“A Truer Philosophy”

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


In the first letter which he wrote to Galileo (20.7.1625), Gassendi made early mention of his project of persuading his contemporaries to adopt “a truer and better philosophy” than Aristotelianism,1 and when Gassendi was well on the way to completion of his project Thomas Hobbes is reported to have read his manuscripts and to have approved of what he read in them because he considered that Gassendi’s Epicurean philosophy was “much truer” than Aristotle’s.2 Gassendi deliberately chose the comparative “truer” (verisimilior) in preference to the absolute term “true” in order to distinguish his goals from those of the dogmatic philosophers, those who claimed to have knowledge of the essences of things and those who, like Robert Fludd, claimed to have found the “philosophical key” to the universe.3 Yet there were times when Gassendi, too, was tempted to expound his corpuscular theory in more dogmatic style, for he evidently believed that the obstacles to verification of the corpuscular explanation of natural processes were technological, and that it is only our divinely-willed human frailty that prevents us from appreciating the full truth of the Epicurean doctrines.4 However, he did not succumb to the temptation, for the whole thrust of his reaction to Aristotelianism depended on his not crossing the divide between scepticism and dogmatism.


Prime Matter Efficient Causality Divine Nature Corporeal Nature True Philosophy 
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    “… ex commistis et coalitis, et vi quadam omneis permanente contends, veluti planta, animal.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 155b; cf. MS Tours 709, f.452r.)Google Scholar
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    “Plerique quidem, sed non omnes fatentur esse vim quandam per totum mundum sic diffusam, parteisque eius continentem, cuiusmodi in animali est anima; ut in nobis, membrisque nostris vis illa interna, qua vivimus, sentimus, imaginamur, movemur; et qua digressa dissolvimur, taleque nihil amplius praestamus.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 155b; cf. MS Tours 709, f.452r.)Google Scholar
  104. 107.
    Cf. Plato, Timaeus 34a-47e. This is the chief source for both Platonic and Pythagorean doctrine on the World Soul. Cf. also S.K. Heninger, Jr.: 1977, The cosmographical glass, pp.81–143.Google Scholar
  105. 108.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp. 155b, 157a; cf. MS Tours 709, ff.448r, 449v. Gassendi clearly misrepresented the position: there was considerable affinity between the doctrine of the World Soul of the new-Pythagoreans and neo-Platonists and that of the ancient Pythagoreans and Platonists. Furthermore, the World Soul doctrine was worked out in some detail by Plato (cf. Timaeus 34a-47e).Google Scholar
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    Cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 155b.Google Scholar
  107. 110.
    “Arbitrabar nihil propterea derogari sacrae Fidei, quod et forma tantum quaedam a Deo dependens intelligeretur, et Anima diceretur esse sui generis, hoc est a tribus illis vulgatis, vegetativo, sensitivo ac rationali distincti, et nominatim spiritualis gratiae ac foelicitatis uti nostra humana est, esse incapax censeretur.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, p.236a.Google Scholar
  108. 111.
    “Vel Animam Mundi, vel Mentem, vel Deum, vel quidvis aliud.” (MS Tours 709, f.235v.)Google Scholar
  109. 112.
    “Satis est enim quod tenuerint eandem prope rem quam nos profitemur.” (MS Tours 709, f.253v.)Google Scholar
  110. 113.
    “Naturam… divinam ubique adesse, quae in res omneis intime per sui essentiam, praesentiam, potentiamque sic illabatur, ut omnia conservei, coagat rebus omnibus, ipsa conditrix omnium rerum.” (MS Tours 709, ff.253v-254r.)Google Scholar
  111. 114.
    “Neque obstat quod talem causam vel Deum, vel Mentem, vel Naturam, vel Necessitatem, vel Fatum, vel quidvis aliud dixerint, satis est enim quod tenuerint eandem prope rem quem nos profitemur.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I. p.287b.)Google Scholar
  112. 115.
    “Vis ilium [Deum] Fatum vocare? Non errabis; hic est ex quo suspensa sunt omnia, causa causarum. Vis ilium Providentiam? Recte dices; est enim cuius consilio huic mundo providetur, ut inconcussus eat et actus suos explicet. Vis Naturam vocare? Non peccabis; est enim ex quo nata sunt omnia cuius spiritu vivimus, etc” (Seneca, Quaestiones naturales (cf. Loeb classical library edition), II, 45.2.)Google Scholar
  113. 116a.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p. 155b; MS Tours 709, f.448r. The theory of an all-pervading heat was adopted by the Stoics. The following is a frequently quoted Stoic saying: “Nature is an artistically working fire, going on its way to create”, (Diogenes Laertius, De clarorum philosophorum vitis, VII, 156.5.). Cf. S. Sambursky: 1959, Physics of the Stoics, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, pp.3–4.Google Scholar
  114. 116b.
    Cf. the comprehensive article on the subject by Rosaleen Love: 1972, “Some sources of Herman Boerhaave’s concept of fire”, in Ambix, 19, pp.157–174. This passage concerning the alleged legitimate and illegitimate ways in which one might consider that the world had a soul reflects not only Gassendi’s critique of the doctrine of the World Soul as expounded by Robert Fludd.Google Scholar
