History of Literature, Fhilosophy and Religions

(contents)


Part III

A Brief History of Western Philosophy

Introduction Phylosophy

The nature of Western philosophy

Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy
 

Medieval philosophy
 

Renaissance philosophy

Modern philosophy

Contemporary philosophy


 

Western Philosophy
 

 

 




 

 
 

 

 


Western philosophy

Encyclopaedia Britannica
 

 
 


Western philosophy


History of Western philosophy from its development among the ancient Greeks to the present.





Renaissance philosophy



Renaissance philosophy » Humanism

The Renaissance was characterized by the revival of interest in mathematics, medicine, and Classical literature. The study of mathematics and medicine sparked the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, while the study of Classical literature became the foundation of the philosophy of Renaissance humanism. Generally suspicious of science and indifferent to religion, humanism emphasized anew the centrality of human beings in the universe and their supreme value and importance. Characteristic of this emphasis was the Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486) by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, an Italian Platonist philosopher and a leading member of the Platonic Academy of Florence, organized by the city’s ruler, Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–92). But the new emphasis on personal responsibility and the possibility of self-creation as a work of art was in no small part a consequence of the rediscovery of a series of crucial Classical texts, which served to reverse the trends of medieval learning. Renaissance humanism was predicated upon the victory of rhetoric over dialectic and of Plato over Aristotle as the cramped format of Scholastic philosophical method gave way to a Platonic discursiveness.

Much of this transformation had been prepared by Italian scholarly initiative in the early 15th century. Lorenzo Valla (1407–57), an antiauthoritarian humanist, used the recently discovered manuscript of Institutio oratoria by Quintilian (35–c. 96) to create new forms of rhetoric and textual criticism. But even more important was the rebirth of an enthusiasm for the philosophy of Plato in Medici Florence and at the cultivated court of Urbino. Precisely to service this enthusiasm, Marsilio Ficino (1433–99), head of the Platonic Academy, translated the entire Platonic corpus into Latin by the end of the 15th century.

Except in the writings of Pico della Mirandola and of the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno (1548–1600), the direct influence of Platonism on Renaissance metaphysics is difficult to trace. The Platonic account of the moral virtues, however, was admirably adapted to the requirements of Renaissance education, serving as a philosophical foundation of the Renaissance ideal of the courtier and gentleman. But Plato also represented the importance of mathematics and the Pythagorean attempt to discover the secrets of the heavens, the Earth, and the world of nature in terms of number and exact calculation. This aspect of Platonism influenced Renaissance science as well as philosophy. The scientists Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543), Johannes Kepler (1571–1630), and Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) owe a great deal to the general climate of Pythagorean confidence in the explanatory power of number.

Platonism also affected the literary forms in which Renaissance philosophy was written. Although very early medieval Platonists, such as St. Augustine and John Scotus Erigena, occasionally used the dialogue form, later Scholastics abandoned it in favour of the formal treatise, of which the great “summae” of Alexander of Hales (c. 1170–1245) and Aquinas were pristine examples. The Renaissance rediscovery of the Platonic dialogues suggested the literary charm of this conversational method to humanists, scientists, and political philosophers alike. Bruno put forth his central insights in a dialogue, Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One (1584); Galileo presented his novel mechanics in his Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems—Ptolemaic and Copernican (1632); and even Machiavelli’s The Art of War (1521) takes the form of a genteel conversation in a quiet Florentine garden.

Renaissance humanism was primarily a moral and a literary, rather than a narrowly philosophical, movement. It flowered in figures with broadly philosophical interests, such as Desiderius Erasmus (1469–1536), the erudite citizen of the world, and Sir Thomas More (1477–1535), the learned but unfortunate chancellor of Henry VIII, as well as, in the next generation, the great French essayist Michel de Montaigne (1532–92). But the recovery of the Greek and Latin classics, which was the work of humanism, profoundly affected the entire field of Renaissance and early modern philosophy and science through the ancient schools of philosophy to which it once more directed attention. In addition to Platonism, the most notable of these schools were atomism, Skepticism, and Stoicism. The discovery of Lucretius’s De rerum natura influenced Galileo, Bruno, and later Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655), a modern Epicurean, through the insights into nature reflected in this work. The recovery of Sextus Empiricus’s Outlines of Pyrrhonism, reprinted in 1562, produced a skeptical crisis in French philosophy that dominated the period from Montaigne to Descartes. And the Stoicism of Seneca and Epictetus became almost the official ethics of the Renaissance, figuring prominently in the Essays (1580–88) of Montaigne, in the letters that Descartes wrote to Princess Elizabeth of Bohemia (1618–79) and to Queen Christina of Sweden (1626–89), and in the later sections of the Ethics (1675) of Benedict de Spinoza (1632–77).



Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, count di Concordia
Italian scholar

born Feb. 24, 1463, Mirandola, duchy of Ferrara [Italy]
died Nov. 17, 1494, Florence

Main
Italian scholar and Platonist philosopher whose De hominis dignitate oratio (“Oration on the Dignity of Man”), a characteristic Renaissance work composed in 1486, reflected his syncretistic method of taking the best elements from other philosophies and combining them in his own work.

His father, Giovanni Francesco Pico, prince of the small territory of Mirandola, provided for his precocious child’s thorough humanistic education at home. Pico then studied canon law at Bologna and Aristotelian philosophy at Padua and visited Paris and Florence, where he learned Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. At Florence he met Marsilio Ficino, a leading Renaissance Platonist philosopher.

Introduced to the Hebrew Kabbala, Pico became the first Christian scholar to use Kabbalistic doctrine in support of Christian theology. In 1486, planning to defend 900 theses he had drawn from diverse Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, and Latin writers, he invited scholars from all of Europe to Rome for a public disputation. For the occasion he composed his celebrated Oratio. A papal commission, however, denounced 13 of the theses as heretical, and the assembly was prohibited by Pope Innocent VIII. Despite his ensuing Apologia for the theses, Pico thought it prudent to flee to France but was arrested there. After a brief imprisonment he settled in Florence, where he became associated with the Platonic Academy, under the protection of the Florentine prince Lorenzo de’ Medici. Except for short trips to Ferrara, Pico spent the rest of his life there. He was absolved from the charge of heresy by Pope Alexander VI in 1492. Toward the end of his life he came under the influence of the strictly orthodox Girolamo Savonarola, martyr and enemy of Lorenzo.

Pico’s unfinished treatise against enemies of the church includes a discussion of the deficiencies of astrology. Though this critique was religious rather than scientific in its foundation, it influenced the astronomer Johannes Kepler, whose studies of planetary movements underlie modern astronomy. Pico’s other works include an exposition of Genesis under the title Heptaplus (Greek hepta, “seven”), indicating his seven points of argument, and a synoptic treatment of Plato and Aristotle, of which the completed work De ente et uno (Of Being and Unity) is a portion. Pico’s works were first collected in Commentationes Joannis Pici Mirandulae (1495–96).

 





 
 



Lorenzo Valla
Italian humanist
Latin Laurentius Vallensis
born 1407, Rome, Papal States [Italy]
died Aug. 1, 1457, Rome

Main
Italian humanist, philosopher, and literary critic who attacked medieval traditions and anticipated views of the Protestant reformers.

Valla was the son of a lawyer employed at the papal court. His family was from Piacenza. Until he was 24 Lorenzo spent most of his time in Rome, studying Latin grammar and rhetoric. Unable to obtain a post as papal secretary in 1430, he left Rome and spent the next five years wandering about northern Italy. He taught rhetoric at the University of Pavia, where he made public his De voluptate (On Pleasure), a dialogue about the nature of the true good. That work surprised many of its readers by its then-unfashionable defense of the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who maintained that, with the attainment of virtue, a wise man may live a life of prudent pleasure, free from pain. Valla then went on to attack stoicism, the philosophy of the control of the emotions through reason and its advocacy of a simple life. Valla caused a still greater sensation by an attack on the barbarous Latin used by the celebrated 14th-century lawyer Bartolus. The law faculty at Pavia took offense, and Valla found it expedient to leave.

He lived at Milan and Genoa before settling down, in 1435, as royal secretary and historian at the court of Alfonso of Aragon, king of Naples. He remained 13 years in Alfonso’s service, and it was during this time that Valla, then in his 30s, wrote most of his important books. His Declamatio (Treatise of Lorenzo Valla on the Donation of Constantine), written in 1440, attacked the crude Latin of its anonymous author and from that observation argued that the document could not possibly have dated from the time of Constantine. As King Alfonso was at war with Pope Eugenius IV at this time, it was politically convenient to attack the foundation of papal claims to temporal power in Italy. The book was first printed in 1517 in Germany, the same year that Martin Luther circulated his Ninety-five Theses, criticizing papal policies. (See Researcher’s Note.)

Valla wrote other books in his years at Alfonso’s court. In his brief dialogue De libero arbitrio (“On Free Will”), Valla attacked the stoic philosopher Boethius (480–524/525), who had attempted to reconcile man’s free will with God’s foreknowledge; and in his Dialecticae disputationes (“Dialectical Disputations”), Valla reduced Aristotle’s nine “categories” to three (substance, quality, and action, which corresponded to noun, adjective, and verb) and denounced as barbarisms a number of the technical terms of scholastic philosophy, such as “entity” and “quiddity.” Valla preferred the language of ordinary people to the jargon of professional philosophers. His “Disputations” was at once a rhetorician’s attack on logic and an attempt to reduce philosophical problems to linguistic ones. The Elegantiae linguae Latinae (“Elegances of the Latin Language”), printed in 1471, was the first textbook of Latin grammar to be written since late antiquity; it became highly popular in grammar schools all over Europe.

Valla could make even grammar polemical and shocked contemporaries by his criticisms of the prose of the famous Roman rhetorician Cicero. Similarly, his first book, written when he was 20 and now lost, had apparently argued that Quintilian, another Roman rhetorician, was a better stylist than Cicero. Valla also produced a history of the reign of Ferdinand of Aragon, Alfonso’s father. Characteristically, he showed most interest in linguistic problems, such as how to write in classical Latin about things that did not exist in Roman times—e.g., cannons and parliaments. For his offenses against the “dignity of history” he was attacked in an Invective by Bartolomeo Facio, another humanist in Alfonso’s service. Valla responded with his “Recriminations Against Facio,” written in dialogue form and recalling the debates among the court humanists, to which the king loved to listen. This work also contains Valla’s celebrated emendations to the text of the Roman historian Livy.

Meanwhile, Valla had become embroiled in another controversy, theological this time, over his refusal to believe that the Apostles’ Creed had been composed by the Twelve Apostles. As a result, he was denounced by the clergy and investigated by the Inquisition, which found him heretical on eight counts, including his defense of Epicurus and his criticisms of Aristotle’s categories. Only Alfonso’s personal intervention saved him from the stake.

Valla left Naples in 1448 when Nicholas V, successor to Eugenius IV and a supporter of humanists, appointed him papal secretary, a post in which he was confirmed by Nicholas’ successor in 1455. Valla also taught rhetoric in Rome, where he remained until his death. In his 40s, he composed his last major work, In Novum Testamentum ex diversorum utriusque linguae codicum collatione adnotationes (“Annotations on the New Testament Collected from Various Codices in Each Language”), with the encouragement and advice of two famous scholars, the cardinals Bessarion and Nicholas of Cusa. The Adnotationes, not printed until 1505, applied the methods of humanist philology to a sacred text. Predictably, Valla was attacked for his disrespect to St. Jerome, the presumed author of the Latin translation of the Bible; during the Counter-Reformation the Adnotationes were to be placed on the Index, the Roman Catholic church’s list of condemned books. Valla also translated many works from Greek into Latin. Early in his Naples days he had translated Aesop’s fables, and Pope Nicholas commissioned him to translate the historians Thucydides and Herodotus.

Despite his heavy literary commitments, Valla never seemed to lack time or energy to engage in controversies. The Florentine humanist Poggio Bracciolini had criticized the “Elegances,” and Valla replied in his Antidoti in Poggium (“Antidotes to Poggio”). Both scholars are seen at their worst here, hurling at one another accusations of ignorance, of barbarism, of plagiarism, and even worse. Benedetto Morandi, a notary from Bologna, assailed Valla for his disrespect in arguing that Livy had made mistakes about Roman history; so Valla rebutted with his Confutatio in Morandum (“Refutation of Morandi”). In a little dialogue, De professione religiosorum (“On Monastic Vows”), Valla criticized the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience on the grounds that what mattered was “not a vow, but devotion.”

Valla’s last public appearance was characteristic of his provocative, polemical style. In 1457 he was invited to deliver an encomium of St. Thomas Aquinas to an audience of Dominicans in the Church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva at Rome, to celebrate the saint’s anniversary. Valla, however, delivered an antiencomium, a critique of St. Thomas’ style and his interest in logic that advocated a return to the theology of the Fathers of the church. It is uncertain whether Valla was a priest or not. He certainly held ecclesiastical benefices. He never married but had three children by his Roman mistress.

An aggressive man, even for that age of intellectual gladiators, Valla made enemies easily. A professional heretic, he was well suited for his role as a critic of authority and orthodoxy. As one colleague observed about his notorious comparison of Cicero and Quintilian: Valla wrote simply to disturb people. There is no doubt about his success in this respect. More than 50 years later, in the age of Luther and of the great European humanist Erasmus, his barbs were still felt. Many of his criticisms of established ideas were pedantic and quibbling, but some were penetrating. He was disliked for his “impudence,” “presumption,” “temerity,” and “sacrilege.” In an age when many traditions were held sacred, Valla’s sacrilege fulfilled an important intellectual and social function.

Ulick Peter Burke

 





 
 



Marsilio Ficino
Italian philosopher and theologian

born Oct. 19, 1433, Figline, republic of Florence [Italy]
died Oct. 1, 1499, Careggi, near Florence

Main
Italian philosopher, theologian, and linguist whose translations and commentaries on the writings of Plato and other classical Greek authors generated the Florentine Platonist Renaissance that influenced European thought for two centuries.

Ficino was the son of a physician who was acquainted with the Florentine ruler and patron of learning Cosimo de’ Medici. After being trained in Latin language and literature, Ficino studied Aristotelian philosophy and medicine, probably at Florence. He was introduced to the Latin versions of the works of Plato and the Neoplatonists by such Western writers as Augustine of Hippo (5th century) and the leading medieval scholastic Thomas Aquinas. He then acquired a thorough knowledge of Greek in order to read and interpret the classical philosophers in their original texts. Supported by Cosimo de’ Medici and his successors, he devoted the remainder of his life to the translation and interpretation of Plato and the succeeding Platonic school, whose thought he attempted to integrate more closely with Christian theology.

In 1462 Ficino became head of the Platonic Academy of Florence. Situated at the Medici villa at Careggi, outside Florence, the academy with its endowment of Greek manuscripts became one of the foremost intellectual centres of Europe. Ficino’s numerous translations from Greek into Latin include some Neoplatonic and early Christian writings and, above all, the complete works of Plato and the 3rd-century Neoplatonist Plotinus. Finished about 1470 but not printed until 1484, Ficino’s was the first complete translation of Plato into any European language. His versions of both Plato and Plotinus remained in general use until the 18th century.

Ficino was ordained a priest in 1473 and later was named a church official of Florence Cathedral. He was closely identified with the Medici family as protégé and tutor, and he retired to the Tuscan countryside after the expulsion of the Medici from Florence in 1494.

Noteworthy among Ficino’s commentaries are those on Plato’s Symposium (1469), also called De amore (“On Love”), and on various treatises of Plotinus. Of his original writings the Theologia Platonica (1482; “Platonic Theology”), actually a philosophical study of the soul, and the Liber de Christiana religione (1474; “Book on the Christian Religion”) are the most significant. His thought also was expressed in a collection of letters and in De vita libri tres (1489; “Three Books on Life”), a series of tracts on medicine and astrology.

Ficino revised the thought of Plato in a Renaissance perspective. In conceiving the universe as a hierarchy of substances that descends from God to matter, he was strongly influenced by Neoplatonic and medieval views. Yet in assigning to the human soul a privileged, central place in this hierarchy and stressing that the soul through its universal, infinite aspirations and thoughts links the highest with the lowest beings and acts as a bond and knot of the universe, Ficino reveals his affinity with the thought of Renaissance humanism, which gave special emphasis to man and his dignity. Seeing a parallel in the Platonic and Christian concept of love, he explained in his commentary on the Symposium that the highest form of human love and friendship is a communion based ultimately on the soul’s love for God. This theory of spiritual, or “Platonic,” love dominated European poetry and literature during the 16th century.

Ficino’s interpretation of Platonism greatly influenced subsequent European thought. His teaching that man naturally tends toward religion, distinguishing him from the lower animals, and that all religions have a measure of truth, appears to have inspired 17th-century deist thought as exemplified in Edward Herbert, 1st Baron Herbert of Cherbury. Not only the 17th-century Cambridge Platonists but similar movements in France and Italy reflect Ficino’s original Platonist revival.

