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Empirical Anti-Aristotelianism

  • Barry Brundell
Chapter
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Part of the Synthese Historical Library book series (SYHL, volume 30)

Abstract

Let us again recall Gassendi’s philosophical origins. He began his academic life as an Aristotelian scholastic, first as a pupil and then as a teacher. His personal rebellion against Aristotelianism began from within the Aristotelian tradition, largely stimulated by the humanist movement towards the rejection of Aristotelianism. He had two specific complaints against Aristotelianism: first, that it did not teach one how to live; and second, that it did not teach one how to explore nature and make progress in knowledge.1 Gassendi was in that frame of mind, then, when he turned from Aristotelianism to Epicureanism, a philosophy which he claimed to be the most sceptical of all the so-called dogmatic philosophies.2 He was reacting against what he judged to be a highly dogmatic Aristotelianism and was reaching out for a more humane, less pretentious and less dogmatic classical philosophy which might take the place of Aristotelianism, with its claim to certain knowledge.

Keywords

Seventeenth Century Optical Theory Christian Doctrine True Opinion Aristotelian Tradition 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cf. supra, Ch. 1.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 13b; Gassendi was making allusion to the division of philosophical systems into “Dogmatic”, “Academic” and “Sceptic” made by Sextus Empiricus in his Outlines of Pyrrhonism (Loeb classical library edition), I, 1.3–4.Google Scholar
  3. 3a.
    Cf. David Fate Norton: 1980, “The myth of ‘British Empiricism’“, in History of European ideas, 1, pp.331–344; Norton claims that Gassendi was the “seminal” figure in seventeenth and eighteenth-century empiricism, and the most likely candidate for the title Founder of Modern Empiricism. Admirers of Gassendi have made such claims in the past; cf. G. Coirault, “Gassendi et non Locke créateur de la doctrine sensualiste moderne sur la génération des idées”,CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 3b.
    in B. Rochot et al:. 1957, Actes du Congrès du Tricentenaire de Pierre Gassendi (4–7 août, 1955), Digne, pp.69–94.Google Scholar
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    Cf. R.I. Aaron: 1937, John Locke, Oxford University Press, London, p.31; O.R. Bloch, La philosophie de Gassendi, pp.133–134.Google Scholar
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    R.W. Kroll: 1984, “The question of Locke’s relation to Gassendi”, in Journal of the history of ideas, 1984, 45, pp.339–359). J. Locke: 1694 (second edition), An essay concerning human understanding (1924, A.S. Pringle-Pattison (Ed.), Clarendon Press, Oxford).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Syntagma philosophicum, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I - II.Google Scholar
  8. 6.
    Letter of Gassendi to Peiresc of 28.4.1631, enclosure, Lettres de Peiresc, IV, pp.250–252.Google Scholar
  9. 7.
    MS Carpentras 1832, ff.205r-256r. Gassendi composed this version immediately after completing the manuscript of De vita et moribus Epicuri libri octo in 1634; cf. R. Pintard: 1943, La Mothe le Vayer, GassendiGuy Patin. Etudes de bibliographie et de critique suivie de textes inédits de Guy Patin, Boivin, Paris, Ch. 3 (“Des manuscrits de Gassendi à l’oeuvre imprimée: la genèse du Syntagma philosophicum”); also O.R. Bloch, La philosophie de Gassendi, pp.xix-xxx.Google Scholar
  10. 8.
    Cf. the numerous letters to Louis of Valois that are bound in chronological sequence with other letters in Latin of Gassendi’s correspondence in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, pp.95–324; the letters relevant to Gassendi’s logic are found especially between pp.138–154.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.31–124.Google Scholar
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    Letter of Gassendi to Peiresc of 28.4.1631, enclosure, Lettres de Peiresc, IV, p.250. For Gassendi’s exposition of the term “Canonic”, MS Carpentras 1832, ff.204r-206v.Google Scholar
  13. 11.
