The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa

The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa

The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa

The Analogical Turn: Rethinking Modernity with Nicholas of Cusa


Recovers a 15th-century thinker's original insights for theology and philosophy today

Societies today, says Johannes Hoff, are characterized by their inability to reconcile seemingly black-and-white scientific rationality with the ambiguity of postmodern pop culture. In the face of this crisis, his book The Analogical Turn recovers the fifteenth-century thinker Nicholas of Cusa's alternative vision of modernity to develop a fresh perspective on the challenges of our time.

In contrast to his mainstream contemporaries, Cusa's appreciation of individuality, creativity, and scientific precision was deeply rooted in the analogical rationality of the Middle Ages. He revived and transformed the tradition of scientific realism in a manner that now, retrospectively, offers new insights into the "completely ordinary chaos" of postmodern everyday life.

Hoff's original study offers a new vision of the history of modernity and the related secularization narrative, a deconstruction of the basic assumptions of postmodernism, and an unfolding of a liturgically grounded concept of common-sense realism.


Our modern understanding of science and culture builds on two key concepts: that of subjective “autonomy,” which suggests we are all, by nature, able to “determine” ourselves; and a representationalist concept of space, which implies that the world we inhabit can be fully represented by a mathematically generated “picture of the world” such as a computer-generated 3D animation. the theoretical formulation of these concepts can be traced back to Discourse on the Method by René Descartes, which was published, together with his Optics and Geometry, in 1637. However, both concepts had emerged two hundred years earlier after architect Filippo Brunelleschi’s public “demonstrations” of linear perspective in Florence in 1425. Thus the modern concepts of science and culture were not invented by scientists, but were in fact the outcome of an artistic vision of space and autonomy. This explains why the accompanying vision of scientific realism was successful despite its counterintuitive presuppositions and mathematical flaws.

In 1435 Leon Battista Alberti provided what is assumed to be the first theoretical account of the principles that stood behind Brunelleschi’s experiments. This account built on Biagio Pelacani da Parma’s mathematization of visual space, with which Alberti had become familiar while attending the lectures of Biagio’s disciple, Prosdocimus de’ Beldomandis in Padua. Nicholas of Cusa may have met Alberti at these lectures, and he certainly made his acquaintance later, at the “Florentine Stammtisch” of Cusa’s close friend Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, at which

1. the German term “Stammtisch,” which has been introduced by the Cusa scholar Tom Müller as description for this circle, defies translation. As one of my Lampeter stu-

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