Experience is Proof: Texts versus Observation in Eighteenth-Century Italy
Author(s)Glasberg Gail, Debra
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AbstractThe late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries marked a significant period in the transformation of scientific scholarship. The Latin philosophical tradition’s dominance waned as empirical methods gained credence. University educated men of science began to trust information actually seen and tested more than knowledge contained in books, especially ancient ones. The larger implications of this transformation -- the questioning of the authority of the written word of the Bible and the accompanying narrative of the origins of the universe -- have received significant scholarly attention. The smaller shifts in the way individuals weighed textual and empirical sources of authority, however, has been largely overlooked. The work of Italian rabbi and physician Isaac Lampronti (1679-1756), whose years as a student and teacher overlapped with these shifting grounds, provides a significant entry point into the subject. Lampronti saw the rabbinic and scientific systems as fundamentally compatible and accordingly employed his personal medical knowledge throughout his encyclopedia of Jewish law, the Pahad Yitzhak. Examination of two passages from his work shows both the influence of empirical authority on rabbinic scholarship and the continued importance of ancient texts, even non-Jewish ones. Through such analysis, historians can better understand the influence and reach of the new epistemology and the complex hierarchies of authority that emerged in the era.