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    but also a long history of philosophical discussion before that (cf. Richard C. Dales: 1980, “Medieval deanimation of the heavens”, in Journal of the history of ideas, 41, pp.531–550).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.l58b-159a; MS Tours 709, ff.451v-452v.Google Scholar
  117. 118.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, pp. 169b-178b, especially pp. 170b-171a.Google Scholar
  118. 119.
    “Quaeres forte quandonam fuerint ista semina in terra creata?… at nobis dicendum posse perdurare a primo usque conditu rerum; fuisse enim a Deo effecta, et varie per terram ubicuique fuit commodius respersa cum iussit terram germinare, herbarumque et arborum species omneis producere.” (Idem, II, p. 170b. Cf. D. Laertius, De clarorum philosophorum vitis, 38.9; 74.9–10.) In adopting the theory of “seeds” as presented by Epicurus, Gassendi eschewed the theories of the Stoic-Epicurean tradition which were underpinned by the World-Soul theory. Cf. D.R. Oldroyd: 1974, “Some neo-Platonic and Stoic influences on mineralogy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries”, in Ambix, 21, pp.128–156.Google Scholar
  119. 120.
    Genesis, I, 11–12.Google Scholar
  120. 121.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.l70a-b.Google Scholar
  121. 122.
    This theory was not peculiar to Cabbalist doctrine.Google Scholar
  122. 123.
    “Nullam esse herbam aut plantam inferius cuius non sit Stella in firmamento quae earn percutiat et dicat ei, cresce.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p. 170a.)Google Scholar
  123. 124.
    “Quippe opus quidem est calore solis quo terra stipata solvatur ipsaque seminum substantia discutiatur quadamtenus, sed calor huiuscemodi causa est solum extrinseca seu amovens impedimenta quae vim seminalem sive formatricem tenent irretitam, sopitam, inertem.” (Idem, II, p. 170b; cf. Aristotle, De generatione animalium 743a.35–36, and Theophrastus, De causis plantarum 1.5.5.)Google Scholar
  124. 125.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p. 170b.Google Scholar
  125. 126.
    Cf. S.K. Heninger, The gosmographical glass, pp.81–143.Google Scholar
  126. 127.
    “Ita, quo lapides formentur, debet omnino praeter calorem aliudve agens extrinsecum esse interiorem quaedam vis quae conformationem moliatur et seminalis censeri possit.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.114a.)Google Scholar
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    Idem, II, pp.3a-b, 112a-143b. Cf. O.R. Bloch: 1971, La philosophie de Gassendi. Nominalisme, matérialisme et métaphysique, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, pp.261ff; Bloch considers that Gassendi was much influenced by Etienne de Clave in his treatment of the subject.Google Scholar
  128. 129.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.113a-b.Google Scholar
  129. 130.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.713a-752b.Google Scholar
  130. 131.
    Idem, II, pp.113b-114a.Google Scholar
  131. 132a.
    J. Kepler: 1611, Sirena seu de nive sexangula, Frankfurt.Google Scholar
  132. 132b.
    (C. Hardie (Ed. and Transi.): 1966, J. Kepler, The six-cornered snow flake), Clarendon Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  133. 133.
    “An rerum omnium naturalium ut peculiaria sunt semina ita peculiares figurae, atque adeo ut animalia, ut plantae, ut lapides, non-nisi certis delineantur formis, sic delineantur caeterae res seminum suorum necessitate?… ut proinde possit nix quoque ratione illa sibi propria crescendo configuran.” (P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, p.81a.)Google Scholar
  134. 134.
    Idem, II, p.81a.Google Scholar
  135. 135.
    Cf. the third letter De proportione qua gravia decidentia accelerantur, in P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, III, pp.625–650, espc. pp.630b-636a.Google Scholar
  136. 136.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, pp.345b-346a; II, pp.l22a-135bGoogle Scholar
  137. 137.
    P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, II, pp. 128a-135b.Google Scholar
  138. 138.
    “Virtutem… magnetis in ferrum emissam effluxum esse corporeum, constantemve ex corpusculis quae pro dispositione qua sunt corpusculorum ferri immutationem faciant.” (Idem, II, p. 129b.)Google Scholar
  139. 139.
    Idem, II, p. 132a.Google Scholar
  140. 140.
    Idem, II, P.1332a. Google Scholar
  141. 142.
    “Difficultas praesertim est de caussis internis, quas qui investigant dicuntur non immerito scrutari arcana naturae.” (MS Tours 709, f.248v; cf. P. Gassendi, Opera omnia, I, p.284a.)Google Scholar
  142. 143.
    Cf. Keith Hutchison: 1982, “What happened to occult qualities in the scientific revolution?” in Isis, 73, pp.233–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  143. The results of my researches into Gassendi’s attitude to “obscure” philosophy corroborate Brian Vickers’ description of the opposition of men of science in the seventeenth century to the “occult mentality”; cf. B. Vickers (Ed.): 1984, Occult and scientific mentalities in the Renaissance, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, introduction and pp.95–163, “Analogy versus identity: the rejection of occult symbolism”. I found Vicker’s treatment especially helpful when I came to compose the next few paragraphs.Google Scholar
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    Robert Boyle: 1661, The sceptical chymist, (Everyman Library edition), p.23.Google Scholar

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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