Pierre Gassendi: From Aristotelianism to a New Natural Philosophy

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Gregory described Gassendi's philosophy as a humanist re-discovery of an ancient philosophical tradition that is not to be reduced to a simple continuatioJ,l of scholastic Aristotelianism. Gassendi made experience the way to knowledge and progress in knowledge. He rejected the metaphysical pretentions of rationalism in favour of a more limited but more 'useful' and more 'human' way of philosophising: the phenomenological description of 'what is', together with a recognition of the provisional nature of the solutions arrived at by human reasoning.

In the light of these "fundamental structures" of Gassendi's philosophy - empiricism and scepticism or the hypothetical philosophy - Gregory examined the reasons for Gassendi's opposition to the Aristotelians, to Robert Fludd's neo-Platonist and magical philosophy of nature, Herbert of Cherbury's neo-Platonism, and to the metaphysics of Descartes.

In all cases, Gregory maintained, the reason was essentially the same: Gassendi worked to achieve the separation of "physics" and religious metaphysics. He considered that science and faith were concerned with two distinct kinds of truth, one human and hypothetical, the other divine and absolute, and that confusion could be avoided only by the clear separation of the two. Matters of faith were not to be treated as matters of the natural world: they belonged to a different order of knowledge based on different principles and required a different methodology.

Thus Gregory saw Gassendi's philosophy as a break from the medieval, 'pyramid' concept of knowledge in which each science or branch of science was co-ordinated with every other and subordinated to higher sciences. At the apex of the pyramid was metaphysics, the "scientia scientiarum", the most noble science because the most distant from the world of becoming. In place of the 'pyramid' concept, Gassendi, according to Gregory, worked with a non-unitary, non-subordinationist concept which allowed autonomy to each sphere of knowledge and did not attribute a minority status to the empirical sciences.

Gregory considered that the aforesaid distinction of "orders" - of nature and supernature, reason and faith, free philosophical research and unconditional allegiance to religious authority - was the most significant aspect of Gassendi's philosophy.

Natural Philosophy in the Renaissance (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Gregory wrote: Anyone who wants to place these solutions in opposition, as though each must necessarily exclude the other, forgets one of the principal characteristics of the author and of the period: the awareness of the limits of all human knowledge, and hence the possibility of the co-existence of diverse solutions.

Consequently, in the opinion of Gregory, one can glimpse already in Gassendi's work in the first half of the seventeenth century the coming crisis of the European mind. I believe that Gregory's interpretation might be found useful as a description of the relationships of Gassendi's work to medieval scholasticism and later modern philosophy.

Gassendi might be suitably described, following Gregory, as an example of a post-scholastic and early modern philosopher. One might also agree with Gregory in his presentation to the extent of affirming that certain basic structures of Gassendi's philosophy and certain ends which Gassendi deliberately aimed to foster were related to the resurgence of empiricism and the emancipation of the lower-order disciplines on the medieval pyramid of knowledge. But I consider that Gregory's conclusions are too general in character.

He has located Gassendi as a philosopher within a generally accepted scheme of historical interpretation which embraces practically the whole of the second millennium of European intellectual history. While it might be found illuminating in some ways for him to have done this, I believe that Gregory's account of Gassendi's philosophy is markedly a prioristic, and that his account of Gassendi's aims and purposes is inadequate: for while Gassendi may be considered to have been influenced by the general philosophical trends that Gregory has described, his conscious goals were, I consider, more specific than those which Gregory has presented.

Like Gregory, he reacted to the presupposition that a complete and coherent philosophical system is to be discovered in Gassendi's writings. Bloch contended that Gassendi never constructed such a system. Indeed, he failed in his efforts to do so. Bloch made this failure the object of his study, which he described as "the anatomy of an abortive system". These, Bloch maintained, were Gassendi's theory that vision is the model of knowledge; his views concerning philosophical liberty and its limits which views Bloch described as "mitigated modern" ;71 his scepticism and agnosticism; and his nominalism.

Bloch concluded that although Gassendi managed to give an impression of unity in his philosophy, this impression was superficial and masked a diversity of mutually exclusive orientations which were all held together by the deeper current of nominalism that runs through all his writings. Next, Bloch turned to Gassendi's "scientific philosophy" and again discovered a diversity of orientations which Gassendi did not systematise.