    According to Epicurus, the senses were the first, irrefutable criterion or canon of truth. They never erred since they did no more than receive the sensible species which were presented to them. The possibility of error occurred when opinion was involved, and there was no opinion involved in the operation of the senses. The “anticipation” was an “apprehension”, a “true appearance or idea”, or a “universal idea” (e.g. of a man) which remained in the perceiver as the result of a sense perception. The mind judged new apprehensions against the “anticipation” as a criterion or standard and thus came to recognise other objects of perception; e.g. apprehensions of men fitted the “anticipation” of a man. Cf. Diogenes Laertius, De clarorum philosophorum vitis (1973, G. Arrighetti (Ed.), Epicuro opere, G. Einaudi, Turin), 31–34.Google Scholar
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    “De canonica dialecticae substituta”. (Ms Carpentras 1832, f.205r.)Google Scholar
  15. 14.
    Idem, f.219r; P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.52b. Gassendi was repeating the classical interpretation; cf. D. Laertius, De clarorum philosophorum vitis, 1, 31.5–6.Google Scholar
  16. 15.
    P. Gassendi: 1624, Exercitationes paradoxicae adver sus Aristoteleos, in quibus praecipua totius Peripateticae doctrinae atque dialecticae fundamenta excutiuntur…, Bk. 2, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.149a-210b. MS Carpentras 1832, f.219v. Gassendi explained that he referred to the art of disputation as practised by the “dialecticians” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p. 149a). He used the terms “dialectic” and “dialectician” in a pejorative sense.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Gassendi wrote: “There is no end to the precepts that they invent and tangle up.” “Neque unquam confingendorum intricandorumque praeceptorum finis est.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.149a.)Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, HI, p. 109b.Google Scholar
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    “Paucos canonas, quibus intellectus in veri disquisitione adiutaretur.” (Idem, I, p.52b.)Google Scholar
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    “Ars bene cogitandi.” (Idem, I, p.32b.)Google Scholar
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    cf. J.A. Schuster: 1980, “Descartes’ Mathesis universalis: 1619–28”, in Stephen Gaukroger (Ed.): 1980, Descartes. Philosophy, mathematics and physics, Harvester Press, Brighton, pp.41–96.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi: 1642, De apparente magnitudine solis humilis et sublimis epistolae quatuor, in quibus complura physica opticaque problemata proponuntur et explicantur, L. de Heuqueville, Paris; cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.420–477.Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    Galileo Galilei, Opere X, XI, XIII, XIV, XVI, XVII, and especially XVIII. Google Scholar
  31. 32.
    Cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.422a.Google Scholar
  32. 33.
    F. Liceti: 1640–1650, De quaesitis per epistolas a Claris viris responsa…, Bologna and Udina.Google Scholar
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  39. 41.
    T. Brahe, Opera omnia, V, p. 183.Google Scholar
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    J. Kepler: 1604, Ad vitellionem paralipomena, quibus astronomiae pars optica traditur; potissimum de artificiosa observatione et aestimatione diametrorum deliquiorumque solis et lunae…, Marnium et Aubrii, Frankfurt, pp.335–360.Google Scholar
  41. 42b.
    cf. David C. Lindberg: 1976, Theories of vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, p.187.Google Scholar
  42. 42c.
    also Stephen M. Straker: 1970, Kepler’s optics. A study in the development of seventeenth-century natural philosophy (Ph.D. dissertation presented to the University of Indiana), p.390.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.420–421.Google Scholar
  44. Idem, III, pp.420a-422b; J. Kepler, Ad Vitellionem paralipomena, pp.158ff.Google Scholar
  45. 45.