 





 
 



Giordano Bruno
Italian philosopher
original name Filippo Bruno, byname Il Nolano

born 1548, Nola, near Naples
died Feb. 17, 1600, Rome

Main
Italian philosopher, astronomer, mathematician, and occultist whose theories anticipated modern science. The most notable of these were his theories of the infinite universe and the multiplicity of worlds, in which he rejected the traditional geocentric (or Earth-centred) astronomy and intuitively went beyond the Copernican heliocentric (Sun-centred) theory, which still maintained a finite universe with a sphere of fixed stars. Bruno is, perhaps, chiefly remembered for the tragic death he suffered at the stake because of the tenacity with which he maintained his unorthodox ideas at a time when both the Roman Catholic and the Reformed churches were reaffirming rigid Aristotelian and Scholastic principles in their struggle for the evangelization of Europe.

Early life.
Bruno was the son of a professional soldier. He was named Filippo at his baptism and was later called “il Nolano,” after the place of his birth. In 1562 Bruno went to Naples to study the humanities, logic, and dialectics (argumentation). He was impressed by the lectures of G.V. de Colle, who was known for his tendencies toward Averroism—i.e., the thought of a number of Western Christian philosophers who drew their inspiration from the interpretation of Aristotle put forward by the Muslim philosopher Averroës—and by his own reading of works on memory devices and the arts of memory (mnemotechnical works). In 1565 he entered the Dominican convent of San Domenico Maggiore in Naples and assumed the name Giordano. Because of his unorthodox attitudes, he was soon suspected of heresy. Nevertheless, in 1572 he was ordained as a priest. During the same year he was sent back to the Neapolitan convent to continue his study of theology. In July 1575 Bruno completed the prescribed course, which generated in him an annoyance at theological subtleties. He had read two forbidden commentaries by Erasmus and freely discussed the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ; as a result, a trial for heresy was prepared against him by the provincial father of the order, and he fled to Rome in February 1576. There he found himself unjustly accused of a murder. A second excommunication process was started, and in April 1576 he fled again. He abandoned the Dominican Order, and, after wandering in northern Italy, he went in 1578 to Geneva, where he earned his living by proofreading. Bruno formally embraced Calvinism; after publishing a broadsheet against a Calvinist professor, however, he discovered that the Reformed Church was no less intolerant than the Catholic. He was arrested, excommunicated, rehabilitated after retraction, and finally allowed to leave the city. He moved to France, first to Toulouse—where he unsuccessfully sought to be absolved by the Catholic Church but was nevertheless appointed to a lectureship in philosophy—and then in 1581 to Paris.

In Paris Bruno at last found a congenial place to work and teach. Despite the strife between the Catholics and the Huguenots (French Protestants), the court of Henry III was then dominated by the tolerant faction of the Politiques (moderate Catholics, sympathizers of the Protestant king of Navarre, Henry of Bourbon, who became the heir apparent to the throne of France in 1584). Bruno’s religious attitude was compatible with this group, and he received the protection of the French king, who appointed him one of his temporary lecteurs royaux. In 1582 Bruno published three mnemotechnical works, in which he explored new means to attain an intimate knowledge of reality. He also published a vernacular comedy, Il candelaio (1582; “The Candlemaker”), which, through a vivid representation of contemporary Neapolitan society, constituted a protest against the moral and social corruption of the time.

In the spring of 1583 Bruno moved to London with an introductory letter from Henry III for his ambassador Michel de Castelnau. He was soon attracted to Oxford, where, during the summer, he started a series of lectures in which he expounded the Copernican theory maintaining the reality of the movement of the Earth. Because of the hostile reception of the Oxonians, however, he went back to London as the guest of the French ambassador. He frequented the court of Elizabeth I and became associated with such influential figures as Sir Philip Sidney and Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester.


Works.
In February 1584 he was invited by Fulke Greville, a member of Sidney’s circle, to discuss his theory of the movement of the Earth with some Oxonian doctors; but the discussion degenerated into a quarrel. A few days later he started writing his Italian dialogues, which constitute the first systematic exposition of his philosophy. There are six dialogues, three cosmological—on the theory of the universe—and three moral. In the Cena de le Ceneri (1584; “The Ash Wednesday Supper”), he not only reaffirmed the reality of the heliocentric theory but also suggested that the universe is infinite, constituted of innumerable worlds substantially similar to those of the solar system. In the same dialogue he anticipated his fellow Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei by maintaining that the Bible should be followed for its moral teaching but not for its astronomical implications. He also strongly criticized the manners of English society and the pedantry of the Oxonian doctors. In the De la causa, principio e uno (1584; Concerning the Cause, Principle, and One) he elaborated the physical theory on which his conception of the universe was based: “form” and “matter” are intimately united and constitute the “one.” Thus, the traditional dualism of the Aristotelian physics was reduced by him to a monistic conception of the world, implying the basic unity of all substances and the coincidence of opposites in the infinite unity of Being. In the De l’infinito universo e mondi (1584; On the Infinite Universe and Worlds), he developed his cosmological theory by systematically criticizing Aristotelian physics; he also formulated his Averroistic view of the relation between philosophy and religion, according to which religion is considered as a means to instruct and govern ignorant people, philosophy as the discipline of the elect who are able to behave themselves and govern others. The Spaccio de la bestia trionfante (1584; The Expulsion of the Triumphant Beast), the first dialogue of his moral trilogy, is a satire on contemporary superstitions and vices, embodying a strong criticism of Christian ethics—particularly the Calvinistic principle of salvation by faith alone, to which Bruno opposes an exalted view of the dignity of all human activities. The Cabala del cavallo Pegaseo (1585; “Cabal of the Horse Pegasus”), similar to but more pessimistic than the previous work, includes a discussion of the relationship between the human soul and the universal soul, concluding with the negation of the absolute individuality of the former. In the De gli eroici furori (1585; The Heroic Frenzies), Bruno, making use of Neoplatonic imagery, treats the attainment of union with the infinite One by the human soul and exhorts man to the conquest of virtue and truth.

In October 1585 Bruno returned to Paris, where he found a changed political atmosphere. Henry III had abrogated the edict of pacification with the Protestants, and the King of Navarre had been excommunicated. Far from adopting a cautious line of behaviour, however, Bruno entered into a polemic with a protégé of the Catholic party, the mathematician Fabrizio Mordente, whom he ridiculed in four Dialogi, and in May 1586 he dared to attack Aristotle publicly in his Centum et viginti articuli de natura et mundo adversus Peripateticos (“120 Articles on Nature and the World Against the Peripatetics”). The Politiques disavowed him, and Bruno left Paris.

He went to Germany, where he wandered from one university city to another, lecturing and publishing a variety of minor works, including the Articuli centum et sexaginta (1588; “160 Articles”) against contemporary mathematicians and philosophers, in which he expounded his conception of religion—a theory of the peaceful coexistence of all religions based upon mutual understanding and the freedom of reciprocal discussion. At Helmstedt, however, in January 1589 he was excommunicated by the local Lutheran Church. He remained in Helmstedt until the spring, completing works on natural and mathematical magic (posthumously published) and working on three Latin poems—De triplici minimo et mensura (“On the Threefold Minimum and Measure”), De monade, numero et figura (“On the Monad, Number, and Figure”), and De immenso, innumerabilibus et infigurabilibus (“On the Immeasurable and Innumerable”)—which reelaborate the theories expounded in the Italian dialogues and develop Bruno’s concept of an atomic basis of matter and being. To publish these, he went in 1590 to Frankfurt am Main, where the senate rejected his application to stay. Nevertheless, he took up residence in the Carmelite convent, lecturing to Protestant doctors and acquiring a reputation of being a “universal man” who, the Prior thought, “did not possess a trace of religion” and who “was chiefly occupied in writing and in the vain and chimerical imagining of novelties.”


Final years.
In August 1591, at the invitation of the Venetian patrician Giovanni Mocenigo, Bruno made the fatal move of returning to Italy. At the time such a move did not seem to be too much of a risk: Venice was by far the most liberal of the Italian states; the European tension had been temporarily eased after the death of the intransigent pope Sixtus V in 1590; the Protestant Henry of Bourbon was now on the throne of France, and a religious pacification seemed to be imminent. Furthermore, Bruno was still looking for an academic platform from which to expound his theories, and he must have known that the chair of mathematics at the University of Padua was then vacant. Indeed, he went almost immediately to Padua and, during the late summer of 1591, started a private course of lectures for German students and composed the Praelectiones geometricae (“Lectures on Geometry”) and Ars deformationum (“Art of Deformation”). At the beginning of the winter, when it appeared that he was not going to receive the chair (it was offered to Galileo in 1592), he returned to Venice, as the guest of Mocenigo, and took part in the discussions of progressive Venetian aristocrats who, like Bruno, favoured philosophical investigation irrespective of its theological implications. Bruno’s liberty came to an end when Mocenigo—disappointed by his private lessons from Bruno on the art of memory and resentful of Bruno’s intention to go back to Frankfurt to have a new work published—denounced him to the Venetian Inquisition in May 1592 for his heretical theories. Bruno was arrested and tried. He defended himself by admitting minor theological errors, emphasizing, however, the philosophical rather than the theological character of his basic tenets. The Venetian stage of the trial seemed to be proceeding in a way that was favourable to Bruno; then, however, the Roman Inquisition demanded his extradition, and on Jan. 27, 1593, Bruno entered the jail of the Roman palace of the Sant’Uffizio (Holy Office). During the seven-year Roman period of the trial, Bruno at first developed his previous defensive line, disclaiming any particular interest in theological matters and reaffirming the philosophical character of his speculation. This distinction did not satisfy the inquisitors, who demanded an unconditional retraction of his theories. Bruno then made a desperate attempt to demonstrate that his views were not incompatible with the Christian conception of God and creation. The inquisitors rejected his arguments and pressed him for a formal retraction. Bruno finally declared that he had nothing to retract and that he did not even know what he was expected to retract. At that point, Pope Clement VIII ordered that he be sentenced as an impenitent and pertinacious heretic. On Feb. 8, 1600, when the death sentence was formally read to him, he addressed his judges, saying: “Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it.” Not long after, he was brought to the Campo de’ Fiori, his tongue in a gag, and burned alive.


Influence.
Bruno’s theories influenced 17th-century scientific and philosophical thought and, since the 18th century, have been absorbed by many modern philosophers. As a symbol of the freedom of thought, Bruno inspired the European liberal movements of the 19th century, particularly the Italian Risorgimento (the movement for national political unity). Because of the variety of his interests, modern scholars are divided as to the chief significance of his work. Bruno’s cosmological vision certainly anticipates some fundamental aspects of the modern conception of the universe; his ethical ideas, in contrast with religious ascetical ethics, appeal to modern humanistic activism; and his ideal of religious and philosophical tolerance has influenced liberal thinkers. On the other hand, his emphasis on the magical and the occult has been the source of criticism as has his impetuous personality. Bruno stands, however, as one of the important figures in the history of Western thought, a precursor of modern civilization.

Giovanni Aquilecchia

 





 
 



Nicolaus Copernicus
Polish astronomer
Polish Mikołaj Kopernik

born Feb. 19, 1473, Toruń, Pol.
died May 24, 1543, Frauenburg, East Prussia [now Frombork, Pol.]

Main
Polish astronomer who proposed that the planets have the Sun as the fixed point to which their motions are to be referred; that the Earth is a planet which, besides orbiting the Sun annually, also turns once daily on its own axis; and that very slow, long-term changes in the direction of this axis account for the precession of the equinoxes. This representation of the heavens is usually called the heliocentric, or “Sun-centred,” system—derived from the Greek helios, meaning “Sun.” Copernicus’s theory had important consequences for later thinkers of the scientific revolution, including such major figures as Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, and Newton. Copernicus probably hit upon his main idea sometime between 1508 and 1514, and during those years he wrote a manuscript usually called the Commentariolus (“Little Commentary”). However, the book that contains the final version of his theory, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri vi (“Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs”), did not appear in print until 1543, the year of his death.

Early life and education
Certain facts about Copernicus’s early life are well established, although a biography written by his ardent disciple Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514–74) is unfortunately lost. According to a later horoscope, Nicolaus Copernicus was born on February 19, 1473, in Toruń, a city in north-central Poland on the Vistula River south of the major Baltic seaport of Gdańsk. His father, Nicolaus, was a well-to-do merchant, and his mother, Barbara Watzenrode, also came from a leading merchant family. Nicolaus was the youngest of four children. After his father’s death, sometime between 1483 and 1485, his mother’s brother Lucas Watzenrode (1447–1512) took his nephew under his protection. Watzenrode, soon to be bishop of the chapter of Varmia (Warmia), saw to young Nicolaus’s education and his future career as a church canon.

Between 1491 and about 1494 Copernicus studied liberal arts—including astronomy and astrology—at the University of Cracow (Kraków). Like many students of his time, however, he left before completing his degree, resuming his studies in Italy at the University of Bologna, where his uncle had obtained a doctorate in canon law in 1473. The Bologna period (1496–1500) was short but significant. For a time Copernicus lived in the same house as the principal astronomer at the university, Domenico Maria de Novara (Latin: Domenicus Maria Novaria Ferrariensis; 1454–1504). Novara had the responsibility of issuing annual astrological prognostications for the city, forecasts that included all social groups but gave special attention to the fate of the Italian princes and their enemies. Copernicus, as is known from Rheticus, was “assistant and witness” to some of Novara’s observations, and his involvement with the production of the annual forecasts means that he was intimately familiar with the practice of astrology. Novara also probably introduced Copernicus to two important books that framed his future problematic as a student of the heavens: Epitoma in Almagestum Ptolemaei (“Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest”) by Johann Müller (also known as Regiomontanus, 1436–76) and Disputationes adversus astrologianm divinatricenm (“Disputations against Divinatory Astrology”) by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94). The first provided a summary of the foundations of Ptolemy’s astronomy, with Regiomontanus’s corrections and critical expansions of certain important planetary models that might have been suggestive to Copernicus of directions leading to the heliocentric hypothesis. Pico’s Disputationes offered a devastating skeptical attack on the foundations of astrology that reverberated into the 17th century. Among Pico’s criticisms was the charge that, because astronomers disagreed about the order of the planets, astrologers could not be certain about the strengths of the powers issuing from the planets.

Only 27 recorded observations are known for Copernicus’s entire life (he undoubtedly made more than that), most of them concerning eclipses, alignments, and conjunctions of planets and stars. The first such known observation occurred on March 9, 1497, at Bologna. In De revolutionibus, book 4, chapter 27, Copernicus reported that he had seen the Moon eclipse “the brightest star in the eye of the Bull,” Alpha Tauri (Aldebaran). By the time he published this observation in 1543, he had made it the basis of a theoretical claim: that it confirmed exactly the size of the apparent lunar diameter. But in 1497 he was probably using it to assist in checking the new- and full-moon tables derived from the commonly used Alfonsine Tables and employed in Novara’s forecast for the year 1498.

In 1500 Copernicus spoke before an interested audience in Rome on mathematical subjects, but the exact content of his lectures is unknown. In 1501 he stayed briefly in Frauenburg but soon returned to Italy to continue his studies, this time at the University of Padua, where he pursued medical studies between 1501 and 1503. At this time medicine was closely allied with astrology, as the stars were thought to influence the body’s dispositions. Thus, Copernicus’s astrological experience at Bologna was better training for medicine than one might imagine today. Copernicus later painted a self-portrait; it is likely that he acquired the necessary artistic skills while in Padua, since there was a flourishing community of painters there and in nearby Venice. In May 1503 Copernicus finally received a doctorate—like his uncle, in canon law—but from an Italian university where he had not studied: the University of Ferrara. When he returned to Poland, Bishop Watzenrode arranged a sinecure for him: an in absentia teaching post, or scholastry, at Wrocław. Copernicus’s actual duties at the bishopric palace, however, were largely administrative and medical. As a church canon, he collected rents from church-owned lands; secured military defenses; oversaw chapter finances; managed the bakery, brewery, and mills; and cared for the medical needs of the other canons and his uncle. Copernicus’s astronomical work took place in his spare time, apart from these other obligations. He used the knowledge of Greek that he had acquired during his Italian studies to prepare a Latin translation of the aphorisms of an obscure 7th-century Byzantine historian and poet, Theophylactus Simocattes. The work was published in Cracow in 1509 and dedicated to his uncle. It was during the last years of Watzenrode’s life that Copernicus evidently came up with the idea on which his subsequent fame was to rest.

Copernicus’s reputation outside local Polish circles as an astronomer of considerable ability is evident from the fact that in 1514 he was invited to offer his opinion at the church’s Fifth Lateran Council on the critical problem of the reform of the calendar. The civil calendar then in use was still the one produced under the reign of Julius Caesar, and, over the centuries, it had fallen seriously out of alignment with the actual positions of the Sun. This rendered the dates of crucial feast days, such as Easter, highly problematic. Whether Copernicus ever offered any views on how to reform the calendar is not known; in any event, he never attended any of the council’s sessions. The leading calendar reformer was Paul of Middelburg, bishop of Fossombrone. When Copernicus composed his dedication to De revolutionibus in 1542, he remarked that “mathematics is written for mathematicians.” Here he distinguished between those, like Paul, whose mathematical abilities were good enough to understand his work and others who had no such ability and for whom his work was not intended.


