Art and Scientific Thought: Historical Studies Towards a Modern Revision of Their Antagonism

By Martin Johnson | Go to book overview

Chapter 19
Scientific Reaction to Irrational Environment

The Worship of Necessity

Any opinion as to the philosophical or the religious life of Leonardo must be carefully disentangled from two obstructive prejudices; both of these are founded on facts but also on restricted meanings of words in the description of those facts. Firstly he is sometimes said to have been irreligious, and secondly 'philosophy' in him is commonly considered as confined to natural science. The former error arose in course of controversy over the alleged adherence of the dying Leonardo to an ecclesiastical orthodoxy which he certainly abhorred throughout most of his life. His avoidance of the metaphysical definitions which had delighted the Schoolmen, and which over- flowed from the Middle Ages into his time, certainly indicates that he played no part in dialectical disputes, religious or philosophical; it would have been contrary to his empirical tastes to have cared much for ontological speculation. But the fact that he shrank from religious institutions need scarcely blind us nowadays to impulses in him which were of a profoundly religious character. Similarly the lack of any writings to merit a prominent place in philosophic history ought not to absolve us from appreciating a very definite Weltanschauung of Leonardo. If these religious and philosophical elements in him can be discovered, they may even throw new light upon his art.

In science we found him anticipating principles of inertia, of action and reaction, of blood circulation, etc., not by detailed formulation but by implicit use of their consequences. Similarly in his philosophy there are not to be found any formulations of principle but a large number of random remarks and notes. These imply opinions which may be inferred from some of their consequences, as metaphysics commonly does carry over some of its results into ethics and aesthetics.

If one extracts some of those philosophical notes which are not merely facts of psychological observation--a kind to which I drew attention previously--it becomes not at all difficult to trace a

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