st-century reader, it’s easy to read the formal materialism of manipulating desktop icons into Kircher’s imaginative form of Lullism.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. bseaman
    November 2, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    Some interesting contemporary maps…

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