Copernicus’s astronomical work
The contested state of planetary theory in the late 15th century and Pico’s attack on astrology’s foundations together constitute the principal historical considerations in constructing the background to Copernicus’s achievement. In Copernicus’s period, astrology and astronomy were considered subdivisions of a common subject called the “science of the stars,” whose main aim was to provide a description of the arrangement of the heavens as well as the theoretical tools and tables of motions that would permit accurate construction of horoscopes and annual prognostications. At this time the terms astrologer, astronomer, and mathematician were virtually interchangeable; they generally denoted anyone who studied the heavens using mathematical techniques. Pico claimed that astrology ought to be condemned because its practitioners were in disagreement about everything, from the divisions of the zodiac to the minutest observations to the order of the planets. A second long-standing disagreement, not mentioned by Pico, concerned the status of the planetary models. From antiquity, astronomical modeling was governed by the premise that the planets move with uniform angular motion on fixed radii at a constant distance from their centres of motion. Two types of models derived from this premise. The first, represented by that of Aristotle, held that the planets are carried around the centre of the universe embedded in unchangeable, material, invisible spheres at fixed distances. Since all planets have the same centre of motion, the universe is made of nested, concentric spheres with no gaps between them. As a predictive model, this account was of limited value. Among other things, it had the distinct disadvantage that it could not account for variations in the apparent brightness of the planets since the distances from the centre were always the same. A second tradition, deriving from Claudius Ptolemy, solved this problem by postulating three mechanisms: uniformly revolving, off-centre circles called eccentrics; epicycles, little circles whose centres moved uniformly on the circumference of circles of larger radius (deferents); and equants. The equant, however, broke with the main assumption of ancient astronomy because it separated the condition of uniform motion from that of constant distance from the centre. A planet viewed from the centre c of its orbit would appear to move sometimes faster, sometimes slower. As seen from the Earth, removed a distance e from c, the planet would also appear to move nonuniformly. Only from the equant, an imaginary point at distance 2e from the Earth, would the planet appear to move uniformly. A planet-bearing sphere revolving around an equant point will wobble; situate one sphere within another, and the two will collide, disrupting the heavenly order. In the 13th century a group of Persian astronomers at Marāgheh discovered that, by combining two uniformly revolving epicycles to generate an oscillating point that would account for variations in distance, they could devise a model that produced the equalized motion without referring to an equant point.

The Marāgheh work was written in Arabic, which Copernicus did not read. However, he learned to do the Marāgheh “trick,” either independently or through a still-unknown intermediary link. This insight was the starting point for his attempt to resolve the conflict raised by wobbling physical spheres. Copernicus might have continued this work by considering each planet independently, as did Ptolemy in the Almagest, without any attempt to bring all the models together into a coordinated arrangement. However, he was also disturbed by Pico’s charge that astronomers could not agree on the actual order of the planets. The difficulty focused on the locations of Venus and Mercury. There was general agreement that the Moon and Sun encircled the motionless Earth and that Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were situated beyond the Sun in that order. However, Ptolemy placed Venus closest to the Sun and Mercury to the Moon, while others claimed that Mercury and Venus were beyond the Sun.

In the Commentariolus, Copernicus postulated that, if the Sun is assumed to be at rest and if the Earth is assumed to be in motion, then the remaining planets fall into an orderly relationship whereby their sidereal periods increase from the Sun as follows: Mercury (88 days), Venus (225 days), Earth (1 year), Mars (1.9 years), Jupiter (12 years), and Saturn (30 years). This theory did resolve the disagreement about the ordering of the planets but, in turn, raised new problems. To accept the theory’s premises, one had to abandon much of Aristotelian natural philosophy and develop a new explanation for why heavy bodies fall to a moving Earth. It was also necessary to explain how a transient body like the Earth, filled with meteorological phenomena, pestilence, and wars, could be part of a perfect and imperishable heaven. In addition, Copernicus was working with many observations that he had inherited from antiquity and whose trustworthiness he could not verify. In constructing a theory for the precession of the equinoxes, for example, he was trying to build a model based upon very small, long-term effects. And his theory for Mercury was left with serious incoherencies.

Any of these considerations alone could account for Copernicus’s delay in publishing his work. (He remarked in the preface to De revolutionibus that he had chosen to withhold publication not for merely the nine years recommended by the Roman poet Horace but for 36 years, four times that period.) And, when a description of the main elements of the heliocentric hypothesis was first published, in the Narratio prima (1540 and 1541, “First Narration”), it was not under Copernicus’s own name but under that of the 25-year-old Georg Rheticus. Rheticus, a Lutheran from the University of Wittenberg, Germany, stayed with Copernicus at Frauenburg for about two and a half years, between 1539 and 1542. The Narratio prima was, in effect, a joint production of Copernicus and Rheticus, something of a “trial balloon” for the main work. It provided a summary of the theoretical principles contained in the manuscript of De revolutionibus, emphasized their value for computing new planetary tables, and presented Copernicus as following admiringly in the footsteps of Ptolemy even as he broke fundamentally with his ancient predecessor. It also provided what was missing from the Commentariolus: a basis for accepting the claims of the new theory.

Both Rheticus and Copernicus knew that they could not definitively rule out all possible alternatives to the heliocentric theory. But they could underline what Copernicus’s theory provided that others could not: a singular method for ordering the planets and for calculating the relative distances of the planets from the Sun. Rheticus compared this new universe to a well-tuned musical instrument and to the interlocking wheel-mechanisms of a clock. In the preface to De revolutionibus, Copernicus used an image from Horace’s Ars poetica (“Art of Poetry”). The theories of his predecessors, he wrote, were like a human figure in which the arms, legs, and head were put together in the form of a disorderly monster. His own representation of the universe, in contrast, was an orderly whole in which a displacement of any part would result in a disruption of the whole. In effect, a new criterion of scientific adequacy was advanced together with the new theory of the universe.


Publication of De revolutionibus
The presentation of Copernicus’s theory in its final form is inseparable from the conflicted history of its publication. When Rheticus left Frauenburg to return to his teaching duties at Wittenberg, he took the manuscript with him in order to arrange for its publication at Nürnberg, the leading centre of printing in Germany. He chose the top printer in the city, Johann Petreius, who had published a number of ancient and modern astrological works during the 1530s. It was not uncommon for authors to participate directly in the printing of their manuscripts, sometimes even living in the printer’s home. However, Rheticus was unable to remain and supervise. He turned the manuscript over to Andreas Osiander (1498–1552), a theologian experienced in shepherding mathematical books through production as well as a leading political figure in the city and an ardent follower of Luther (although he was eventually expelled from the Lutheran church). In earlier communication with Copernicus, Osiander had urged him to present his ideas as purely hypothetical, and he now introduced certain changes without the permission of either Rheticus or Copernicus. Osiander added an unsigned “letter to the reader” directly after the title page, which maintained that the hypotheses contained within made no pretense to truth and that, in any case, astronomy was incapable of finding the causes of heavenly phenomena. A casual reader would be confused about the relationship between this letter and the book’s contents. Both Petreius and Rheticus, having trusted Osiander, now found themselves double-crossed. Rheticus’s rage was so great that he crossed out the letter with a great red X in the copies sent to him. However, the city council of Nürnberg refused to punish Petreius, and no public revelation of Osiander’s role was made until Kepler revealed it in his Astronomia Nova (New Astronomy) in 1609. In addition, the title of the work was changed from the manuscript’s “On the Revolutions of the Orbs of the World” to “Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs”—a change that appeared to mitigate the book’s claim to describe the real universe.

Many of the details of these local publication struggles enjoyed an underground history among 16th-century astronomers long before Kepler published Osiander’s identity. Ironically, Osiander’s “letter” made it possible for the book to be read as a new method of calculation, rather than a work of natural philosophy, and in so doing may even have aided in its initially positive reception. It was not until Kepler that Copernicus’s cluster of predictive mechanisms would be fully transformed into a new philosophy about the fundamental structure of the universe.

Legend has it that a copy of De revolutionibus was placed in Copernicus’s hands a few days after he lost consciousness from a stroke. He awoke long enough to realize that he was holding his great book and then expired, publishing as he perished. The legend has some credibility, although it also has the beatific air of a saint’s life.

 





 
 



Johannes Kepler
German astronomer

born December 27, 1571, Weil der Stadt, Württemberg [Germany]
died November 15, 1630, Regensburg

Main
German astronomer who discovered three major laws of planetary motion, conventionally designated as follows: (1) the planets move in elliptical orbits with the Sun at one focus; (2) the time necessary to traverse any arc of a planetary orbit is proportional to the area of the sector between the central body and that arc (the “area law”); and (3) there is an exact relationship between the squares of the planets’ periodic times and the cubes of the radii of their orbits (the “harmonic law”). Kepler himself did not call these discoveries “laws,” as would become customary after Isaac Newton derived them from a new and quite different set of general physical principles. He regarded them as celestial harmonies that reflected God’s design for the universe. Kepler’s discoveries turned Nicolaus Copernicus’s Sun-centred system into a dynamic universe, with the Sun actively pushing the planets around in noncircular orbits. And it was Kepler’s notion of a physical astronomy that fixed a new problematic for other important 17th-century world-system builders, the most famous of whom was Newton.

Among Kepler’s many other achievements, he provided a new and correct account of how vision occurs; he developed a novel explanation for the behaviour of light in the newly invented telescope; he discovered several new, semiregular polyhedrons; and he offered a new theoretical foundation for astrology while at the same time restricting the domain in which its predictions could be considered reliable. A list of his discoveries, however, fails to convey the fact that they constituted for Kepler part of a common edifice of knowledge. The matrix of theological, astrological, and physical ideas from which Kepler’s scientific achievements emerged is unusual and fascinating in its own right. Yet, because of the highly original nature of Kepler’s discoveries, it requires an act of intellectual empathy for moderns to understand how such lasting results could have evolved from such an apparently unlikely complex of ideas. Although Kepler’s scientific work was centred first and foremost on astronomy, that subject as then understood—the study of the motions of the heavenly bodies—was classified as part of a wider subject of investigation called “the science of the stars.” The science of the stars was regarded as a mixed science consisting of a mathematical and a physical component and bearing a kinship to other like disciplines, such as music (the study of ratios of tones) and optics (the study of light). It also was subdivided into theoretical and practical categories. Besides the theory of heavenly motions, one had the practical construction of planetary tables and instruments; similarly, the theoretical principles of astrology had a corresponding practical part that dealt with the making of annual astrological forecasts about individuals, cities, the human body, and the weather. Within this framework, Kepler made astronomy an integral part of natural philosophy, but he did so in an unprecedented way—in the process, making unique contributions to astronomy as well as to all its auxiliary disciplines.

Kepler’s social world
There was no “scientific community” as such in the late 16th century. All schooling in Germany, as elsewhere, was under the control of church institutions—whether Roman Catholic or Protestant—and local rulers used the churches and the educational systems as a means to consolidate the loyalty of their populations. One means to this end was a system of scholarships for poor boys who, once having been trained in the schools of the duchy, would feel strong loyalty to the local ruler. Kepler came from a very modest family in a small German town called Weil der Stadt and was one of the beneficiaries of the ducal scholarship; it made possible his attendance at the Lutheran Stift, or seminary, at the University of Tübingen, where he began his university studies in 1589. It was expected that the boys who graduated from these schools would go on to become schoolteachers, ministers, or state functionaries. Kepler had planned to become a theologian.

His life did not work out quite as he expected. As he sometimes remarked, Divine Providence guided him to the study of the stars, while he retained a profound sense that his vocation was a religious one. As he later wrote, “I am satisfied…to guard the gates of the temple in which Copernicus makes sacrifices at the high altar.” It helped also that, at Tübingen, the professor of mathematics was Michael Maestlin (1550–1631), one of the most talented astronomers in Germany. Maestlin had once been a Lutheran pastor; he was also, privately, one of the few adherents of the Copernican theory in the late 16th century, although very cautious about expressing his views in print. Maestlin lent Kepler his own heavily annotated copy of Copernicus’s 1543 book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri vi (“Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs”). Kepler quickly grasped the main ideas in Copernicus’s work and was tutored in its complex details by Maestlin. He sensed intuitively that Copernicus had hit upon an account of the universe that contained the mark of divine planning—literally a revelation. Early in the 1590s, while still a student, Kepler would make it his mission to demonstrate rigorously what Copernicus had only guessed to be the case. And he did so in an explicitly religious and philosophical vocabulary.

Kepler was not alone in believing that nature was a book in which the divine plan was written. He differed, however, in the original manner and personal intensity with which he believed his ideas to be embodied in nature. One of the ideas to which he was most strongly attached—the image of the Christian Trinity as symbolized by a geometric sphere and, hence, the visible, created world—was literally a reflection of this divine mystery (God the Father: centre; Christ the Son: circumference; Holy Spirit: intervening space). One of Kepler’s favourite biblical passages came from John (1:14): “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” For him, this signified that the divine archetypes were literally made visible as geometric forms (straight and curved) that configured the spatial arrangement of tangible, corporeal entities. Moreover, Kepler’s God was a dynamic, creative being whose presence in the world was symbolized by the Sun’s body as the source of a dynamic force that continually moved the planets. The natural world was like a mirror that precisely reflected and embodied these divine ideas. Inspired by Platonic notions of innate ideas in the soul, Kepler believed that the human mind was ideally created to understand the world’s structure.


Astronomical work
The ideas that Kepler would pursue for the rest of his life were already present in his first work, Mysterium cosmographicum (1596; “Cosmographic Mystery”). In 1595, while teaching a class at a small Lutheran school in Graz, Austria, Kepler experienced a moment of illumination. It struck him suddenly that the spacing among the six Copernican planets might be explained by circumscribing and inscribing each orbit with one of the five regular polyhedrons. Since Kepler knew Euclid’s proof that there can be five and only five such mathematical objects made up of congruent faces, he decided that such self-sufficiency must betoken a perfect idea. If now the ratios of the mean orbital distances agreed with the ratios obtained from circumscribing and inscribing the polyhedrons, then, Kepler felt confidently, he would have discovered the architecture of the universe. Remarkably, Kepler did find agreement within 5 percent, with the exception of Jupiter, at which, he said, “no one will wonder, considering such a great distance.” He wrote to Maestlin at once: “I wanted to become a theologian; for a long time I was restless. Now, however, behold how through my effort God is being celebrated in astronomy.”

Had Kepler’s investigation ended with the establishment of this architectonic principle, he might have continued to search for other sorts of harmonies; but his work would not have broken with the ancient Greek notion of uniform circular planetary motion. Kepler’s God, however, was not only orderly but also active. In place of the tradition that individual incorporeal souls push the planets and instead of Copernicus’s passive, resting Sun, Kepler posited the hypothesis that a single force from the Sun accounts for the increasingly long periods of motion as the planetary distances increase. Kepler did not yet have an exact mathematical description for this relation, but he intuited a connection. A few years later he acquired William Gilbert’s groundbreaking book De Magnete, Magneticisque Corporibus, et de Magno Magnete Tellure (1600; “On the Magnet, Magnetic Bodies, and the Great Magnet, the Earth”), and he immediately adopted Gilbert’s theory that the Earth is a magnet. From this Kepler generalized to the view that the universe is a system of magnetic bodies in which, with corresponding like poles repelling and unlike poles attracting, the rotating Sun sweeps the planets around. The solar force, attenuating inversely with distance in the planes of the orbits, was the major physical principle that guided Kepler’s struggle to construct a better orbital theory for Mars.

But there was something more: the standard of empirical precision that Kepler held for himself was unprecedented for his time. The great Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546–1601) had set himself the task of amassing a completely new set of planetary observations—a reform of the foundations of practical astronomy. In 1600 Tycho invited Kepler to join his court at Castle Benátky near Prague. When Tycho died suddenly in 1601, Kepler quickly succeeded him as imperial mathematician to Holy Roman emperor Rudolf II. Kepler’s first publication as imperial mathematician was a work that broke with the theoretical principles of Ptolemaic astrology. Called De Fundamentis Astrologiae Certioribus (1601; Concerning the More Certain Fundamentals of Astrology), this work proposed to make astrology “more certain” by basing it on new physical and harmonic principles. It showed both the importance of astrological practice at the imperial court and Kepler’s intellectual independence in rejecting much of what was claimed to be known about stellar influence. The relatively great intellectual freedom possible at Rudolf’s court was now augmented by Kepler’s unexpected inheritance of a critical resource: Tycho’s observations. In his lifetime Tycho had been stingy in sharing his observations. After his death, although there was a political struggle with Tycho’s heirs, Kepler was ultimately able to work with data accurate to within 2′ of arc. Without data of such precision to back up his solar hypothesis, Kepler would have been unable to discover his “first law” (1605), that Mars moves in an elliptical orbit. At one point, for example, as he tried to balance the demand for the correct heliocentric distances predicted by his physical model with a circular orbit, an error of 6′ or 8′ appeared in the octants (assuming a circle divided into eight equal parts). Kepler exclaimed, “Because these 8′ could not be ignored, they alone have led to a total reformation of astronomy.” Kepler’s reformation of astronomy was of a piece with his reform of astrology’s principles and Tycho’s radical improvement of the celestial observations. Just as the spacing of the planets bore a close relation to the polyhedral forms, so, too, Kepler regarded only those rays hitting the Earth at the right harmonic angles to be efficacious.

During the creative burst of the early Prague period (1601–05) when Kepler won his “war on Mars” (he did not publish his discoveries until 1609 in the Astronomia Nova [New Astronomy]), he also wrote important treatises on the nature of light and on the sudden appearance of a new star (1606; De Stella Nova, “On the New Star”). Kepler first noticed the star—now known to have been a supernova—in October 1604, not long after a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in 1603. The astrological importance of the long-anticipated conjunction (such configurations take place every 20 years) was heightened by the unexpected appearance of the supernova. Typically, Kepler used the occasion both to render practical predictions (e.g., the collapse of Islam and the return of Christ) and to speculate theoretically about the universe—for example, that the star was not the result of chance combinations of atoms and that stars are not suns.