There was an orientation towards materialism: Bloch explained that he meant by this that Gassendi presented a natural philosophy in which the basic explanatory principles were formulated solely in terms of matter, its properties, structures and processes. He developed a concept of space that was adapted to the mechanics of Galileo, and a materialist concept of dynamic matter that was suitable for the new physical science.

His biology also moved towards materialism, though definite elements of vitalism and animism were discernible. And his atomistic chemistry contained contradictory orientations towards materialism and hylozoism. Bloch maintained that Gassendi did not tidy up all these contradictions into a synthesis because he held back from following the direction that his philosophy was pointing. Gassendi chose, Bloch considered, not to develop his philosophy to its logical conclusion; consequently he presented an abortive system rather than a fully coherent synthesis.

Bloch explained that Gassendi strove throughout his work to maintain an accord between his scientifically inspired materialism and the demands of his Christian faith, and that the achievement of his goal took precedence for Gassendi over philosophical coherence. Bloch considered that there was a rupture between Gassendi the man with his sentiments and Gassendi the philosopher; or, if the word "rupture" is too strong, at least a wedge had been driven between the two.

Gassendi was consequently concerned to prevent the materialist themes of his scientific philosophy and epistemology from harming the faith. Throughout, he strove to make it possible for physical materialism to co-exist with religious metaphysics. According to Bloch's account, Gassendi's efforts were of two kinds. First, he was satisfied simply to juxtapose his philosophy of nature and the various orthodox affirmations that were intended to render this philosophy acceptable. Then, after , Gassendi attempted to integrate his materialist philosophy into an all-embracing religious and metaphysical world-view, with the intention of arresting the trend towards materialism in his own philosophy.

As Bloch wrote in an article which he published two years after the appearance of his major study, 73 he considered that an historical interpretation made by Karl Marx is verified in Gassendi's philosophy, viz. Bloch's analysis is illuminating in many different ways. It is the most thorough examination of Gassendi's writings that has yet been produced. However, I do not agree with his general interpretation of Gassendi's philosophy, and in the course of this study I explain why. Principally, I do not agree that Gassendi was concerned about an alleged drift towards materialism.

Consequently, while I find Bloch's study informative and valuable for many reasons, I believe that we must not be satisfied with his interpretation of Gassendi's work. Three further book-length studies have been published since that of Bloch.

The first, by Reiner Tack,74 is a comprehensive study of two hundred and forty three pages which deals with Gassendi's scepticism, the principles of his Epicurean physical theory and his application of these principles to Galilean mechanics, his doctrine of the soul and the mental faculties, and his Epicurean ethics.

The second work is that of Wolfgang Detel,75 who has compared the empiricism of Gassendi with that of Epicurus. Each of these works in its own way, helps to fill out the picture of Gassendi and his philosophical concerns, due allowance being made for the need to complement them with the findings of more recent scholarship. The third and the most recent study written by Howard Jones,76 is of greater interest. This is a full-length study of Gassendi's life and work, the sole such study in English apart from that of G. Brett Howard Jones is skilled in the art of criticism of seventeenth-century philosophical texts and brings his learning to bear upon Gassendi's philosophical corpus.

Jones introduces us to Gassendi's philosophy by way of a section of more general biography. The result is an informative and interesting exposition of Gassendi's philosophy from the original texts which will spare the non-specialist much heavy, plodding labour. But it will not adequately satisfy the historian of science who will be looking for a sharper focus on the central themes of Gassendi's life-work rather than a biographical and chronological account, and more critical assessment of accepted interpretations.

The most recent contributions of all to the literature on Gassendi have been articles which have appeared since In two articles,77 Louise Sarasohn has studied Gassendi's ethical and political theory. In her second article Sarasohn, she has explored the interaction between Gassehdi and Hobbes. She has claimed that the two philosophers stimulated each other in the development of their political and ethical theories: Hobbes adopted some themes from Gassendi's Epicureanism but developed them in overtly materialistic and deterministic ways; Gassendi was greatly disturbed and reacted by incorporating more theology into his physics and by developing further his doctrine on human liberty.

