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Institute of Advanced Study

Fundamental Structures

Fundamental structures

This three-day international conference will explore conceptualisations of ‘fundamental structures’ across a range of disciplines. A unifying focus will be a thematically interconnected set of presentations dealing with one of the great foundational texts of Western philosophy, Plato's Timaeus, which presents an account of the formation of the universe as the work of a δημιουργός or ‘master craftsman’ who imposes mathematical order on chaos to create a cosmos (κόσμος). Plato’s poetic narrative proposes an underlying structural congruence between all phenomena in the human and natural realms, unifying such disparate fields as astronomy, music, law, and architecture. It will consequently serve as an excellent point of departure for thinking about the ways in which fundamental ordering and structure-imparting agencies have been envisioned in different domains across the humanities and sciences (including music, history, architecture and the other visual arts, psychology, political science, law, and theoretical physics), and the ways in which these have changed over time and manifest themselves differently in varying cultural contexts.

The conference will serve to facilitate interdisciplinary dialogue on the following questions:

  1. the commonalities that might exist between envisionings of deep structures in different fields;
  2. the current philosophical status and continuing relevance of ideas of fundamental structure in different intellectual domains, and of concepts of a fundamentally ordered universe.
  3. the relations between the fabric of physical structures, including potentially Durham Cathedral itself, and philosophical and theological ideas stemming from the classical tradition.

Keynote speakers include Professor Nancy van Deusen ((Claremont Graduate University), an outstanding mediaevalist whose recent research encompasses philosophy, the natural sciences and musicology; and Professor John Hendrix (Roger Williams University), an expert on the cosmological foundations of medieval religious architecture and its dependence on the ancient and medieval philosophical tradition.

The conference will take place Wednesday 14th to Friday 16th March 2018 in the College of St Hild and St Bede. Contact Dr Edmund Thomas (e.v.thomas@durham.ac.uk) for further information.