Kepler’s interest in light was directly related to his astronomical concerns: how a ray of light, coming from a distant heavenly body located in the outer regions of space, deflects when entering the denser atmosphere surrounding the Earth; and then, in turn, what happens to light as it enters the relatively denser medium of the human eye. These problems had some medieval precedent, but, as usual, Kepler treated them in his own individual way. Although a court astronomer, Kepler chose a traditional academic form in which to compose his ideas on light. He called it Ad Vitellionem Paralipomena, Quibus Astronomiae Pars Optica Traditur (1604; “Supplement to Witelo, in Which Is Expounded the Optical Part of Astronomy”). Witelo (Latin: Vitellio) had written the most important medieval treatise on optics. But Kepler’s analysis of vision changed the framework for understanding the behaviour of light. Kepler wrote that every point on a luminous body in the field of vision emits rays of light in all directions but that the only rays that can enter the eye are those that impinge on the pupil, which functions as a diaphragm. He also reversed the traditional visual cone. Kepler offered a punctiform analysis, stating that the rays emanating from a single luminous point form a cone the circular base of which is in the pupil. All the rays are then refracted within the normal eye to meet again at a single point on the retina. For the first time the retina, or the sensitive receptor of the eye, was regarded as the place where “pencils of light” compose upside-down images. If the eye is not normal, the second short interior cone comes to a point not on the retina but in front of it or behind it, causing blurred vision. For more than three centuries eyeglasses had helped people see better. But nobody before Kepler was able to offer a good theory for why these little pieces of curved glass had worked.

After Galileo built a telescope in 1609 and announced hitherto-unknown objects in the heavens (e.g., moons revolving around Jupiter) and imperfections of the lunar surface, he sent Kepler his account in Siderius Nuncius (1610; The Sidereal Messenger). Kepler responded with three important treatises. The first was his Dissertatio cum Nuncio Sidereo (1610; “Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger”), in which, among other things, he speculated that the distances of the newly discovered Jovian moons might agree with the ratios of the rhombic dodecahedron, triacontahedron, and cube. The second was a theoretical work on the optics of the telescope, Dioptrice (1611; “Dioptrics”), including a description of a new type of telescope using two convex lenses. The third was based upon his own observations of Jupiter, made between August 30 and September 9, 1610, and published as Narratio de Jovis Satellitibus (1611; “Narration Concerning the Jovian Satellites”). These works provided strong support for Galileo’s discoveries, and Galileo, who had never been especially generous to Kepler, wrote to him, “I thank you because you were the first one, and practically the only one, to have complete faith in my assertions.”

In 1611 Kepler’s life took a turn for the worse. His wife, Barbara, became ill, and his three children contracted smallpox; one of his sons died. Emperor Rudolf soon abdicated his throne. Although Kepler hoped to return to an academic post at Tübingen, there was resistance from the theology faculty; Kepler’s irenic theological views and his friendships with Calvinists and Catholics were characteristic of his independence in all matters, and in this case it did not help his cause. Meanwhile, Kepler was appointed to the position (created for him) of district mathematician in Linz. He continued to hold the position of imperial mathematician under the new emperor, Matthias, although he was physically removed from the court in Prague. Kepler stayed in Linz until 1626, during which time creative productions continued amid personal troubles—the death of his wife and his exclusion from the Lutheran communion. Although he was married again in 1613 (to Susanna Reuttinger), five of his seven children from that marriage died in childhood. After the Counter-Reformation came in 1625, Catholic authorities temporarily removed his library and ordered his children to attend mass.

In 1615 Kepler used the occasion of a practical problem to produce a theoretical treatise on the volumes of wine barrels. His Stereometria Doliorum Vinariorum (“The Stereometry of Wine Barrels”) was the first book published in Linz. Kepler objected to the rule-of-thumb methods of wine merchants to estimate the liquid contents of a barrel. He also refused to be bound strictly by Archimedean methods; eventually he extended the range of cases in which a surface is generated by a conic section—a curve formed by the intersection of a plane and a cone rotating about its principal axis—by adding solids generated by rotation about lines in the plane of the conic section other than the principal axis.

The Linz authorities had anticipated that Kepler would use most of his time to work on and complete the astronomical tables begun by Tycho. But the work was tedious, and Kepler continued his search for the world harmonies that had inspired him since his youth. In 1619 his Harmonice Mundi (Harmonies of the World) brought together more than two decades of investigations into the archetypal principles of the world: geometrical, musical, metaphysical, astrological, astronomical, and those principles pertaining to the soul. All harmonies were geometrical, including musical ones that derived from divisions of polygons to create “just” ratios (1/2, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5, 5/6, 3/5, 5/8) rather than the irrational ratios of the Pythagorean scale. When the planets figured themselves into angles demarcated by regular polygons, a harmonic influence was impressed on the soul. And the planets themselves fell into an arrangement whereby their extreme velocity ratios conformed with the harmonies of the just tuning system, a celestial music without sound.

Finally, Kepler published the first textbook of Copernican astronomy, Epitome Astronomiae Copernicanae (1618–21; Epitome of Copernican Astronomy). The title mimicked Maestlin’s traditional-style textbook, but the content could not have been more different. The Epitome began with the elements of astronomy but then gathered together all the arguments for Copernicus’s theory and added to them Kepler’s harmonics and new rules of planetary motion. This work would prove to be the most important theoretical resource for the Copernicans in the 17th century. Galileo and Descartes were probably influenced by it. It was capped by the appearance of Tabulae Rudolphinae (1627; “Rudolphine Tables”). The Epitome and the Rudolphine Tables cast heliostatic astronomy and astrology into a form where detailed and extensive counterargument would force opponents to engage with its claims or silently ignore them to their disadvantage. Eventually Newton would simply take over Kepler’s laws while ignoring all reference to their original theological and philosophical framework.

The last decade of Kepler’s life was filled with personal anguish. His mother fell victim to a charge of witchcraft that resulted in a protracted battle with her accusers, lasting from 1615 until her exoneration in 1621; she died a few months later. Kepler used all means at his disposal to save his mother’s life and honour, but the travels, legal briefs, and maneuvers that this support required seriously disrupted his work. In 1627 Kepler found a new patron in the imperial general Albrecht von Wallenstein. Wallenstein sent Kepler to Sagan in Silesia and supported the construction of a printing press for him. In return Wallenstein expected horoscopes from Kepler—and he accurately predicted “horrible disorders” for March 1634, close to the actual date of Wallenstein’s murder on February 25, 1634. Kepler was less successful in his ever-continuing struggle to collect monies owed him. In August 1630 Wallenstein lost his position as commander in chief; in October Kepler left for Regensburg in hopes of collecting interest on some Austrian bonds. But soon after arriving he became seriously ill with fever, and on November 15 he died. His grave was swept away in the Thirty Years’ War, but the epitaph that he composed for himself survived:

I used to measure the heavens,
now I shall measure the shadows of the earth.
Although my soul was from heaven,
the shadow of my body lies here.

Robert S. Westman

 





 
 



Galileo
Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician
in full Galileo Galilei

born Feb. 15, 1564, Pisa [Italy]
died Jan. 8, 1642, Arcetri, near Florence

Main
Italian natural philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician who made fundamental contributions to the sciences of motion, astronomy, and strength of materials and to the development of the scientific method. His formulation of (circular) inertia, the law of falling bodies, and parabolic trajectories marked the beginning of a fundamental change in the study of motion. His insistence that the book of nature was written in the language of mathematics changed natural philosophy from a verbal, qualitative account to a mathematical one in which experimentation became a recognized method for discovering the facts of nature. Finally, his discoveries with the telescope revolutionized astronomy and paved the way for the acceptance of the Copernican heliocentric system, but his advocacy of that system eventually resulted in an Inquisition process against him.

Early life and career
Galileo was born in Pisa, Tuscany, on February 15, 1564, the oldest son of Vincenzo Galilei, a musician who made important contributions to the theory and practice of music and who may have performed some experiments with Galileo in 1588–89 on the relationship between pitch and the tension of strings. The family moved to Florence in the early 1570s, where the Galilei family had lived for generations. In his middle teens Galileo attended the monastery school at Vallombrosa, near Florence, and then in 1581 matriculated at the University of Pisa, where he was to study medicine. However, he became enamoured with mathematics and decided to make the mathematical subjects and philosophy his profession, against the protests of his father. Galileo then began to prepare himself to teach Aristotelian philosophy and mathematics, and several of his lectures have survived. In 1585 Galileo left the university without having obtained a degree, and for several years he gave private lessons in the mathematical subjects in Florence and Siena. During this period he designed a new form of hydrostatic balance for weighing small quantities and wrote a short treatise, La bilancetta (“The Little Balance”), that circulated in manuscript form. He also began his studies on motion, which he pursued steadily for the next two decades.

In 1588 Galileo applied for the chair of mathematics at the University of Bologna but was unsuccessful. His reputation was, however, increasing, and later that year he was asked to deliver two lectures to the Florentine Academy, a prestigious literary group, on the arrangement of the world in Dante’s Inferno. He also found some ingenious theorems on centres of gravity (again, circulated in manuscript) that brought him recognition among mathematicians and the patronage of Guidobaldo del Monte (1545–1607), a nobleman and author of several important works on mechanics. As a result, he obtained the chair of mathematics at the University of Pisa in 1589. There, according to his first biographer, Vincenzo Viviani (1622–1703), Galileo demonstrated, by dropping bodies of different weights from the top of the famous Leaning Tower, that the speed of fall of a heavy object is not proportional to its weight, as Aristotle had claimed. The manuscript tract De motu (On Motion), finished during this period, shows that Galileo was abandoning Aristotelian notions about motion and was instead taking an Archimedean approach to the problem. But his attacks on Aristotle made him unpopular with his colleagues, and in 1592 his contract was not renewed. His patrons, however, secured him the chair of mathematics at the University of Padua, where he taught from 1592 until 1610.

Although Galileo’s salary was considerably higher there, his responsibilities as the head of the family (his father had died in 1591) meant that he was chronically pressed for money. His university salary could not cover all his expenses, and he therefore took in well-to-do boarding students whom he tutored privately in such subjects as fortification. He also sold a proportional compass, or sector, of his own devising, made by an artisan whom he employed in his house. Perhaps because of these financial problems, he did not marry, but he did have an arrangement with a Venetian woman, Marina Gamba, who bore him two daughters and a son. In the midst of his busy life he continued his research on motion, and by 1609 he had determined that the distance fallen by a body is proportional to the square of the elapsed time (the law of falling bodies) and that the trajectory of a projectile is a parabola, both conclusions that contradicted Aristotelian physics.


Telescopic discoveries
At this point, however, Galileo’s career took a dramatic turn. In the spring of 1609 he heard that in the Netherlands an instrument had been invented that showed distant things as though they were nearby. By trial and error, he quickly figured out the secret of the invention and made his own three-powered spyglass from lenses for sale in spectacle makers’ shops. Others had done the same; what set Galileo apart was that he quickly figured out how to improve the instrument, taught himself the art of lens grinding, and produced increasingly powerful telescopes. In August of that year he presented an eight-powered instrument to the Venetian Senate (Padua was in the Venetian Republic). He was rewarded with life tenure and a doubling of his salary. Galileo was now one of the highest-paid professors at the university. In the fall of 1609 Galileo began observing the heavens with instruments that magnified up to 20 times. In December he drew the Moon’s phases as seen through the telescope, showing that the Moon’s surface is not smooth, as had been thought, but is rough and uneven. In January 1610 he discovered four moons revolving around Jupiter. He also found that the telescope showed many more stars than are visible with the naked eye. These discoveries were earthshaking, and Galileo quickly produced a little book, Sidereus Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger), in which he described them. He dedicated the book to Cosimo II de Medici (1590–1621), the grand duke of his native Tuscany, whom he had tutored in mathematics for several summers, and he named the moons of Jupiter after the Medici family: the Sidera Medicea, or “Medicean Stars.” Galileo was rewarded with an appointment as mathematician and philosopher of the grand duke of Tuscany, and in the fall of 1610 he returned in triumph to his native land.

Galileo was now a courtier and lived the life of a gentleman. Before he left Padua he had discovered the puzzling appearance of Saturn, later to be shown as caused by a ring surrounding it, and in Florence he discovered that Venus goes through phases just as the Moon does. Although these discoveries did not prove that the Earth is a planet orbiting the Sun, they undermined Aristotelian cosmology: the absolute difference between the corrupt earthly region and the perfect and unchanging heavens was proved wrong by the mountainous surface of the Moon, the moons of Jupiter showed that there had to be more than one centre of motion in the universe, and the phases of Venus showed that it (and, by implication, Mercury) revolves around the Sun. As a result, Galileo was confirmed in his belief, which he had probably held for decades but which had not been central to his studies, that the Sun is the centre of the universe and that the Earth is a planet, as Copernicus had argued. Galileo’s conversion to Copernicanism would be a key turning point in the scientific revolution.

After a brief controversy about floating bodies, Galileo again turned his attention to the heavens and entered a debate with Christoph Scheiner (1573–1650), a German Jesuit and professor of mathematics at Ingolstadt, about the nature of sunspots (of which Galileo was an independent discoverer). This controversy resulted in Galileo’s Istoria e dimostrazioni intorno alle macchie solari e loro accidenti (“History and Demonstrations Concerning Sunspots and Their Properties,” or “Letters on Sunspots”), which appeared in 1613. Against Scheiner, who, in an effort to save the perfection of the Sun, argued that sunspots are satellites of the Sun, Galileo argued that the spots are on or near the Sun’s surface, and he bolstered his argument with a series of detailed engravings of his observations.


Galileo’s Copernicanism
Galileo’s increasingly overt Copernicanism began to cause trouble for him. In 1613 he wrote a letter to his student Benedetto Castelli (1528–1643) in Pisa about the problem of squaring the Copernican theory with certain biblical passages. Inaccurate copies of this letter were sent by Galileo’s enemies to the Inquisition in Rome, and he had to retrieve the letter and send an accurate copy. Several Dominican fathers in Florence lodged complaints against Galileo in Rome, and Galileo went to Rome to defend the Copernican cause and his good name. Before leaving, he finished an expanded version of the letter to Castelli, now addressed to the grand duke’s mother and good friend of Galileo, the dowager Christina. In his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina, Galileo discussed the problem of interpreting biblical passages with regard to scientific discoveries but, except for one example, did not actually interpret the Bible. That task had been reserved for approved theologians in the wake of the Council of Trent (1545–63) and the beginning of the Catholic Counter-Reformation. But the tide in Rome was turning against the Copernican theory, and in 1615, when the cleric Paolo Antonio Foscarini (c. 1565–1616) published a book arguing that the Copernican theory did not conflict with scripture, Inquisition consultants examined the question and pronounced the Copernican theory heretical. Foscarini’s book was banned, as were some more technical and nontheological works, such as Johannes Kepler’s Epitome of Copernican Astronomy. Copernicus’s own 1543 book, De revolutionibus orbium coelestium libri vi (“Six Books Concerning the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs”), was suspended until corrected. Galileo was not mentioned directly in the decree, but he was admonished by Robert Cardinal Bellarmine (1542–1621) not to “hold or defend” the Copernican theory. An improperly prepared document placed in the Inquisition files at this time states that Galileo was admonished “not to hold, teach, or defend” the Copernican theory “in any way whatever, either orally or in writing.”

Galileo was thus effectively muzzled on the Copernican issue. Only slowly did he recover from this setback. Through a student, he entered a controversy about the nature of comets occasioned by the appearance of three comets in 1618. After several exchanges, mainly with Orazio Grassi (1583–1654), a professor of mathematics at the Collegio Romano, he finally entered the argument under his own name. Il saggiatore (The Assayer), published in 1623, was a brilliant polemic on physical reality and an exposition of the new scientific method. Galileo here discussed the method of the newly emerging science, arguing:

Philosophy is written in this grand book, the universe, which stands continually open to our gaze. But the book cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and read the letters in which it is composed. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it.

He also drew a distinction between the properties of external objects and the sensations they cause in us—i.e., the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Publication of Il saggiatore came at an auspicious moment, for Maffeo Cardinal Barberini (1568–1644), a friend, admirer, and patron of Galileo for a decade, was named Pope Urban VIII as the book was going to press. Galileo’s friends quickly arranged to have it dedicated to the new pope. In 1624 Galileo went to Rome and had six interviews with Urban VIII. Galileo told the pope about his theory of the tides (developed earlier), which he put forward as proof of the annual and diurnal motions of the Earth. The pope gave Galileo permission to write a book about theories of the universe but warned him to treat the Copernican theory only hypothetically. The book, Dialogo sopra i due massimi sistemi del mondo, tolemaico e copernicano (Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic & Copernican), was finished in 1630, and Galileo sent it to the Roman censor. Because of an outbreak of the plague, communications between Florence and Rome were interrupted, and Galileo asked for the censoring to be done instead in Florence. The Roman censor had a number of serious criticisms of the book and forwarded these to his colleagues in Florence. After writing a preface in which he professed that what followed was written hypothetically, Galileo had little trouble getting the book through the Florentine censors, and it appeared in Florence in 1632.