Margaret Osler has argued that Gassendi's voluntarist theology played a formative role on his empiricist approach to natural philosophy. It is important that he and his philosophy should be correctly understood. Yet I am convinced that we still have not adequately understood Gassendi or his life-work. It is true that the more immediately striking aspects have been presented at some length in the literature: that Gassendi was anti-Aristotelian and a sceptic, and that he laboured to restore Epicurean philosophy in the seventeenth century, these truisms constitute the mainstays of any interpretative reconstruction of his philosophy.

But what has not been clearly understood or agreed upon is the trajectory of Gassendi's life-work: what he did - opposed Aristotelianism, adopted a sceptical approach and promoted Epicureanism - in the light of what he aimed to do. Or, to make the same point in more technical language: the structure of Gassendi's philosophy has been identified, but we have not reached the same clarity about its function.

It will be my purpose, therefore, to explain what I consider to have been the function of Gassendi's philosophy. But we shall be exploring some less familiar tracks and by- ways as well; in particular we shall be examining the sources of Gassendi's scepticism, his Copernicanism, his ideological relationship with Marin Mersenne, and his wide-ranging hostility to occult philosophies, among other more incidental features of his work, and we will often be sifting through Gassendi's much-neglected early manuscripts. What comes into view when we begin looking in these directions will be found significant for an over-all understanding of our subject.

In brief, I am presenting a new interpretation of Pierre Gassendi's philosophical work with the aim of clarifying the goals and the tactics of this pioneer architect of a mechanistic system, thereby hoping to throw some further light on the origins of mechanicism in the seventeenth century. His complaints at that time concerned an alleged ethical inadequacy in Aristotelianism, for the Peripatetic philosophy, in his view, did not measure up to the Stoic philosophical ideal to which Cicero had alluded in his praise of philosophy: "Philosophy can never be praised as she merits; the man who obeys her precepts may live all the days of his life without trouble".

At the same time they would have fuelled his discontent with Aristotelianism. Gassendi would have us believe that his distaste for Aristotelianism was aroused in his own soul first, and that he found support for his feelings in the writings of the humanists subsequently. In any case, Gassendi acknowledged that his anti-Aristotelianism was greatly influenced by humanist authors, specifically by Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola evidently Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, the nephew.

These writers, Gassendi explained, helped him overcome his fear of opposing the Aristotelians: When I read Vives and my own Charron my spirits rose and all my fears left me. I saw that there was nothing wrong in suspecting that the Aristotelians were not always correct just because most people approved of them. But my boldness rose as I read Ramus especially, and also Mirandola.

I mention these authors because I have always made a point of naming those from whom I have drawn profit. The methods, in his view, were purely theatrical, the philosophy was empty, useless, unworthy of the title Aristotelian and of the name philosophy, while the teachers were credulous, arrogant, supercilious and presumptuous fools.

First, they neglected serious authors such as Plato, Cicero, Seneca, Pliny, Plutarch and others - authors who would be able to contribute much wisdom. Second, they deliberately neglected the mathematical disciplines, the part of philosophy which was not open to dispute: "It is through mathematics that we have knowledge, if we ever have it".

Thus, in physical philosophy they treated only the chimeras such as substantial forms, and neglected the subjects that might be treated in an historical manner. For example, they neglected the history of stones, metals, plants and animals, believing such things to be appropriate for lapidarians, goldsmiths, botanists and hunters, but not for philosophers,lO They also neglected the questions concerning the elements, their number and kinds, and concentrated on inept and frivolous combinations of qualities.

They indulged in idle discussions about heavenly bodies, and the solidity and reality of the heavenly spheres, without ever looking into the skies. Nothing of what they taught could be corroborated by observation and experiment. Gassendi wrote: In a word, they examine nothing in this world. When they enter their Schools they enter into another nature which has nothing in common with this nature outside.

As a consequence, the Aristotelians do not teach their students how to study nature. It is significant that Gassendi appears not to have made any real contact with Jesuit Aristotelians before their arrival at Aix to replace him and his colleagues in the year Had he been more familiar with the Jesuit model of education he might have realised that his criticisms were less than just when applied to the Jesuits; and it was the Jesuits who dominated Catholic education in Europe at that time. Likewise the need for training in mathematics was emphasised, and the adequacy of the teaching of the subject was assured through the efforts of Peter Clavius in creating a mathematical school within the Collegio Romano.