    Cf. letters of Peiresc to Du Puy of 15.4.1634 and 15.5.1634 in Lettres de Peiresc, III, pp.75ff, 103ff.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Cf. letter of Peiresc to du Puy of 9.5.1634, Idem, III, pp.97–101.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    “Videndi functionem fieri debere in ea parte potissimum in qua recipi valeant et contineri species omnium visibilium imaginesque omnium colorum.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.424b.) Aristotelians considered that the crystalline humour was the place of vision because it was considered to be ‘immaterial’ and thus able to receive the ‘immaterial’ species. The theories of the late thirteenth-century treatises on optics supported their doctrine; cf. John Peckham, Perspectiva communis (1970, D.C. Lindberg (Ed.), John Pecham and the science of optics: Perspectiva communis. University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, 1970), I, 37.Google Scholar
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    “Potissimum albam dilutam… suffuso rubore, vel caerulo.” “It is a dilute white… with a reddish or bluish tinge.” (J. Kepler, Ad Vitellionem paralipomena, p.166.) Cf. Lindberg, Theories of vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler, p.191.Google Scholar
  49. 49.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.424b.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Plater wrote: “The principal organ of vision, namely the optic nerve dilated into the grey hemispherical retina after it enters the eye…” (As cited in A.C. Crombie: 1967, “The mechanistic hypothesis and the scientific study of vision: some optical ideas as a background to the invention of the microscope”, in S. Bradbury and G. L’E. Turner (Eds.): 1967, Historical aspects of microscopy, Royal Microscopical Society, London, p.49.). Kepler had relied on the writings of Plater for his knowledge of the anatomy of the eye; cf. J. Kepler, Ad Vitellionem paralipomena, p.159.Google Scholar
  51. 51.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.424b-425a.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Lindberg, Theories of vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler, pp.202ff.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.425a.Google Scholar
  54. 54.
    Cf. J. Pecham, Perspectiva communis, I, 33.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.423a. For Gassendi’s reliance on experiment to commend his theory at the expense of the Aristotelian theory, cf. idem, III, pp.429b-432b, 422a.Google Scholar
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    Lucretius, De rerum natura, IV, 715ff.; cf. J.M. Rist, Epicurus, p.26ff.Google Scholar
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    R. Descartes, Le monde ou le traité de l’homme, in C. Adam and P. Tannery (Eds.): 1897–1910, Oeuvres de Descartes, 12 vols., Paris, XI, pp.3–215.Google Scholar
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    Concerning the dates of Gassendi’s manuscripts, cf. R. Pintard: 1943, La Mothe le Vayer, GassendiGuy Patin. Etudes de bibliographie et de critique suivie de textes inédits de Guy Patin, Boivin, Paris, ch. 3, “Des manuscrits de Gassendi à l’oeuvre imprimèe: la genèse du ‘Syntagma philosophicum1”, pp.32–46; cf. especially pp.39–40.Google Scholar
  63. 65.
    A. du Laurens: 1599, Historia anatomica humani corporis et singularum eius partium multis controversiis et observationibus novis illustrata, Frankfurt. Gassendi would probably have used the later edition: A. du Laurens: 1603, Opera anatomica in quinque libros divisa, Lyon.Google Scholar
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    A. du Laurens, Opera anatomica, p.620.Google Scholar
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    Letter of Descartes to Mersenne of 22.7.1633, in C. de Waard (Ed.): 1945–1972, Correspondence du P. Marin Mersenne, Religieux Minime, 12 vols., Paris, III, pp.457–460. The treatise was published in Paris much later, in 1644; R. Descartes: 1644, L’homme de René Descartes et un traitté de la formation du foetus du me s me auteur…, C. Angol, Paris. For Descartes’ description of the structure of the nerves, cf. C. Adam and P. Tannery, Oeuvres de Descartes, XI, pp.132–138.Google Scholar
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    “Dum sensus externi obiecta sua percipiunt, motionem quandam fieri, tum in externo ipso sensorio in quod aut species aut qualitas rei sensibilis incurrit, tum propagatione quadam per nervos facta in intimo cerebro, qua parte nervi desinunt, aut originem potius habent. Nempe turgescentes spiritibus nervi concipi possunt quasi radiorum spirituosorum manipuli; adeo ut cum quivis spirituosus radium intentus sit ex cerebro ad externum usque sensorium, idcirco premi, urgerive in ipso externo sensorio tantillum non valeat, quin resulta quodam ipsum cerebrum e quo usque tenditur feriat.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.403b.)Google Scholar
  67. 69.
    Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae (Blackfriars edition), la, q.77, a. 2, 5, 8; la, q.79, a. 1, 4, 8, 10; la, q.84, a. 1.Google Scholar
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  69. 71.