In the Dialogue’s witty conversation between Salviati (representing Galileo), Sagredo (the intelligent layman), and Simplicio (the dyed-in-the-wool Aristotelian), Galileo gathered together all the arguments (mostly based on his own telescopic discoveries) for the Copernican theory and against the traditional geocentric cosmology. As opposed to Aristotle’s, Galileo’s approach to cosmology is fundamentally spatial and geometric: the Earth’s axis retains its orientation in space as the Earth circles the Sun, and bodies not under a force retain their velocity (although this inertia is ultimately circular). But in giving Simplicio the final word, that God could have made the universe any way he wanted to and still made it appear to us the way it does, he put Pope Urban VIII’s favourite argument in the mouth of the person who had been ridiculed throughout the dialogue. The reaction against the book was swift. The pope convened a special commission to examine the book and make recommendations; the commission found that Galileo had not really treated the Copernican theory hypothetically and recommended that a case be brought against him by the Inquisition. Galileo was summoned to Rome in 1633. During his first appearance before the Inquisition, he was confronted with the 1616 edict recording that he was forbidden to discuss the Copernican theory. In his defense Galileo produced a letter from Cardinal Bellarmine, by then dead, stating that he was admonished only not to hold or defend the theory. The case was at somewhat of an impasse, and, in what can only be called a plea bargain, Galileo confessed to having overstated his case. He was pronounced to be vehemently suspect of heresy and was condemned to life imprisonment and was made to abjure formally. There is no evidence that at this time he whispered, “Eppur si muove” (“And yet it moves”). It should be noted that Galileo was never in a dungeon or tortured; during the Inquisition process he stayed mostly at the house of the Tuscan ambassador to the Vatican and for a short time in a comfortable apartment in the Inquisition building. (For a note on actions taken by Galileo’s defenders and by the church in the centuries since the trial, see BTW: Galileo’s condemnation.) After the process he spent six months at the palace of Ascanio Piccolomini (c. 1590–1671), the archbishop of Siena and a friend and patron, and then moved into a villa near Arcetri, in the hills above Florence. He spent the rest of his life there. Galileo’s daughter Sister Maria Celeste, who was in a nearby nunnery, was a great comfort to her father until her untimely death in 1634.

Galileo was then 70 years old. Yet he kept working. In Siena he had begun a new book on the sciences of motion and strength of materials. There he wrote up his unpublished studies that had been interrupted by his interest in the telescope in 1609 and pursued intermittently since. The book was spirited out of Italy and published in Leiden, Netherlands, in 1638 under the title Discorsi e dimostrazioni matematiche intorno a due nuove scienze attenenti alla meccanica (Dialogues Concerning Two New Sciences). Galileo here treated for the first time the bending and breaking of beams and summarized his mathematical and experimental investigations of motion, including the law of falling bodies and the parabolic path of projectiles as a result of the mixing of two motions, constant speed and uniform acceleration. By then Galileo had become blind, and he spent his time working with a young student, Vincenzo Viviani, who was with him when he died on January 8, 1642.





 
 



John Scotus Erigena
Irish philosopher
also called Johannes Scotus Eriugena
born 810, Ireland
died c. 877

Main
theologian, translator, and commentator on several earlier authors in works centring on the integration of Greek and Neoplatonist philosophy with Christian belief.

From about 845, Erigena lived at the court of the West Frankish king Charles II the Bald, near Laon (now in France), first as a teacher of grammar and dialectics. He participated in theological disputes over the Eucharist and predestination and set forth his position on the latter in De predestinatione (851; “On Predestination”), a work condemned by church authorities. Erigena’s translations of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Epiphanius, commissioned by Charles, made those Greek patristic writings accessible to Western thinkers.

Erigena’s familiarity with dialectics and with the ideas of his theological predecessors was reflected in his principal work, De divisione naturae (862–866; “On the Division of Nature”), an attempt to reconcile the Neoplatonist doctrine of emanation with the Christian tenet of creation. The work classifies nature into (1) that which creates and is not created; (2) that which creates and is created; (3) that which does not create and is created; and (4) that which does not create and is not created. The first and the fourth are God as beginning and end; the second and third are the dual mode of existence of created beings (the intelligible and the sensible). The return of all creatures to God begins with release from sin, physical death, and entry into the life hereafter. Man, for Erigena, is a microcosm of the universe because he has senses to perceive the world, reason to examine the intelligible natures and causes of things, and intellect to contemplate God. Through sin man’s animal nature has predominated, but through redemption man becomes reunited with God.

Though highly influential upon Erigena’s successors, notably the Western mystics and the 13th-century Scholastics, De divisione naturae eventually suffered condemnation by the church because of its pantheistic implications. The works of Erigena are in J.-P. Migne’s Patrologia Latina, Vol. 122.

 





 
 



Alexander of Hales
French theologian and philosopher

born c. 1170/85, Hales, Gloucestershire, Eng.
died 1245, Paris

Main
theologian and philosopher whose doctrines influenced the teachings of such thinkers as St. Bonaventure and John of La Rochelle. The Summa theologica, for centuries ascribed to him, is largely the work of followers.

Alexander studied and taught in Paris, receiving the degrees of master of arts (before 1210) and theology (1220). He was archdeacon of Coventry in 1235 and became a Franciscan (c. 1236). In Paris he founded the Schola Fratrum Minorum, where he was the first holder, possibly until his death, of the Franciscan chair.

Only the most general features of Alexander’s theology and philosophy have been made clear: basically an Augustinian, he had to some extent taken into account the psychological, physical, and metaphysical doctrines of Aristotle, while discarding popular Avicennian tenets of emanations from a Godhead. The “Franciscan” theories of matter and form in spiritual creatures, of the multiplicity of forms, and of illumination combined with experience are probably Alexander’s adaptations of similar theories of the Augustinian and other traditions. His original works, apart from sections of the Summa and of an Expositio regulae (“Exposition of the Rule”), include a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard—the first to treat the Sentences, rather than the Bible, as the basic text in theology; Quaestiones disputatae antequam esset frater (“Questions Before Becoming a Brother . . .”); Quodlibeta; sermons; and a treatise on difficult words entitled Exoticon. Alexander was known to the Scholastics by the title Doctor Irrefragabilis (Impossible to Refute).

 





 
 



Desiderius Erasmus
Dutch humanist and scholar

born Oct. 27, 1469, Rotterdam, Holland [now in The Netherlands]
died July 12, 1536, Basel, Switz.

Main
humanist who was the greatest scholar of the northern Renaissance, the first editor of the New Testament, and also an important figure in patristics and classical literature.

Using the philological methods pioneered by Italian humanists, Erasmus helped lay the groundwork for the historical-critical study of the past, especially in his studies of the Greek New Testament and the Church Fathers. His educational writings contributed to the replacement of the older scholastic curriculum by the new humanist emphasis on the classics. By criticizing ecclesiastical abuses, while pointing to a better age in the distant past, he encouraged the growing urge for reform, which found expression both in the Protestant Reformation and in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Finally, his independent stance in an age of fierce confessional controversy—rejecting both Luther’s doctrine of predestination and the powers that were claimed for the papacy—made him a target of suspicion for loyal partisans on both sides and a beacon for those who valued liberty more than orthodoxy.

Early life and career
Erasmus was the second illegitimate son of Roger Gerard, a priest, and Margaret, a physician’s daughter. He advanced as far as the third-highest class at the chapter school of St. Lebuin’s in Deventer. One of his teachers, Jan Synthen, was a humanist, as was the headmaster, Alexander Hegius. The schoolboy Erasmus was clever enough to write classical Latin verse that impresses a modern reader as cosmopolitan.

After both parents died, the guardians of the two boys sent them to a school in ’s Hertogenbosch conducted by the Brethren of the Common Life, a lay religious movement that fostered monastic vocations. Erasmus would remember this school only for a severe discipline intended, he said, to teach humility by breaking a boy’s spirit.

Having little other choice, both brothers entered monasteries. Erasmus chose the Augustinian canons regular at Steyn, near Gouda, where he seems to have remained about seven years (1485–92). While at Steyn he paraphrased Lorenzo Valla’s Elegantiae, which was both a compendium of pure classical usage and a manifesto against the scholastic “barbarians” who had allegedly corrupted it. Erasmus’ monastic superiors became “barbarians” for him by discouraging his classical studies. Thus, after his ordination to the priesthood (April 1492), he was happy to escape the monastery by accepting a post as Latin secretary to the influential Henry of Bergen, bishop of Cambrai. His Antibarbarorum liber, extant from a revision of 1494–95, is a vigorous restatement of patristic arguments for the utility of the pagan classics, with a polemical thrust against the cloister he had left behind: “All sound learning is secular learning.”

Erasmus was not suited to a courtier’s life, nor did things improve much when the bishop was induced to send him to the University of Paris to study theology (1495). He disliked the quasi-monastic regimen of the Collège de Montaigu, where he lodged initially, and pictured himself to a friend as sitting “with wrinkled brow and glazed eye” through Scotist lectures. To support his classical studies, he began taking in pupils; from this period (1497–1500) date the earliest versions of those aids to elegant Latin—including the Colloquia and the Adagia—that before long would be in use in humanist schools throughout Europe.


The wandering scholar
In 1499 a pupil, William Blount, Lord Mountjoy, invited Erasmus to England. There he met Thomas More, who became a friend for life. John Colet quickened Erasmus’ ambition to be a “primitive theologian,” one who would expound Scripture not in the argumentative manner of the scholastics but in the manner of Jerome and the other Church Fathers, who lived in an age when men still understood and practiced the classical art of rhetoric. The impassioned Colet besought him to lecture on the Old Testament at Oxford, but the more cautious Erasmus was not ready. He returned to the Continent with a Latin copy of St. Paul’s Epistles and the conviction that “ancient theology” required mastery of Greek.

On a visit to Artois, Fr. (1501), Erasmus met the fiery preacher Jean Voirier, who, though a Franciscan, told him that “monasticism was a life more of fatuous men than of religious men.” Admirers recounted how Voirier’s disciples faced death serenely, trusting in God, without the solemn reassurance of the last rites. Voirier lent Erasmus a copy of works by Origen, the early Greek Christian writer who promoted the allegorical, spiritualizing mode of scriptural interpretation, which had roots in Platonic philosophy. By 1502 Erasmus had settled in the university town of Leuven (Brabant [now in Belgium]) and was reading Origen and St. Paul in Greek. The fruit of his labours was Enchiridion militis Christiani (1503/04; Handbook of a Christian Knight). In this work Erasmus urged readers to “inject into the vitals” the teachings of Christ by studying and meditating on the Scriptures, using the spiritual interpretation favoured by the “ancients” to make the text pertinent to moral concerns. The Enchiridion was a manifesto of lay piety in its assertion that “monasticism is not piety.” Erasmus’ vocation as a “primitive theologian” was further developed through his discovery at Park Abbey, near Leuven, of a manuscript of Valla’s Adnotationes on the Greek New Testament, which he published in 1505 with a dedication to Colet.

Erasmus sailed for England in 1505, hoping to find support for his studies. Instead he found an opportunity to travel to Italy, the land of promise for northern humanists, as tutor to the sons of the future Henry VIII’s physician. The party arrived in the university town of Bologna in time to witness the triumphal entry (1506) of the warrior pope Julius II at the head of a conquering army, a scene that figures later in Erasmus’ anonymously published satiric dialogue, Julius exclusus e coelis (written 1513–14). In Venice Erasmus was welcomed at the celebrated printing house of Aldus Manutius, where Byzantine émigrés enriched the intellectual life of a numerous scholarly company. For the Aldine press Erasmus expanded his Adagia, or annotated collection of Greek and Latin adages, into a monument of erudition with over 3,000 entries; this was the book that first made him famous. The adage “Dutch ear” (auris Batava) is one of many hints that he was not an uncritical admirer of sophisticated Italy, with its theatrical sermons and its scholars who doubted the immortality of the soul; his aim was to write for honest and unassuming “Dutch ears.”

De pueris instituendis, written in Italy though not published until 1529, is the clearest statement of Erasmus’ enormous faith in the power of education. With strenuous effort the very stuff of human nature could be molded, so as to draw out (e-ducare) peaceful and social dispositions while discouraging unworthy appetites. Erasmus, it would almost be true to say, believed that one is what one reads. Thus the “humane letters” of classical and Christian antiquity would have a beneficent effect on the mind, in contrast to the disputatious temper induced by scholastic logic-chopping or the vengeful amour propre bred into young aristocrats by chivalric literature, “the stupid and tyrannical fables of King Arthur.”

The celebrated Moriae encomium, or Praise of Folly, conceived as Erasmus crossed the Alps on his way back to England and written at Thomas More’s house, expresses a very different mood. For the first time the earnest scholar saw his own efforts along with everyone else’s as bathed in a universal irony, in which foolish passion carried the day: “Even the wise man must play the fool if he wishes to beget a child.”

Little is known of Erasmus’ long stay in England (1509–14), except that he lectured at Cambridge and worked on scholarly projects, including the Greek text of the New Testament. His later willingness to speak out as he did may have owed something to the courage of Colet, who risked royal disfavour by preaching a sermon against war at the court just as Henry VIII was looking for a good war in which to win his spurs. Having returned to the Continent, Erasmus made connections with the printing firm of Johann Froben and traveled to Basel to prepare a new edition of the Adagia (1515). In this and other works of about the same time Erasmus showed a new boldness in commenting on the ills of Christian society—popes who in their warlike ambition imitated Caesar rather than Christ; princes who hauled whole nations into war to avenge a personal slight; and preachers who looked to their own interests by pronouncing the princes’ wars just or by nurturing superstitious observances among the faithful. To remedy these evils Erasmus looked to education. In particular, the training of preachers should be based on “the philosophy of Christ” rather than on scholastic methods. Erasmus tried to show the way with his annotated text of the Greek New Testament and his edition of St. Jerome’s Opera omnia, both of which appeared from the Froben press in 1516. These were the months in which Erasmus thought he saw “the world growing young again,” and the full measure of his optimism is expressed in one of the prefatory writings to the New Testament: “If the Gospel were truly preached, the Christian people would be spared many wars.”

Erasmus’ home base was now in Brabant, where he had influential friends at the Habsburg court of the Netherlands in Brussels, notably the grand chancellor, Jean Sauvage. Through Sauvage he was named honorary councillor to the 16-year-old archduke Charles, the future Charles V, and was commissioned to write Institutio principis Christiani (1516; The Education of a Christian Prince) and Querela pacis (1517; The Complaint of Peace). These works expressed Erasmus’ own convictions, but they also did no harm to Sauvage’s faction at court, which wanted to maintain peace with France. It was at this time too that he began his Paraphrases of the books of the New Testament, each one dedicated to a monarch or a prince of the church. He was accepted as a member of the theology faculty at nearby Leuven, and he also took keen interest in a newly founded Trilingual College, with endowed chairs in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Ratio verae theologiae (1518) provided the rationale for the new theological education based on the study of languages. Revision of his Greek New Testament, especially of the copious annotations, began almost as soon as the first edition appeared. Though Erasmus certainly made mistakes as a textual critic, in the history of scholarship he is a towering figure, intuiting philological principles that in some cases would not be formulated explicitly until 150 years after his death. But conservative theologians at Leuven and elsewhere, mostly ignorant of Greek, were not willing to abandon the interpretation of Scripture to upstart “grammarians,” nor did the atmosphere at Leuven improve when the second edition of Erasmus’ New Testament (1519) replaced the Vulgate with his own Latin translation.


The Protestant challenge
From the very beginning of the momentous events sparked by Martin Luther’s challenge to papal authority, Erasmus’ clerical foes blamed him for inspiring Luther, just as some of Luther’s admirers in Germany found that he merely proclaimed boldly what Erasmus had been hinting. In fact, Luther’s first letter to Erasmus (1516) showed an important disagreement over the interpretation of St. Paul, and in 1518 Erasmus privately instructed his printer, Froben, to stop printing works by Luther, lest the two causes be confused. As he read Luther’s writings, at least those prior to The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), Erasmus found much to admire, and he could even describe Luther, in a letter to Pope Leo X, as “a mighty trumpet of Gospel truth.” Being of a suspicious nature, however, he also convinced himself that Luther’s fiercest enemies were men who saw the study of languages as the root of heresy and thus wanted to be rid of both at once. Hence he tugged at the slender threads of his influence, vainly hoping to forestall a confrontation that could only be destructive to “good letters.” When he quit Brabant for Basel (December 1521), he did so lest he be faced with a personal request from the Emperor to write a book against Luther, which he could not have refused.

Erasmus’ belief in the unity of the church was fundamental, but, like the Hollanders and Brabanters with whom he was most at home, he recoiled from the cruel logic of religious persecution. He expressed his views indirectly through the Colloquia, which had started as schoolboy dialogues but now became a vehicle for commentary. For example, in the colloquy Inquisitio de fide (1522) a Catholic finds to his surprise that Lutherans accept all the dogmas of the faith, that is, the articles of the Apostles’ Creed. The implication is that bitter disputes like those over papal infallibility or Luther’s doctrine of predestination are differences over mere opinion, not over dogmas binding on all the faithful. For Erasmus the root of the schism was not theology but anticlericalism and lay resentment of the laws and “ceremonies” that the clergy made binding under pain of hell. As he wrote privately to the Netherlandish pope Adrian VI (1522–23), whom he had known at Leuven, there was still hope of reconciliation, if only the church would ease the burden; this could be accomplished, for instance, by granting the chalice to the laity and by permitting priests to marry: “At the sweet name of liberty all things will revive.”

