Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Introducing da Vinci

As we approach the release of "The Da Vinci Code", I wanted to post Schaeffer's analysis of Leonardo's philosophy.
He brings a new factor into the flow of history, and comes closer to being a modern man than any before him. His dates are important (1452-1519), because they overlapped with the beginning of the Reformation. Leonardo da Vinci is also very much a part of a significant shift in philosophic thinking. ... By the time of da Vinci, Neoplatonism was a dominant force in Florence. It became a dominant force for the simple reason that they needed to find some way to put something in the "upper story." They introduced Neoplatonism in an attempt to reinstate ideas and ideals - that is, universals:

Grace - Universals
Nature - Particulars

A universal is that which would give meaning and unity to all the particulars. The particulars are all the individual things - each individual thing is a particular.

... Where do you find a unity when you set diversity free? Once the particulars are set free, how do you hold them together? Leonardo grappled with this problem. He was a Neoplatonist painter and, many people have said ... the first modern mathematician. He saw hat if you begin with an autonomous rationality, what you come to is mathematics (that which can be measured), and mathematics only deals with particulars, not universals. Therefore you never get beyond mechanics. As a man who realised the need for a unity, he understood that this would not do. So he tried to paint the soul. The soul in this context is not the Christian soul; the soul is the universal - the soul, for example, of the sea or of the tree.

Soul - Unity
Mathematics - Particulars - Mechanics

One of the reasons Leonardo never painted very much was simply that he tried to draw in order to be able to paint the universal. He never succeeded.

A modern writer, Giovanni Gentile, one of the greatest Italian philosophers until his death some years ago, said that Leonardo died in despondency because he would not abandon the hope of a rational unity between the particulars and the universal. To have escaped this despondency, Leonardo would have had to have been a different man. He would have had to let go his hope of unity above and below the line. Leonardo, not being a modern man, never gave up the hope of a unified field of knowledge. He would not, in other words, give up the hope of educated man, who, in the past, has been marked by this insistence on a unified field of knowledge.

Francis Schaeffer: Escape from Reason, Chapter One