Du Pont, René
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A French polemicist of the first half of the seventeenth century. He was the author of a Philosophie des esprits published in two editions (Paris 1602, Paris 1612), in which he defended and developed, in opposition to the materialists, the concept of intelligent spiritual substance. Du Pont’s views were close to those of Marsilio Ficino and Pico della Mirandola, and he put forward a theory of human nature in the scholastic tradition, with strong influences from Hermetic, Augustinian, and neo-Platonic thought.
KeywordsHuman Nature Seventeenth Century Bodily Creature Original Aspect Spiritual Nature
Innovative and Original Aspects
A French polemicist of the first half of the seventeenth century, Du Pont is known mainly as the author of a Philosophie des esprits published in two editions (Paris 1602, Paris 1612) in which he defended and developed, in opposition to the materialists, the concept of intelligent spiritual substance. Here he took up Pico della Mirandola’s anthropocentrism, putting forward a theory of human nature in the scholastic tradition, with obvious roots in the Hermetic, Augustinian, and neo-Platonic schools of thought. Du Pont was a fervent Catholic who on various issues fell into line somewhat uncritically with the Aristotelian-Scholastic orthodoxy. His work is nonetheless an original and deeply felt appeal for a spiritual life expressed through a theological account of spiritual realities, notably featuring angels, demons and blessed souls, and the rewards and punishments of the next world. Throughout his work Du Pont drew abundantly on the imagery of mysticism, neo-Platonism, and Augustinian thought, often taking positions close to those of the Italian Renaissance thinkers.
Du Pont’s views are particularly well illustrated by the sixth book of his Philosophie des esprits, dedicated to the order that, in governing the universe, brings together all God’s creatures under the sign of His omnipotence. Nature, he argued, considers and brings together within itself all the possible combinations and patterns of the living, in a kind of universal and reciprocal reflection of everything. That means, he says, that even living beings are connected to each other by a set of analogies and that even explains the existence of mythological animals and other wonders and resemblances among living beings. By contrast, intellectual and angelic substances are quite unlike the bodily creatures living on earth. In this case too, proceeding from a tradition that we could trace back to Thomas Aquinas, spiritual and bodily creatures are the opposite sides of a contrasting and complementary polarity, characterized by completely different attributes.
Man, the point of connection in this cosmological dualism, is, as he had been in Pico’s thinking, at the center, as a third element able to reconcile the contrast and as a microcosm summing up the whole variety of creation. From the point of view of his theory of mind, Du Pont draws on the hylomorphist tradition, but, as many sixteenth-century neo-Platonists had done, he revived various elements inspired by Platonistic or dualistic thinking (see Rodis-Lewis 1990) which he reconciled with the idea of a soul that was clearly identified as forma corporis. In line with Ficino before him (and with Pascal after him), Du Pont identified Man as an “animal and angel,” a creature between sense and intellect. It should be noted, however, that to illustrate the spiritual nature of the soul, he recommends a particular thought experiment of “removal” of the body from the human combination that perhaps illustrates the transition that had occurred in the sixteenth-century Aristotelian theory of mind, a shift toward a kind of “moderate” and intellectualistic hylomorphism that looked with interest at the common spiritual nature of angels and souls. According to Du Pont, by imagining the body not existing, Man can know what it feels like to be pure intellect (as Aquinas, e.g., could not do, except as far as the first principles are concerned), which amounts to knowing what it feels like to be an angel.