When Adrian VI was succeeded by Clement VII, Erasmus could no longer avoid “descending into the arena” of theological combat, though he promised the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli that he would attack Luther in a way that would not please the “pharisees.” De libero arbitrio (1524) defended the place of human free choice in the process of salvation and argued that the consensus of the church through the ages is authoritative in the interpretation of Scripture. In reply Luther wrote one of his most important theological works, De servo arbitrio (1525), to which Erasmus responded with a lengthy, two-part Hyperaspistes (1526–27). In this controversy Erasmus lets it be seen that he would like to claim more for free will than St. Paul and St. Augustine seem to allow.

The years in Basel (1522–29) were filled with polemics, some of them rather tiresome by comparison to the great debate with Luther. Irritated by Protestants who called him a traitor to the Gospel as well as by hyper-orthodox Catholic theologians who repeatedly denounced him, Erasmus showed the petty side of his own nature often enough. Although there is material in his apologetic writings that scholars have yet to exploit, there seems no doubt that on the whole he was better at satiric barbs, such as the colloquy representing one young “Pseudo-Evangelical” of his acquaintance as thwacking people over the head with a Gospel book to gain converts. Meanwhile he kept at work on the Greek New Testament (there would be five editions in all), the Paraphrases, and his editions of the Church Fathers, including Cyprian, Hilary, and Origen. He also took time to chastise those humanists, mostly Italian, who from a “superstitious” zeal for linguistic purity refused to sully their Latin prose with nonclassical terms (Ciceronianus, 1528).


Final years
In 1529, when Protestant Basel banned Catholic worship altogether, Erasmus and some of his humanist friends moved to the Catholic university town of Freiburg im Breisgau. He refused an invitation to the Diet of Augsburg, where Philipp Melanchthon’s Augsburg Confession was to initiate the first meaningful discussions between Lutheran and Catholic theologians. He nonetheless encouraged such discussion in De sarcienda ecclesiae concordia (1533), which suggested that differences on the crucial doctrine of justification might be reconciled by considering a duplex justitia, the meaning of which he did not elaborate. Having returned to Basel to see his manual on preaching (Ecclesiastes, 1535) through the press, he lingered on in a city he found congenial; it was there he died in 1536. Like the disciples of Voirier, he seems not to have asked for the last sacraments of the church. His last words were in Dutch: “Lieve God” (“dear God”).


Influence and achievement
Always the scholar, Erasmus could see many sides of an issue. But his hesitations and studied ambiguities were appreciated less and less in the generations that followed his death, as men girded for combat, theological or otherwise, in the service of their beliefs. For a time, while peacemakers on both sides had an opportunity to pursue meaningful discussions between Catholics and Lutherans, some of Erasmus’ practical suggestions and his moderate theological views were directly pertinent. Even after ecumenism dwindled to a mere wisp of possibility, there were a few men willing to make themselves heirs of Erasmus’ lonely struggle for a middle ground, like Jacques-Auguste de Thou in France and Hugo Grotius in the Netherlands; significantly, both were strong supporters of state authority and hoped to limit the influence of the clergy of their respective established churches. This tradition was perhaps strongest in the Netherlands, where Dirck Volckertszoon Coornhert and others found support in Erasmus for their advocacy of limited toleration for religious dissenters. Meanwhile, however, the Council of Trent and the rise of Calvinism ensured that such views were generally of marginal influence. The Catholic Index expurgatorius of 1571 contained a long list of suspect passages to be deleted from any future editions of Erasmus’ writings, and those Protestant tendencies that bear some comparison to Erasmus’ defense of free will—current among the Philippists in Germany and the Arminians in the Netherlands—were bested by defenders of a sterner orthodoxy. Even in the classroom, Erasmus’ preference for putting students directly in contact with the classics gave way to the use of compendiums and manuals of humanist rhetoric and logic that resembled nothing so much as the scholastic curriculum of the past. Similarly, the bold and independent scholarly temper with which Erasmus approached the text of the New Testament was for a long time submerged by the exigencies of theological polemics.

Erasmus’ reputation began to improve in the late 17th century, when the last of Europe’s religious wars was fading into memory and scholars like Richard Simon and Jean Le Clercq (the editor of Erasmus’ works) were once again taking a more critical approach to biblical texts. By Voltaire’s time, in the 18th century, it was possible to imagine that the clever and rather skeptical Erasmus must have been a philosophe before his time, one whose professions of religious devotion and submission to church authority could be seen as convenient evasions. This view of Erasmus, curiously parallel to the strictures of his orthodox critics, was long influential. Only in the past several decades have scholars given due recognition to the fact that the goal of his work was a Christianity purified by a deeper knowledge of its historic roots. Yet it was not entirely wrong to compare Erasmus with those Enlightenment thinkers who, like Voltaire, defended individual liberty at every turn and had little good to say about the various corporate solidarities by which human society holds together. Some historians would now trace the enduring debate between these complementary aspects of Western thought as far back as the 12th century, and in this very broad sense Erasmus and Voltaire are on the same side of a divide, just as, for instance, Machiavelli and Rousseau are on the other. In a unique manner that fused his multiple identities—as Netherlander, Renaissance humanist, and pre-Tridentine Catholic—Erasmus helped to build what may be called the liberal tradition of European culture.

James D. Tracy

 





 
 



Sir Thomas More
English humanist and statesman
also called Saint Thomas More
born February 7, 1478, London, England
died July 6, 1535, London; canonized May 19, 1935; feast day June 22

Main
English humanist and statesman, chancellor of England (1529–32), who was beheaded for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as head of the Church of England. He is recognized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Early life and career
Thomas—the eldest son of John More, a lawyer who was later knighted and made a judge of the King’s Bench—was educated at one of London’s best schools, St. Anthony’s in Threadneedle Street, and in the household of John Morton, archbishop of Canterbury and chancellor of England. The future cardinal, a shrewd judge of character, predicted that the bright and winsome page would prove to be a “marvellous man.” His interest sent the boy to the University of Oxford, where More seems to have spent two years, mastering Latin and undergoing a thorough drilling in formal logic.

About 1494 his father brought More back to London to study the common law. In February 1496 he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, one of the four legal societies preparing for admission to the bar. In 1501 More became an “utter barrister,” a full member of the profession. Thanks to his boundless curiosity and a prodigious capacity for work, he managed, along with the law, to keep up his literary pursuits. He read avidly from Holy Scripture, the Church Fathers, and the classics and tried his hand at all literary genres.

Although bowing to his father’s decision that he should become a lawyer, More was prepared to be disowned rather than disobey God’s will. To test his vocation to the priesthood, he resided for about four years in the Carthusian monastery adjoining Lincoln’s Inn and shared as much of the monks’ way of life as was practicable. Although attracted especially to the Franciscan order, More decided that he would best serve God and his fellowmen as a lay Christian. More, however, never discarded the habits of early rising, prolonged prayer, fasting, and wearing the hair shirt. God remained the centre of his life.

In late 1504 or early 1505, More married Joan Colt, the eldest daughter of an Essex gentleman farmer. She was a competent hostess for non-English visitors, such as the Dutch humanist Desiderius Erasmus, who was given permanent rooms in the Old Barge on the Thames side in Bucklersbury in the City of London, More’s home for the first two decades of his married life. Erasmus wrote his Praise of Folly while staying there.

The important negotiations More conducted in 1509 on behalf of a number of London companies with the representative of the Antwerp merchants confirmed his competence in trade matters and his gifts as an interpreter and spokesman. From September 1510 to July 1518, when he resigned to be fully in the king’s service, More was one of the two undersheriffs of London, “the pack-horses of the City government.” He endeared himself to the Londoners—as an impartial judge, a disinterested consultant, and “the general patron of the poor.”

More’s domestic idyll came to a brutal end in the summer of 1511 with the death, perhaps in childbirth, of his wife. He was left a widower with four children, and within weeks of his first wife’s death he married Alice Middleton, the widow of a London mercer. She was several years his senior and had a daughter of her own; she did not bear More any children.

More’s History of King Richard III, written in Latin and in English between about 1513 and 1518, is the first masterpiece of English historiography. Though never finished, it influenced succeeding historians. William Shakespeare is indebted to More for his portrait of the tyrant.


The Utopia
In May 1515 More was appointed to a delegation to revise an Anglo-Flemish commercial treaty. The conference was held at Brugge, with long intervals that More used to visit other Belgian cities. He began in the Low Countries and completed after his return to London his Utopia, which was published at Leuven in December 1516. The book was an immediate success with the audience for which More wrote it: the humanists and an elite group of public officials.

Utopia is a Greek name of More’s coining, from ou-topos (“no place”); a pun on eu-topos (“good place”) is suggested in a prefatory poem. More’s Utopia describes a pagan and communist city-state in which the institutions and policies are entirely governed by reason. The order and dignity of such a state provided a notable contrast with the unreasonable polity of Christian Europe, divided by self-interest and greed for power and riches, which More described in Book I, written in England in 1516. The description of Utopia is put in the mouth of a mysterious traveler, Raphael Hythloday, in support of his argument that communism is the only cure against egoism in private and public life. Through dialogue More speaks in favour of the mitigation of evil rather than its cure, human nature being fallible. Among the topics discussed by More in Utopia were penology, state-controlled education, religious pluralism, divorce, euthanasia, and women’s rights. The resulting demonstration of his learning, invention, and wit established his reputation as one of the foremost humanists. Soon translated into most European languages, Utopia became the ancestor of a new literary genre, the utopian romance.


Career as king’s servant
On May 1, 1517, a mob of London apprentices attacked foreign merchants in the city. More’s role in quenching this Evil May Day riot inspired a scene, attributed to Shakespeare, in Sir Thomas More, a composite Elizabethan play. More’s success in the thorny negotiations with the French at Calais and Boulogne (September to December 1517) over suits born of the recent war made it harder for him to dodge royal service. That year he became a member of the king’s council and from October was known as master of requests. He resigned his City office in 1518. While yielding to pressure, he embraced the chance of furthering peace and reform. The lord chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, now looked ready to implement some of the political ideas of the Christian humanists.

Between 1515 and 1520 More campaigned spiritedly for Erasmus’s religious and cultural program—Greek studies as the key to a theology renewed by a return to the Bible and the Church Fathers—in poems commending Erasmus’s New Testament. More’s Latin poems were published in 1518 under one cover between his Utopia and Erasmus’s Epigrammata; they are extremely varied in metre and matter, their main topics being government, women, and death.

Erasmus offered his London friend as a model for the intelligentsia of Europe in letters to the German humanist Ulrich von Hutten (1519); the Paris scholar Germain de Brie (1520), with whom More had just engaged in a polemic; and Guillaume Budé, whom More had met in June 1520 at the Field of Cloth of Gold, the meeting ground, near Calais, between Henry VIII and Francis I. According to Erasmus, simplicity was More’s mark in food and dress. He shrank from nothing that imparted an innocent pleasure, even of a bodily kind. He had a speaker’s voice and a memory that served him well for extempore rejoinders. “Born for friendship,” he could extract delight from the dullest people or things. His family affections were warm yet unobtrusive. He gave freely and gladly, expecting no thanks. Amid his intense professional activity, he found hours for prayer and for supervising his domestic school. Most of his charges were girls, to whom he provided the most refined Classical and Christian education.

In 1520 and 1521 More took part in talks, at Calais and Brugge, with the emperor Charles V and with the Hansa merchants. In 1521 he was made undertreasurer and knighted. His daughter Margaret married William Roper, a lawyer. For Henry VIII’s Defense of the Seven Sacraments, More acted as “a sorter out and placer of the principal matters.” When Martin Luther hit back, More vindicated the king in a learned, though scurrilous, Responsio ad Lutherum (1523). In addition to his routine duties at the Exchequer, More served throughout these years as “Henry’s intellectual courtier,” secretary, and confidant. He welcomed foreign envoys, delivered official speeches, drafted treaties, read the dispatches exchanged between the king and Wolsey, and answered in the king’s name. Often he rode posthaste between the cardinal’s headquarters at Westminster and Henry’s various hunting residences. In April 1523 More was elected speaker of the House of Commons; while loyally striving to secure the government’s ends, he made a plea for truer freedom of speech in Parliament. The universities—Oxford in 1524, Cambridge in 1525—made him their high steward.

By 1524 More had moved to Chelsea. The Great House he built there bore the stamp of his philosophy, its gallery, chapel, and library all geared toward studious and prayerful seclusion. In 1525 he was promoted to chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which put a large portion of northern England under his judiciary and administrative control.

On More’s return from an embassy to France in the summer of 1527, Henry VIII “laid the Bible open before him” as proof that his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to produce a male heir, was void, even incestuous, because of her previous marriage to Henry’s late brother. More tried in vain to share the king’s scruples, but long study confirmed his view that Catherine was the king’s true wife. After being commissioned in March 1528 by Bishop Tunstall of London to read all heretical writings in the English language in order to refute them for the sake of the unlearned, More published seven books of polemics between 1529 and 1533—the first and best being A Dialogue Concerning Heresies.


Years as chancellor of England
Together with Tunstall, More attended the congress of Cambrai at which peace was made between France and the Holy Roman Empire in 1529. Though the Treaty of Cambrai represented a rebuff to England and, more particularly, a devastating reverse for Cardinal Wolsey’s policies, More managed to secure the inclusion of his country in the treaty and the settlement of mutual debts. When Wolsey fell from power, having failed in his foreign policy and in his efforts to procure the annulment of the king’s marriage to Catherine, More succeeded him as lord chancellor on October 26, 1529.

On November 3, 1529, More opened the Parliament that was later to forge the legal instruments for his death. As the king’s mouthpiece, More indicted Wolsey in his opening speech and, in 1531, proclaimed the opinions of universities favourable to the divorce; but he did not sign the letter of 1530 in which England’s nobles and prelates, including Wolsey, pressured the pope to declare the first marriage void, and he tried to resign in 1531, when the clergy acknowledged the king as their supreme head, albeit with the clause “as far as the law of Christ allows.”

More’s longest book, The Confutation of Tyndale’s Answer, in two volumes (1532 and 1533), centres on “what the church is.” To the stress of stooping for hours over his manuscript More ascribed the sharp pain in his chest, perhaps angina, which he invoked when begging Henry to free him from the yoke of office. This was on May 16, 1532, the day when the governing body (synod) of the church in England delivered to the crown the document by which they promised never to legislate or so much as convene without royal assent, thus placing a layperson at the head of the spiritual order.

More meanwhile continued his campaign for the old faith, defending England’s antiheresy laws and his own handling of heretics, both as magistrate and as writer, in two books of 1533: the Apology and the Debellacyon. He also laughs away the accusation of greed leveled by William Tyndale, translator of parts of the first printed English Bible. More’s poverty was so notorious that the hierarchy collected £5,000 to recoup his polemical costs, but he refused this grant lest it be construed as a bribe.


Indictment, trial, and execution
More’s refusal to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn, whom Henry married after his divorce from Catherine in 1533, marked him out for vengeance. Several charges of accepting bribes recoiled on the heads of his accusers. In February 1534 More was included in a bill of attainder for alleged complicity with Elizabeth Barton, who had uttered prophecies against Henry’s divorce, but he produced a letter in which he had warned the nun against meddling in affairs of state. He was summoned to appear before royal commissioners on April 13 to assent under oath to the Act of Succession, which declared the king’s marriage with Catherine void and that with Anne valid. This More was willing to do, acknowledging that Anne was in fact anointed queen. But he refused the oath as then administered because it entailed a repudiation of papal supremacy. On April 17, 1534, he was imprisoned in the Tower. More welcomed prison life. But for his family responsibilities, he would have chosen for himself “as strait a room and straiter too,” as he said to his daughter Margaret, who after some time took the oath and was then allowed to visit him. In prison, More wrote A Dialogue of Comfort Against Tribulation, a masterpiece of Christian wisdom and of literature.

His trial took place on July 1, 1535. Richard Rich, the solicitor general, a creature of Thomas Cromwell, the unacknowledged head of the government, testified that the prisoner had, in his presence, denied the king’s title as supreme head of the Church of England. Despite More’s scathing denial of this perjured evidence, the jury’s unanimous verdict was “guilty.” Before the sentence was pronounced, More spoke “in discharge of his conscience.” The unity of the church was the main motive of his martyrdom. His second objection was that “no temporal man may be head of the spirituality.” Henry’s marriage to Anne Boleyn, to which he also referred as the cause for which they “sought his blood,” had been the occasion for the assaults on the church: among his judges were the new queen’s father, brother, and uncle.

More was sentenced to the traitor’s death—“to be drawn, hanged, and quartered”—which the king changed to beheading. During five days of suspense, More prepared his soul to meet “the great spouse” and wrote a beautiful prayer and several letters of farewell. He walked to the scaffold on Tower Hill. “See me safe up,” he said to the lieutenant, “and for my coming down let me shift for myself.” He told the onlookers to witness that he was dying “in the faith and for the faith of the Catholic Church, the king’s good servant and God’s first.” He altered the ritual by blindfolding himself, playing “a part of his own” even on this awful stage.

The news of More’s death shocked Europe. Erasmus mourned the man he had so often praised, “whose soul was more pure than any snow, whose genius was such that England never had and never again will have its like.” The official image of More as a traitor did not gain credence even in Protestant lands.


Assessment
Though the triumph of Anglicanism brought about a certain eclipse of Thomas More, the publication of the state papers restored a fuller and truer picture of More, preparing public opinion for his beatification (1886). He was canonized by Pius XI in May 1935. Though the man is greater than the writer and though nothing in his life “became him like the leaving of it,” his “golden little book” Utopia has earned him greater fame than the crown of martyrdom or the million words of his English works.

Erasmus’s phrase describing More as omnium horarum homo was rendered later as “a man for all seasons” and was given currency by Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons (1960). Monuments to More have been placed in Westminster Hall, the Tower of London, and the Chelsea Embankment, all in London. In the words of the English Catholic apologist G.K. Chesterton, More “may come to be counted the greatest Englishman, or at least the greatest historical character in English History.”

The Rev. Germain P. Marc’hadour

 





 
 



Michel de Montaigne
French writer and philosopher
in full Michel Eyquem de Montaigne

born Feb. 28, 1533, Château de Montaigne, near Bordeaux, France
died Sept. 23, 1592, Château de Montaigne

Main
French writer whose Essais (Essays) established a new literary form. In his Essays he wrote one of the most captivating and intimate self-portraits ever given, on a par with Augustine’s and Rousseau’s.

Living, as he did, in the second half of the 16th century, Montaigne bore witness to the decline of the intellectual optimism that had marked the Renaissance. The sense of immense human possibilities, stemming from the discoveries of the New World travelers, from the rediscovery of classical antiquity, and from the opening of scholarly horizons through the works of the humanists, was shattered in France when the advent of the Calvinistic Reformation was followed closely by religious persecution and by the Wars of Religion (1562–98). These conflicts, which tore the country asunder, were in fact political and civil as well as religious wars, marked by great excesses of fanaticism and cruelty. At once deeply critical of his time and deeply involved in its preoccupations and its struggles, Montaigne chose to write about himself—“I am myself the matter of my book,” he says in his opening address to the reader—in order to arrive at certain possible truths concerning man and the human condition, in a period of ideological strife and division when all possibility of truth seemed illusory and treacherous.

Life
Born in the family domain of Château de Montaigne in southwestern France, Michel Eyquem spent most of his life at his château and in the city of Bordeaux, 30 miles to the west. The family fortune had been founded in commerce by Montaigne’s great-grandfather, who acquired the estate and the title of nobility. His grandfather and his father expanded their activities to the realm of public service and established the family in the noblesse de robe, the administrative nobility of France. Montaigne’s father, Pierre Eyquem, served as mayor of Bordeaux.

As a young child Montaigne was tutored at home according to his father’s ideas of pedagogy, which included the creation of a cosseted ambience of gentle encouragement and the exclusive use of Latin, still the international language of educated people. As a result the boy did not learn French until he was six years old. He continued his education at the College of Guyenne, where he found the strict discipline abhorrent and the instruction only moderately interesting, and eventually at the University of Toulouse, where he studied law. Following in the public-service tradition begun by his grandfather, he entered into the magistrature, becoming a member of the Board of Excise, the new tax court of Périgueux, and, when that body was dissolved in 1557, of the Parliament of Bordeaux, one of the eight regional parliaments that constituted the French Parliament, the highest national court of justice. There, at the age of 24, he made the acquaintance of Étienne de la Boétie, a meeting that was one of the most significant events in Montaigne’s life. Between the slightly older La Boétie (1530–63), an already distinguished civil servant, humanist scholar, and writer, and Montaigne an extraordinary friendship sprang up, based on a profound intellectual and emotional closeness and reciprocity. In his essay On Friendship Montaigne wrote in a very touching manner about his bond with La Boétie, which he called perfect and indivisible, vastly superior to all other human alliances. When La Boétie died of dysentery, he left a void in Montaigne’s life that no other being was ever able to fill, and it is likely that Montaigne started on his writing career, six years after La Boétie’s death, in order to fill the emptiness left by the loss of the irretrievable friend.

In 1565 Montaigne was married, acting less out of love than out of a sense of familial and social duty, to Françoise de la Chassaigne, the daughter of one of his colleagues at the Parliament of Bordeaux. He fathered six daughters, five of whom died in infancy, whereas the sixth, Léonore, survived him.

In 1569 Montaigne published his first book, a French translation of the 15th-century Natural Theology by the Spanish monk Raymond Sebond. He had undertaken the task at the request of his father, who, however, died in 1568, before its publication, leaving to his oldest son the title and the domain of Montaigne.

In 1570 Montaigne sold his seat in the Bordeaux Parliament, signifying his departure from public life. After taking care of the posthumous publication of La Boétie’s works, together with his own dedicatory letters, he retired in 1571 to the castle of Montaigne in order to devote his time to reading, meditating, and writing. His library, installed in the castle’s tower, became his refuge. It was in this round room, lined with a thousand books and decorated with Greek and Latin inscriptions, that Montaigne set out to put on paper his essais, that is, the probings and testings of his mind. He spent the years from 1571 to 1580 composing the first two books of the Essays, which comprise respectively 57 and 37 chapters of greatly varying lengths; they were published in Bordeaux in 1580.

Although most of these years were dedicated to writing, Montaigne had to supervise the running of his estate as well, and he was obliged to leave his retreat from time to time, not only to travel to the court in Paris but also to intervene as mediator in several episodes of the religious conflicts in his region and beyond. Both the Roman Catholic king Henry III and the Protestant king Henry of Navarre—who as Henry IV would become king of France and convert to Roman Catholicism—honoured and respected Montaigne, but extremists on both sides criticized and harassed him.

After the 1580 publication, eager for new experiences and profoundly disgusted by the state of affairs in France, Montaigne set out to travel, and in the course of 15 months he visited areas of France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. Curious by nature, interested in the smallest details of dailiness, geography, and regional idiosyncrasies, Montaigne was a born traveler. He kept a record of his trip, his Journal de voyage (not intended for publication and not published until 1774), which is rich in picturesque episodes, encounters, evocations, and descriptions.

While still in Italy, in the fall of 1581, Montaigne received the news that he had been elected to the office his father had held, that of mayor of Bordeaux. Reluctant to accept, because of the dismal political situation in France and because of ill health (he suffered from kidney stones, which had also plagued him on his trip), he nevertheless assumed the position at the request of Henry III and held it for two terms, until July 1585. While the beginning of his tenure was relatively tranquil, his second term was marked by an acceleration of hostilities between the warring factions, and Montaigne played a crucial role in preserving the equilibrium between the Catholic majority and the important Protestant League representation in Bordeaux. Toward the end of his term the plague broke out in Bordeaux, soon raging out of control and killing one-third of the population.

Montaigne resumed his literary work by embarking on the third book of the Essays. After having been interrupted again, by a renewed outbreak of the plague in the area that forced Montaigne and his family to seek refuge elsewhere, by military activity close to his estate, and by diplomatic duties, when Catherine de Médicis appealed to his abilities as a negotiator to mediate between herself and Henry of Navarre—a mission that turned out to be unsuccessful—Montaigne was able to finish the work in 1587.

The year 1588 was marked by both political and literary events. During a trip to Paris Montaigne was twice arrested and briefly imprisoned by members of the Protestant League because of his loyalty to Henry III. During the same trip he supervised the publication of the fifth edition of the Essays, the first to contain the 13 chapters of Book III, as well as Books I and II, enriched with many additions. He also met Marie de Gournay, an ardent and devoted young admirer of his writings. De Gournay, a writer herself, is mentioned in the Essays as Montaigne’s “covenant daughter” and was to become his literary executrix. After the assassination of Henry III in 1589, Montaigne helped to keep Bordeaux loyal to Henry IV. He spent the last years of his life at his château, continuing to read and to reflect and to work on the Essays, adding new passages, which signify not so much profound changes in his ideas as further explorations of his thought and experience. Different illnesses beset him during this period, and he died after an attack of quinsy, an inflammation of the tonsils, which had deprived him of speech. His death occurred while he was hearing mass in his room.


The Essays
Montaigne saw his age as one of dissimulation, corruption, violence, and hypocrisy, and it is therefore not surprising that the point of departure of the Essays is situated in negativity: the negativity of Montaigne’s recognition of the rule of appearances and of the loss of connection with the truth of being. Montaigne’s much-discussed skepticism results from that initial negativity, as he questions the possibility of all knowing and sees the human being as a creature of weakness and failure, of inconstancy and uncertainty, of incapacity and fragmentation, or, as he wrote in the first of the essays, as “a marvelously vain, diverse, and undulating thing.” His skepticism is reflected in the French title of his work, Essais, or “Attempts,” which implies not a transmission of proven knowledge or of confident opinion but a project of trial and error, of tentative exploration. Neither a reference to an established genre (for Montaigne’s book inaugurated the term essay for the short prose composition treating a given subject in a rather informal and personal manner) nor an indication of a necessary internal unity and structure within the work, the title indicates an intellectual attitude of questioning and of continuous assessment.

Montaigne’s skepticism does not, however, preclude a belief in the existence of truth but rather constitutes a defense against the danger of locating truth in false, unexamined, and externally imposed notions. His skepticism, combined with his desire for truth, drives him to the rejection of commonly accepted ideas and to a profound distrust of generalizations and abstractions; it also shows him the way to an exploration of the only realm that promises certainty: that of concrete phenomena and primarily the basic phenomenon of his own body-and-mind self. This self, with all its imperfections, constitutes the only possible site where the search for truth can start, and it is the reason Montaigne, from the beginning to the end of the Essays, does not cease to affirm that “I am myself the matter of my book.” He finds that his identity, his “master form” as he calls it, cannot be defined in simple terms of a constant and stable self, since it is instead a changeable and fragmented thing, and that the valorization and acceptance of these traits is the only guarantee of authenticity and integrity, the only way of remaining faithful to the truth of one’s being and one’s nature rather than to alien semblances.

Yet, despite his insistence that the self guard its freedom toward outside influences and the tyranny of imposed customs and opinions, Montaigne believes in the value of reaching outside the self. Indeed, throughout his writings, as he did in his private and public life, he manifests the need to entertain ties with the world of other people and of events. For this necessary coming and going between the interiority of the self and the exteriority of the world, Montaigne uses the image of the back room: human beings have their front room, facing the street, where they meet and interact with others, but they need always to be able to retreat into the back room of the most private self, where they may reaffirm the freedom and strength of intimate identity and reflect upon the vagaries of experience. Given that always-available retreat, Montaigne encourages contact with others, from which one may learn much that is useful. In order to do so, he advocates travel, reading, especially of history books, and conversations with friends. These friends, for Montaigne, are necessarily men. While none can ever replace La Boétie, it is possible to have interesting and worthwhile exchanges with men of discernment and wit. As for his relations with women, Montaigne wrote about them with a frankness unusual for his time. The only uncomplicated bond is that of marriage, which reposes, for Montaigne, on reasons of family and posterity and in which one invests little of oneself. Love, on the other hand, with its emotional and erotic demands, comports the risk of enslavement and loss of freedom. Montaigne, often designated as a misogynist, does in fact recognize that men and women are fundamentally alike in their fears, desires, and attempts to find and affirm their own identity and that only custom and adherence to an antiquated status quo establish the apparent differences between the sexes, but he does not explore the possibility of overcoming that fundamental separation and of establishing an intellectual equality.

Montaigne extends his curiosity about others to the inhabitants of the New World, with whom he had become acquainted through his lively interest in oral and written travel accounts and through his meeting in 1562 with three Brazilian Indians whom the explorer Nicolas Durand de Villegagnon had brought back to France. Giving an example of cultural relativism and tolerance, rare in his time, he finds these people, in their fidelity to their own nature and in their cultural and personal dignity and sense of beauty, greatly superior to the inhabitants of western Europe, who in the conquests of the New World and in their own internal wars have shown themselves to be the true barbarians. The suffering and humiliation imposed on the New World’s natives by their conquerors provoke his indignation and compassion.

Involvement in public service is also a part of interaction with the world, and it should be seen as a duty to be honourably and loyally discharged but never allowed to become a consuming and autonomy-destroying occupation.

Montaigne applies and illustrates his ideas concerning the independence and freedom of the self and the importance of social and intellectual intercourse in all his writings and in particular in his essay on the education of children. There, as elsewhere, he advocates the value of concrete experience over abstract learning and of independent judgment over an accumulation of undigested notions uncritically accepted from others. He also stresses, throughout his work, the role of the body, as in his candid descriptions of his own bodily functions and in his extensive musings on the realities of illness, of aging, and of death. The presence of death pervades the Essays, as Montaigne wants to familiarize himself with the inevitability of dying and so to rid himself of the tyranny of fear, and he is able to accept death as part of nature’s exigencies, inherent in life’s expectations and limitations.

Montaigne seems to have been a loyal if not fervent Roman Catholic all his life, but he distrusted all human pretenses to knowledge of a spiritual experience which is not attached to a concretely lived reality. He declined to speculate on a transcendence that falls beyond human ken, believing in God but refusing to invoke him in necessarily presumptuous and reductive ways.

Although Montaigne certainly knew the classical philosophers, his ideas spring less out of their teaching than out of the completely original meditation on himself, which he extends to a description of the human being and to an ethics of authenticity, self-acceptance, and tolerance. The Essays are the record of his thoughts, presented not in artificially organized stages but as they occurred and reoccurred to him in different shapes throughout his thinking and writing activity. They are not the record of an intellectual evolution but of a continuous accretion, and he insists on the immediacy and the authenticity of their testimony. To denote their consubstantiality with his natural self, he describes them as his children, and, in an image of startling and completely nonpejorative earthiness, as the excrements of his mind. As he refuses to impose a false unity on the spontaneous workings of his thought, so he refuses to impose a false structure on his Essays. “As my mind roams, so does my style,” he wrote, and the multiple digressions, the wandering developments, the savory, concrete vocabulary, all denote that fidelity to the freshness and the immediacy of the living thought. Throughout the text he sprinkles anecdotes taken from ancient as well as contemporary authors and from popular lore, which reinforce his critical analysis of reality; he also peppers his writing with quotes, yet another way of interacting with others, that is, with the authors of the past who surround him in his library. Neither anecdotes nor quotes impinge upon the autonomy of his own ideas, although they may spark or reinforce a train of thought, and they become an integral part of the book’s fabric.

Montaigne’s Essays thus incorporate a profound skepticism concerning the human being’s dangerously inflated claims to knowledge and certainty but also assert that there is no greater achievement than the ability to accept one’s being without either contempt or illusion, in the full realization of its limitations and its richness.


Readership
Throughout the ages the Essays have been widely and variously read, and their readers have tended to look to them, and into them, for answers to their own needs. Not all his contemporaries manifested the enthusiasm of Marie de Gournay, who fainted from excitement at her first reading. She did recognize in the book the full force of an unusual mind revealing itself, but most of the intellectuals of the period preferred to find in Montaigne a safe reincarnation of stoicism. Here started a misunderstanding that was to last a long time, save in the case of the exceptional reader. The Essays were to be perused as an anthology of philosophical maxims, a repository of consecrated wisdom, rather than as the complete expression of a highly individual thought and experience. That Montaigne could write about his most intimate reactions and feelings, that he could describe his own physical appearance and preferences, for instance, seemed shocking and irrelevant to many, just as the apparent confusion of his writing seemed a weakness to be deplored rather than a guarantee of authenticity.

In the 17th century, when an educated nobility set the tone, he was chiefly admired for his portrayal of the honnête homme, the well-educated, nonpedantic man of manners, as much at home in a salon as in his study, a gentleman of smiling wisdom and elegant, discreet disenchantment. In the same period, however, religious authors such as Francis of Sales and Blaise Pascal deplored his skepticism as anti-Christian and denounced what they interpreted as an immoral self-absorption. In the pre-Revolutionary 18th century the image of a dogmatically irreligious Montaigne continued to be dominant, and Voltaire and Denis Diderot saw in him a precursor of the free thought of the Enlightenment. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau, however, the encounter with the Essays was differently and fundamentally important, as he rightly considered Montaigne the master and the model of the self-portrait. Rousseau inaugurated the perception of the book as the entirely personal project of a human being in search of his identity and unafraid to talk without dissimulation about his profound nature. In the 19th century some of the old misunderstandings continued, but there was a growing understanding and appreciation of Montaigne not only as a master of ideas but also as the writer of the particular, the individual, the intimate—the writer as friend and familiar. Gustave Flaubert kept the Essays on his bedside table and recognized in Montaigne an alter ego, as would, in the 20th century, authors such as André Gide, Michel Butor, and Roland Barthes.

The Essays were first translated into English by John Florio in 1603, and Anglophone readers have included Francis Bacon, John Webster, William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley.

Today Montaigne continues to be studied in all aspects of his text by great numbers of scholars and to be read by people from all corners of the earth. In an age that may seem as violent and absurd as his own, his refusal of intolerance and fanaticism and his lucid awareness of the human potential for destruction, coupled with his belief in the human capacity for self-assessment, honesty, and compassion, appeal as convincingly as ever to the many who find in him a guide and a friend.

Tilde A. Sankovitch

 





 
 



Pierre Gassendi
French mathematician, philosopher, and scientist
Gassendi also spelled Gassend
born Jan. 22, 1592, Champtercier, Provence, France
died Oct. 24, 1655, Paris

Main
French philosopher, scientist, and mathematician, who revived Epicureanism as a substitute for Aristotelianism, attempting in the process to reconcile mechanistic atomism with the Christian belief in an infinite God.

Early life and career
Born into a family of commoners, Gassendi received his early education at Digne and Reiz. He studied at universities in Digne and Aix-en-Provence and received a doctorate in theology at the university in Avignon in 1614. After being ordained a priest in 1616 he was appointed professor of philosophy at Aix-en-Provence. There he delivered critical lectures on the thought of Aristotle from 1617 to 1622, when the new Jesuit authorities of the university, who disapproved of Gassendi’s anti-Aristotelianism, compelled him to leave. Gassendi’s work Exercitationes paradoxicae adversus Aristoteleos (“Paradoxical Exercises Against the Aristotelians”), the first part of which was published in 1624, contains an attack on Aristotelianism and an early version of his mitigated skepticism. Gassendi thereafter engaged in many scientific studies with his patron, Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc, until the latter’s death in 1637. A considerable portion of his researches during this period involved astronomical observations, including his discovery in 1631 of the perihelion of Mercury (the point of the planet’s closest approach to the Sun).


Skepticism and atomism
In 1641 the theologian and mathematician Marin Mersenne invited Gassendi and several other eminent thinkers to contribute comments on the manuscript of René Descartes’s Meditations (1641); Gassendi’s comments, in which he argued that Descartes had failed to establish the reality and certainty of innate ideas, were published in the second edition of the Meditations (1642) as the fifth set of objections and replies. Gassendi enlarged upon these criticisms in his Disquisitio metaphysica, seu duitationes et instantiae adversus Renati Cartesii metaphysicam et responsa (1644; “Metaphysical Disquisition; or, Doubts and Instances Against the Metaphysics of René Descartes and Responses”).

In 1645 Gassendi was appointed professor of mathematics at the Collège Royal in Paris. During the remainder of the decade he published a work on the new astronomy, Institutio astronomica juxta hypotheseis tam veteram quam Copernici et Tychonis Brahei (1647; “Astronomical Instruction According to the Ancient Hypotheses as Well as Those of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe”), as well as two of his three major works on Epicurean philosophy, De vita et moribus Epicuri (1647; “On the Life and Death of Epicurus”) and Animadversiones in decimum librum Diogenis Laertii, qui est de vita, moribus, placitisque Epicuri (1649; “Observations on Book X of Diogenes Laërtius, Which Is About the Life, Morals, and Opinions of Epicurus”).

In his final Epicurean work, Syntagma philosophicum (“Philosophical Treatise”), published posthumously in 1658, Gassendi attempted to find what he called a middle way between skepticism and dogmatism. He argued that, while metaphysical knowledge of the “essences” (inner natures) of things is impossible, by relying on induction and the information provided by “appearances” one can acquire probable knowledge of the natural world that is sufficient to explain and predict experience. Adopting a view characteristic of ancient Skepticism, Gassendi held that experienced events can be taken as signs of what is beyond experience. Smoke suggests fire, sweat suggests that there are pores in the skin, and the multitude of events suggests that there is an atomic world underlying them. The best theory of such a world, in Gassendi’s opinion, is the ancient atomism expounded by Epicurus (341–270 bce), according to which atoms are eternal, differently shaped, and moving at different speeds. Gassendi argued that such atoms must have some of the physical features of the visible objects they constitute, such as extension, size, shape, weight, and solidity. The atoms collide and agglomerate, resulting in events in the perceptible world. A mechanical model of atomic movement and agglomeration, ultimately based on experience, would allow one to discover probabilistic empirical laws, to make predictions, and to explain relationships between different kinds of phenomena. Because the phenomenal world is thus related to the atomic world, there is no need to explain events in terms of purposes, goals, or final causes, as in Scholastic and Aristotelian teleology.

Gassendi believed that there was no conflict between his mechanistic atomism and the doctrines of Roman Catholicism; indeed, he took pains to emphasize their compatibility. Although he was a heliocentrist, he presented his astronomical views in a way that made them at least superficially consistent with the teachings of the church, which had condemned Galileo for his heliocentrism in 1633.

Although Gassendi’s atomism was as complete an account of nature as any other scientific theory of its time, it was eventually replaced by the physics of Sir Isaac Newton. No important discoveries are attributed to Gassendi’s scientific program.


Religious and moral views
Gassendi rejected the Epicurean account of the human soul, according to which it is material but composed of lighter and more subtle atoms than those of other things. Souls are genuinely immaterial, and their existence is known through faith. Likewise, his theology, unlike Epicurus’s, did not conceive of God as a material body. God’s existence is proved by the harmony evident in nature. Following Epicurus, Gassendi held that the proper goal of human life is happiness, which consists in the peace of the soul and the absence of bodily pain.

It has long been debated whether Gassendi was really a secret libertine—a freethinker in matters of religion and morals. Although he was a close associate of some notorious religious skeptics and even took part in their retreats, he was also good friends with some leading church figures, such as the theologian and mathematician Marin Mersenne. Indeed, Gassendi and Mersenne had quite similar views about science and its foundations. Gassendi’s associations with a wide range of other intellectual figures, including Thomas Hobbes and Blaise Pascal, lend themselves to varied interpretations.


Influence and assessment
In 1648 Gassendi resigned his post at the Collège Royal because of poor health. After nearly five years in Provence he returned to Paris in 1653, taking up residence in the house of his new patron, Henri-Louis Habert, lord of Montmor. He died there two years later.

Gassendi’s ideas were extremely influential in the 17th century. Although his works were originally published as huge Latin tomes, a French abridgement of them appeared in the second half of the century, as did English translations of various excerpts. His ideas were taught in Jesuit schools in France, in English universities, and even in newly founded schools in North America. Because Gassendi’s epistemological views seem to be echoed in major sections of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), one of the founding works of British empiricism, some scholars have concluded that Locke was directly influenced by Gassendi. It is interesting to note in this connection that the Syntagma was published in English in Thomas Stanley’s History of Philosophy (1655–62), a work that Locke knew. Locke also met some of Gassendi’s disciples during his exile in France.

At the turn of the 21st century there was growing interest in Gassendi’s critique of Cartesianism, and his scientific researches were shedding new light on the early development of botany, geology, and other fields. He is now regarded as an original thinker of the first rank.

 





 
 



Benedict de Spinoza
Dutch-Jewish philosopher
Hebrew forename Baruch, Latin forename Bendictus, Portuguese Bento De Espinosa
(English: )
born Nov. 24, 1632, Amsterdam
died Feb. 21, 1677, The Hague

Main
Dutch-Jewish philosopher, the foremost exponent of 17th-century Rationalism.

Early life and career.
Spinoza’s grandfather and father were Portuguese and had been crypto-Jews after the Spanish Inquisition had compelled them to embrace Christianity. Later, after Holland’s successful revolt against Spain and the granting of religious freedom, they found refuge in Amsterdam. His mother, who also came from Portugal, died when Benedict was barely six years old. The Spinozas were prosperous merchants and respected members of the Jewish community, and it may be assumed that Spinoza attended the school for Jewish boys founded in Amsterdam in about 1638. Outside school hours the boys had private lessons in secular subjects. Spinoza was taught Latin by a German scholar, who may also have taught him German; and he knew to some extent all of the other significant continental languages. In March 1654 Benedict’s father died. There was some litigation over the estate, with Benedict’s only surviving stepsister claiming it all. Benedict won the lawsuit but allowed her to retain nearly everything.

His studies so far had been mainly Jewish, but he was an independent thinker and had found more than enough in his Jewish studies to wean him from orthodox doctrines and interpretations of Scripture; moreover, the tendency to revolt against tradition and authority was much in the air in the 17th century. But the Jewish religious leaders in Amsterdam were fearful that heresies (which were no less anti-Christian than anti-Jewish) might give offense in a country that did not yet regard the Jews as citizens. Spinoza soon incurred the disapproval of the synagogue authorities. In conversations with other students, he had held that there is nothing in the Bible to support the views that God had no body, that angels really exist, or that the soul is immortal; and he had also expressed his belief that the author of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) was no wiser in physics or even in theology than were they, the students. The Jewish authorities, after trying vainly to silence Spinoza with bribes and threats, excommunicated him in July 1656, and he was banished from Amsterdam for a short period by the civil authorities. There is no evidence that he had really wanted to break away from the Jewish community, and indeed the scanty knowledge available would suggest the opposite. On Dec. 5, 1655, for example, he had attended the synagogue and made an offering that, in view of his poverty, must have been a rare event for him, and, about the time of his excommunication, he had addressed a defense of his views to the synagogue.

Among Spinoza’s Christian acquaintances was Franciscus van den Enden, who was a former Jesuit, an ardent classical scholar, and something of a poet and dramatist and who had opened a school in Amsterdam. For a time, Spinoza stayed with him, helping with the teaching of the schoolchildren and receiving aid in his own further education. In this way he improved his knowledge of Latin, learned some Greek, and was introduced to Neoscholastic philosophy. It may have also been through van den Enden’s school that Spinoza became acquainted with the “new philosophy” of René Descartes, later acknowledged to be the father of modern philosophy. Spinoza’s other Christian acquaintances were mostly of the Collegiants, a brotherhood that later merged with the Mennonites; they were especially interested in Cartesianism, the dualistic philosophy of Descartes and his followers.

At the same time, he was becoming expert at making lenses, supporting himself partly by grinding and polishing lenses for spectacles, telescopes, and microscopes; he also did tutoring. A kind of reading and discussion circle for the study of religious and philosophical problems came into being under the guidance of Spinoza. In order to collect his thoughts, however, and reduce them to a system, he withdrew in 1660 to Rijnsburg, a quiet village on the Rhine, near Leiden. Rijnsburg was the headquarters of the Collegiants, and Spinoza’s lodgings there were with a surgeon named Hermann Homan. In Homan’s cottage Spinoza wrote Korte Verhandeling van God, de Mensch en deszelfs Welstand (written c. 1662; Spinoza’s Short Treatise on God, Man, and His Well-Being, 1910) and Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (“Treatise on the Correction of the Understanding”), both of which were ready by April 1662. He also completed the greater part of his geometrical version of Descartes’s Principia Philosophiae and the first book of his Ethica. Spinoza’s attitude in these works already showed a departure from Cartesianism. It was also during this stay that he met Heinrich Oldenburg, soon to become one of the two first secretaries of the Royal Society in London.


Influence of Descartes and the geometrical method.
His version of Descartes’s Principia was prepared while Spinoza was giving instruction in the philosophy of Descartes to a private pupil. It was published by his Cartesian friends under the title Renati des Cartes Principiorum Philosophiae Pars I et II, More Geometrico Demonstratae, per Benedictum de Spinoza (1663), with an introduction explaining that Spinoza did not share the views expressed in the book. This was the only book published in Spinoza’s lifetime with his name on the title page.

The philosophy of Spinoza may thus be regarded as a development from and a reaction to that of his contemporary Descartes (1596–1650). Though it has been argued that Spinoza was also much influenced by medieval philosophy (especially Jewish), he seems to have been much more conscious of the Cartesian influence, and his most striking doctrines are most easily understood as solutions of Cartesian difficulties. Clearly, he had studied Descartes in detail. He accepted Descartes’s physics in general, though he did express some dissatisfaction with it toward the end of his life. As for the Cartesian metaphysics, he found three unsatisfactory features: the transcendence of God, the substantial dualism of mind and body, and the ascription of free will both to God and to human beings. In Spinoza’s eyes, those doctrines made the world unintelligible. It was impossible to explain the relation between God and the world or between mind and body or to account for events occasioned by free will.

The publication of Spinoza’s version of Descartes’s Principia had been intended to prepare the way for that of his own philosophy, for he had both to secure the patronage of influential men and to show the more philosophically minded that his rejection of Cartesianism was not out of ignorance.

Spinoza became dissatisfied with the informal method of exposition that he had adopted in the Korte Verhandeling and the De Intellectus Emendatione and turned instead to the geometrical method in the manner of Euclid’s Elements. He assumed without question that it is possible to construct a system of metaphysics that will render it completely intelligible. It is therefore possible, in his view, to present metaphysics deductively—that is, as a series of theorems derived by necessary steps from self-evident premises expressed in terms that are either self-explanatory or defined with unquestionable correctness. His masterpiece, the Ethica, was set out in this manner—Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata, according to the reading of its subtitle. Its first part, “De Deo” (“Concerning God”), was finished and in the hands of his friends early in 1663. Initially the work was intended to have three parts only, but it eventually appeared (in 1677) in five parts. Spinoza’s desire for an impersonal presentation was probably his chief motive for adopting the geometrical method, appreciating that the method guarantees true conclusions only if the axioms are true and the definitions correct. Spinoza, like his contemporaries, held that definitions are not arbitrary but that there is a sense in which they may be correct or incorrect.

The question was discussed at length in his unfinished Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione. A sound definition, he held, should make clear the possibility or the necessity of the existence of the object defined. Because the Ethica begins with the definition of “substance,” the necessary existent, the entire system is vulnerable to anyone disputing that definition, however cogent the subsequent reasoning may be. In fact, as Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a Rationalist philosopher and mathematician, pointed out, though the system is closely knit, its demonstrations do not proceed with mathematical rigour.

Period of the “Ethica.” In June 1663 Spinoza moved to Voorburg, near The Hague, and it appears that by June 1665 he was nearing the completion of the three-part version of the Ethica. During the next few years, however, he was at work on his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which was published anonymously at Amsterdam in 1670. This work aroused great interest and was to go through five editions in as many years. It was intended “to show that not only is liberty to philosophize compatible with devout piety and with the peace of the state, but that to take away such liberty is to destroy the public peace and even piety itself.” As this work shows, Spinoza was far ahead of his time in advocating the application of the historical method to the interpretation of the biblical sources. He argued that the inspiration of the prophets of the Old Testament extended only to their moral and practical doctrines and that their factual beliefs were merely those appropriate to their time and are not philosophically significant. Complete freedom of scientific and metaphysical speculation is therefore consistent with all that is important in the Bible. Miracles are explained as natural events misinterpreted and stressed for their moral effect.

In May 1670 Spinoza moved to The Hague, where he remained until his death. He began to compose a Hebrew grammar, Compendium Grammatices Linguae Hebraeae, but did not finish it; instead, he returned to the Ethica, although the prospect of its publication became increasingly remote. There were many denunciations of his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus as an instrument “forged in hell by a renegade Jew and the devil.” When the Ethica was completed in 1675, Spinoza had to abandon the idea of publishing it, though manuscript copies were circulated among his close friends.


Last years and posthumous influence.
Spinoza concentrated his attention on political problems and began his Tractatus Politicus, which he did not live to finish. During the post-Ethica period, he was visited by several important people, among them Ehrenfried Walter von Tschirnhaus (in 1675), a scientist and philosopher, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (in 1676), like Spinoza, one of the foremost Rationalists of the time. Leibniz, having heard of Spinoza as an authority on optics, had sent him an optical tract and had then received from Spinoza a copy of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, which deeply interested him. According to Leibniz’ own account, he “conversed with him often and at great length.” Spinoza, however, was now in an advanced stage of consumption, aggravated by the inhaling of glass dust from the polishing of lenses in his shop. He died in 1677, leaving no heir, and his few possessions were sold by auction. These included about 160 books, the catalog of which has been preserved.

In accordance with Spinoza’s previous instructions, several of his friends prepared his manuscripts secretly for the press, and they were sent to a publisher in Amsterdam. The Opera Posthuma (Dutch version: Nagelate Schriften), published before the end of 1677, was composed of the Ethica, Tractatus Politicus, and Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione, as well as letters and the Hebrew grammar. His Stelkonstige reeckening van den regenboog (“On the Rainbow”) and his Reeckening van kanssen (“On the Calculation of Chances”) were printed together in 1687. The Korte Verhandeling was lost to the world until E. Boehmer’s publication of it in 1852.

Spinoza has an assured place in the intellectual history of the Western world, though his direct influence on technical philosophy has not been great. Throughout the 18th century he was almost universally decried as an atheist—or sometimes used as a cover for the detailing of atheist ideas. The tone had been set by Pierre Bayle, a Skeptical philosopher and encyclopaedist, in whose Dictionnaire historique et critique Spinozism was described as “the most monstrous hypothesis imaginable, the most absurd”; and even David Hume, a Scottish Skeptic and historian, felt obliged to speak of the “hideous hypothesis” of Spinoza.

Spinoza was rendered intellectually respectable by the efforts of literary critics, especially of the Germans G.E. Lessing and J.W. von Goethe and the English poet S.T. Coleridge, who admired the man and found austere excitement in his works, in which they saw an intensely religious attitude entirely divorced from dogma. Spinoza has also been much studied by professional philosophers since the beginning of the 19th century. Both absolute Idealists and Marxists have read their own doctrines into his work, and Empiricists, while rejecting his metaphysical approach, have developed certain detailed suggestions from his theory of knowledge and psychology.

 

 

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