Most especially,. Gassendi's teaching incorporated discussions of developments in the field of astronomy, physiology and alchemy. We learn this fact from the preface to Book 1 of the Exercitationes in which Gassendi outlined the contents of all projected seven books of the work. As it turned out, only two of these books were completed; hence we have to rely on the summary in this preface for our information on. The whole work, as Gassendi stated in the same preface, was a publication of a newly edited version of part of his course of lectures on Aristotelian philosophy, the anti-Aristotelian part.

In Book 5 he would trace the paths of comets through the aethereal spaces and he would establish it as a fact that these paths are no less unbroken than the paths of the visible stars. Specifically, he would attack Aristotle's elements in respect of their number and the qualities produced by change and alteration; he would also attack the theory of transmutation of elements.

It seems that local scholars and teachers first aroused and channelled his enthusiasm in that direction. According to Gassendi's own testimony, his interest in astronomy was first awakened by Joseph Galtier, mathematician, astronomer, Doctor of Arts and Theology, Prior of la Valette and Vicar General of the diocese of Aix,22 while his interest in physiology was influenced by a surgeon at Aix, Jean Payan, whose dissections he had witnessed.

They helped him in his teaching of philosophy by encouraging him not to ignore the practical sciences. Yet it is noteworthy that Gassendi did not cite these local scholars among those whom he mentioned as. However, at the time of publication of the Exercitationes , Gassendi did not see their contribution to his anti- Aristotelian polemic as particularly noteworthy, and he more readily and spontaneously gave to the four humanist authors, Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola, the credit for lending him the needed strength to dare to oppose the Aristotelians.

It can be seen from the Exercitationes that Gassendi saw things in the way just outlined. The Exercitationes was intended to be a work that would present objections to the whole range of doctrines contained in the Aristotelian corpus - the logical writings, the De caelo and De generatione et corruptione, the Meteorologica, Historia animalium, De anima, Parva naturalia, Metaphysica and works on ethics as well as the Aristotelian writings on natural philosophy.

The summary of the projected work already referred to makes this fact clear. Consequently, when Gassendi accorded credit to the people who had assisted him in opposing the Aristotelians, he was thinking of the Aristotelians as those philosophers who were engaged in teaching the whole corpus of Aristotelian doctrine, and he considered those authors as his anti-Aristotelian allies who had shown him how to oppose the Aristotelians who were so engaged. It was a different kind of support from that which he received from his friends and mentors who had inducted him into the practical sciences, and whose support was of a comparatively peripheral kind, since it related only to his polemic against the Aristotelian writings on natural philosophy.

He wrote: After I had come to see how great a gulf there is between the human mind and Nature's genius, what else could I conclude than that the intimate causes of natural phenomena totally escape the power of human discernment? Therefore I became upset and ashamed at the foolishness and arrogance of the dogmatic philosophers who boast that they have attained a knowledge of nature and propound it with such rigour.

As he wrote a little later in the same preface, he believed the Aristotelians would have made much progress in the discovery of truth if they had not been so sure that they already possessed it. Thus Gassendi considered that a general attack needed to be mounted against Aristotelianism, one which would strike at the very foundations of their reputation for infallibility, and he decided to respond to that need in the Exercitationes.

He recorded: I considered that I should strive with might and main to blunt the spearhead of all this credulity [in favour of the Aristotelians] and try to do something at the same time to lessen the arrogant presumption of the Aristotelians themselves. Accordingly, he embarked upon the ambitious project of the Exercitationes, a point-by-point refutation of the whole corpus of Aristotelian doctrine, and he looked for support in his efforts to undermine the authority of the Aristotelians particularly in the works of the sixteenth- century humanists, Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola.

In his own statement already quoted 26 he attributed more significance to the influence of Charron - "my own Charron" - and Ramus - "Ramus especially" - than to the significance of Vives and Mirandola. Further, he linked the four names into two pairs, Vives and Charron, Ramus and Mirandola. Gassendi had reasons for the different emphases and for pairing the names in that manner. Renaissance admiration for the ancients had led Vives, Charron, and now Gassendi onto contentious ground as they advocated pagan morality in a Christian world. Vives and Charron had both extolled the virtue of the Stoic sage and linked it closely with Christian virtue.