    “[Anima rationalis] merito iure et substantia et substantialis forma censetur.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.466b.)Google Scholar
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    “Esse animam rationalem substantiam incorpoream a Deo creatam et in corpus infusam, formam tanquam informantem.” (Idem, II, p.440a.)Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, pp.425a-446b; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, la, qq. 75, 76, 77, 79.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.451a.Google Scholar
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    Idem, II, pp.446b-454b, especially pp.450b-451a.Google Scholar
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    “Species pictura non est,… neque spectatur per se, neque aliud est quam ratio cognoscendi aliud, id nempe a quo est impressa, eo modo quo etiam ea species quae imprimitur oculo non videtur ipsa sed est solum ratio videndi earn rem a qua est emissa.” (Idem, II, p.405b.)Google Scholar
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    “Dum phantasia percellitur, ipsi coagat intellectus. Itaque non potest quidem intellectus, cum sit incorporeus, corporea specie, spiritibusve… percelli; verum, quo momento phantasia perculsa… ipsam rem quasi inspicit… eodem momento intellectus ob intimam sui praesentiam cohaesionemque cum phantasia, rem eandem contuetur.” (Idem, II, p.450a.)Google Scholar
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    Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, la, q.84, art. 7.Google Scholar
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    Idem, la, q.85, art. 2.Google Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.441a.Google Scholar
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    Cf. J.M. Rist, Epicurus, pp.26ff.Google Scholar
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    “Quod nulla sit scientia, et maxime Aristotelea.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.192a-210b.)Google Scholar
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    Idem, II, p.456b; cf. idem, II, p.333a. Gassendi was referring to the Epicurean theory of images as thin films given off from objects: D. Laertius, De clarorum philosophorum vitis, 1, 49; cf. J.M. Rist, Epicurus, pp.83ff.Google Scholar
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    “Verisimilitudo”. Cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 132b, where Gassendi quoted Plato, Timaeus 29c-d to support his view that science is of the “truth-seeming”. Cf. the edition of F.M. Cornford: 1937, Plato’s cosmology. The Timaeus of Plato, Kegan Paul and Co., London, p.23, where the translation is “a likely story”. Cf. also, P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, pp. 146a, 148a, 152b. See the discussion of the term inGoogle Scholar
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    “Iucundissimum quippe est crassiorem illam caliginem et tenebras quasi nocturnas sic excutere depellereque ex animo ut nisi ipsummet veritatis iubar quasi splendidissimum solem contueri nobis concedatur, at versari tarnen quasi in aurora verisimilitudinis liceat, ac nisi habeamus perspectas causas quae penitus certae indubiaeque sint, taleis nanciscamur quae habeant speciem aliquam probabilitatis.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.286b; cf. I, p. 132a.)Google Scholar
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    “Evidentia est ea sensus apparentia quae in controversiam vocari non potest, quae fidem ex seipsa habet qua probabilius nihil est.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, VI, p. 150a.)Google Scholar
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    D. Laertius, De clarorum philosophorum vitis, I, 34.2–3. Cf. also Plato, Theaitetos (Everyman library edition), 197–210, where a discussion is presented concerning whether true belief (true opinion) can be true knowledge.Google Scholar
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    Thus Popkin wrote: “By and large, the revival of Greek scepticism seems to have had great influence on the intellectual controversies of the early 17th century. Its first and main impact was upon theology, probably because the key issue in dispute, the rule of faith, set up a form of the classical Pyrrhonian problem of the criterion. Also, the fideism involved in the ‘nouveau Pyrrhonisme’, served as an ideal defense for those who employed the sceptical gambits in the religious controversies of the time. As the science of Aristotle began to lose its authority, and competing scientific and pseudo-scientific theories arose, another area for the application of Pyrrhonian arguments came to the fore. In this latter area, the development of the kind of sceptical crisis that had already appeared in theology, was to occur. The ‘nouveau Pyrrhonisme’ was to envelop all the human sciences and philosophy in a complete sceptical crisis, out of which modern philosophy, and the scientific outlook finally emerged.” (R.H. Popkin, History of scepticism, pp.87–88; cf. also pp.82–83.) Popkin’s theory has been elegantly summarised by Z.S. Schiffman, thus: “The revival of Greek Pyrrhonism fueled the fires of doubt ignited by the Reformation”; cf. Z.S. Schiffman: 1984, “Montaigne and the rise of skepticism in Early Modern Europe”, in Journal of the history of ideas, 45, pp.499–516.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • Barry Brundell
    • 1
  1. 1.Saint Paul’s National SeminarySydneyAustralia

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