Structuring Nature


An Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Summer School

Berlin, 28 July – 3 August 2019

(with preliminary readings starting on 15 July)

Does the structure of nature inform the structure of our knowledge of nature, or do our own (artificial) divisions of science affect the way in which we divide the natural world?

Questions concerning the structure of nature, and the structure of our knowledge of the natural world have long occupied philosophers and scientists working in the Western tradition, up until the present day. Especially in the ancient, medieval and early modern periods, Greek, Arabic, and Latin writers have developed a variety of approaches to construct ordered, rule-based frameworks to divide and study nature in all of its complexity.

As a result of enduring interest and continual developments, in both theoretical and practical knowledge of nature, various thinkers from these traditions have introduced novel criticisms to these systems, and others have shown through experiment and observation that long-standing preconceptions about the natural world, and our knowledge of it, do not stand up to scrutiny.

Over the course of one week, this interdisciplinary summer school will provide a conspectus of some of the many historical and modern problems associated with any attempt to formalise boundaries between minerals and other inert substances, plants, animals, and humans. It will also consider how some thinkers pushed the epistemological limits of natural science, attempting to fit new abstract theories and mathematical approaches to the study of the natural world.

“Structuring Nature” brings together a wide range of experts from ancient and medieval philosophy, classical philology, and the history of science, whose research addresses these problems in a number of language traditions, across a wide historical range. These experts will introduce students to the foundational thematic and methodological reflections on the structures of nature from antiquity to early-modern philosophy and science.

By bringing together historians of the scientific and philosophical traditions that have developed on the shores of the Mediterranean Basin, the summer school will provide the students with a unique opportunity to appreciate the historical contingencies of approaches, methods, and perspectives in the human attempts at understanding the structure of nature. In the closing discussions of each day, students will have the opportunity to critically reflect on ways of combining different methods and approaches that may eventually overcome current fragmentations and departmentalisations in the academy.

As of July 28, the summer school will be hosted in Berlin, where the students will benefit from direct access to scholars at the three organising institutions, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Freie Universität Berlin, and the Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte.

The Summer School program will officially start two weeks earlier, on Monday, 15 July 2019. At this time, articles and other relevant materials will be circulated to provide the students with the background necessary to take an active part in the activities of the summer school. A final assessment of the students’ progress will be given to their presentations on Friday, 2 August 2019, as well as to their active attendance in all activities offered by the School.


Graduate and undergraduate students are welcomed to apply. Interested students must submit an updated CV and a short cover letter describing their research, methods, and aims by 15 May 2019 at the following email address: Applicants who plan on applying for external funding should specify that on their applications.


Attendance to the summer school is free. Students whose application is successful are meant to participate to the entire length of the summer school and to give a talk at the final workshop. Exceptions can be made in consideration of qualified reasons. Participants will be provided with a certificate of attendance (or, upon request, any other paper certifying her/his attendance) at the end of the summer school in order to allow students a positive recognition of credits from their home institutions.

Please note that the organising institution will not offer meals or lodging to the participants. Students are therefore invited to apply to funding and studentships at their home institutions.

Participants will be updated about changes to the programme via email, but they are also invited to consult the summer school webpage at the following link:

For any further question, you can reach the organisers at the following email address:


Nicholas Aubin (HU Berlin), Vincenzo Carlotta (HU Berlin), Mattia Cipriani (FU Berlin), Katja Krause (MPIWG), Nicola Polloni (HU Berlin).


Humboldt University of Berlin, RTG “Philosophy, Science and the Sciences”,  Max-Planck-Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, and Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung.