**Ramon Llull: From the Ars Magna to Artificial Intelligence**

Book edited by

Alexander Fidora

Carles Sierra

*Preface*

The lay philosopher and theologian Ramon Llull (1232–1316), born

in Mallorca, is undoubtedly a prominent figure within European

thought. However, the exact position he occupies within the cultural

horizons of his period, on the one hand, and the intellectual

legacy he bequeaths to the present day, on the other, are issues

often immersed in controversy. This situation derives, in part,

from the protean multiplicity of his writings, manifested by an

impressive variety of forms, styles and subject matter, Llull having

composed some 280 works in both Catalan and Latin (as well

as reputedly in Arabic).

Running throughout his immense oeuvre, nevertheless, is a

leitmotif that enables one to arrive at an overall, if not unitary,

view, that leitmotif being the Ars lulliana or Lullian Art: a

philosophico-theological system that makes use of common basic

concepts from the three monotheistic religions of its day, subjecting

them to discussion with a view to convincing Muslims (and

Jews) via rational argument of the truth of the Christian mysteries

of faith. By revising his Art and extending it to all fields of

human knowledge, Ramon Llull succeeded in creating a universal

science, based on the algebraic notation of its basic concepts

and their combination by means of mechanical figures. As a matter

of fact, Llull not only presented his system to the masters of the

University of Paris as well as to the Pope, but he undertook several

missionary trips to North Africa in order to put his Ars into

practice disputing with Muslims in the market place in Bejaia and

other cities.

From a more abstract point of view, Llull’s combinatorial Art

can be described as a process of elementary analysis and of reconstruction.

On the one hand, it resolves the historical religions into

their most primitive elements; on the other, it represents these

elements by letters (from B to K), in order to recombine these

letters and the elements of the different religions that they designate

until, through these combinations, a vision of the world is

reached that is as consistent as possible: this will correspond to

truth. Undoubtedly, this process which Llull applied to all kinds

of question —not just religious controversies— is a key ingredient

of modern thought. One only has to think of Gottfried Wilhelm

Leibniz’s characteristica universalis: thus, in his Dissertatio de arte

combinatoria, in 1666, the young Leibniz, clearly inspired by Llull,

had already outlined the project of a reconstruction of the whole

of reality based on a definite number of basic notions. Leibniz

criticizes the basic notions of the Lullian “alphabet” as too limited

and proposes another alternative and broader alphabet. In

contradistinction to Llull, Leibniz does not represent these basic

notions with letters but rather uses numbers. Thus, the basic notion

of “space” is represented by the number 2, the basic notion of

“between” by the number 3, and the basic notion of “the whole”

by the number 10. Consequently, according to Leibniz, a complex

concept such as, for instance, “interval” can be formulated as

2.3.10, that is, “space between the whole”. Leibniz was convinced

that in this way all questions could be reduced to mathematical

problems and that, in order to solve any problem, we only have

to set about calculating. This is the meaning of Leibniz’s famous

“Calculemus!”

It is through Leibniz that Llull’s influence also became decisive

for more recent developments such as formal logic, as developed

by Gottlob Frege in the late 19th century. According to

Frege, Leibniz’s characteristica, in its later evolution, limited itself

to different fields, such as arithmetic, geometry, chemistry

and so on, but did not become universal as Leibniz, in fact, had

wished. This is why Frege, in his famous Begriffsschrift from 1879,

intended to create an elementary language that would unify the

different formal languages which, after Leibniz, had been established

in the different natural sciences. This language developed

into the formal logic that until now has dominated the philosophical

discourse and which was an important step in the journey

towards the creation of computing languages. What characterizes

this kind of logic is its formal notation, using variables and

symbols to represent the different logical propositions and operations.

Based on this notation, Frege developed the so-called logical

calculus. Although the language reached by this formal logic

differs from that of the Art, Llull can be considered as the forerunner

of this project, insofar as in his thought one can already find

the idea of an elementary language that follows logical rules and

uses variables while operating with the principle of substitution

of these variables.

See also an article by Fernando Cuartero

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