Vives was somewhat ambiguous, or perhaps circumspect, but he did stress a similarity between the natural ethical way of life of the pagan sage and the ideal Christian way of life. He wrote, for instance: "In my estimation, no man has been a truer Christian than this [Stoic] sage". Charron responded to his critics in the preface to the second and subsequent editions of the Sagesse, and more at length in a new work especially written for the purpose which appeared posthumously under the title Traicte de sagesse Once again, Charron was acknowledged by Gassendi as the more important influence, in keeping with the fact that Charron's scepticism was more explicit and pronounced than that of Vives.

Scepticism was an essential feature of Stoic ethics, for it was the only way to attain isosthenia or the state of mental suspense36 which deepens into epoche or an habitual state of suspension of judgment,37 which is ultimately accompanied 1? He criticised the extreme sceptics, those who search for objections even when there are none, claiming that in undermining the false knowledge of the ignorant they also tear down the true knowledge of the learned and the experts. It was a means of "emptying" oneself - divesting oneself of all opinion, belief and affection, becoming dead to oneself and to the world so that God might come and dwell and act within one's soul.

Further, he claimed that the Sagesse was a manual that could be used as an instrument for the step-by-step conversion of the pagan Chinese, for instance, to wisdom and ultimately to the Christian faith. Furthermore, Charron claimed, in an obvious allusion to the theological controversies of the age, Pyrrhonists could never become heretics - Pyrrhonists and heretics were opposities. Out of a need to defend his doctrine in the Sagesse against the critics and the "esprits faibles" Charron was pushed into avenues of discussion which, possibly, he was not otherwise inclined to follow.

However, by emphasising emphatically the relationship between Stoic and Christian ethics, the Traicte de sagesse does bear witness to Charron's conviction of his own orthodoxy and shows clearly how he felt it should be defended. Gassendi took Charron's Sagesse as his philosophical and ethical vade mecum, most probably from his student days. For a young cleric such as Gassendi, who was training to become a Canon of the diocese of Digne, Pierre Charron was in many ways a natural model and highly recommendable author, all the more so since Charron had been theologal, or official teacher of theology of several dioceses in the south-west of France; also ecoldtre, or master of the Cathedral school and supervisor of all diocesan schools in the diocese of Bordeaux.

As well as that, Charron's works were enjoying enormous popularity: first published in , by the year the Sagesse had appeared in four editions and had been reprinted numerous times. Thus, when Gassendi was teaching in the school of Aix, a leading citizen of the town, Henri du Faur de Pibrac, recommended that he read Charron, and Gassendi responded with enthusiasm in a way that shows that he had already done so.

But Gassendi also paired Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola and Pierre de la Ramee, or Ramus, as another two authors whom he recognised as having fortified him in his revolt against Aristotelianism. Of the two he gave special emphasis to Ramus by the words "especially Ramus". In naming these sixteenth-century humanists, Gassendi acknowledged further sources for his Pyrrhonism, in this instance Pyrrhonism as a specifically anti-Aristotelian weapon.

Vives and Charron had used scepticism and pyrrhonism in a more general way against dogmatists and dogmatism and made only rare mention of Aristotelian dogmatism; Pico and Ramus, however, were more explicitly anti- Aristotelian sceptics. Hence the particular contributions made by both Pico and Ramus to Gassendi's philosophical development, though they were significant, were rather directly related to his anti-Aristotelian polemic, in contrast to the more generally humanist formative influences of Vives and Charron. Pico's sceptical contribution was especially limited.

What discord has arisen among the theologians comes entirely from the sources of the philosophers. Hence, Pico maintained, philosophy was the source of all heresy, and he set out to tear up every last root and branch of this vanity which was pullulating unchecked. In propounding this view Pico was expressing an attitude that was similar.

In fact, Gassendi's acknowledgment of the influence of Gianfrancesco Pico is a little surprising, since he was not nearly as popular an author as the other three. Schmitt has suggested. It would seem that it was through the influence of Ramus rather than Pico that Gassendi was first stimulated to deploy the weapons of scepticism against the Aristotelians. Although Ramus belonged to a later generation than Gianfrancesco Pico , it is Ramus who has been identified as an originator, along with his colleague Omer Talon , of the link between scepticism and anti-Aristotelianism.

His task, as he saw it, was one of purification and restoration of the true Aristotle, and of healing the wounds inflicted by the commentators on Aristotle's original work. He seemed to accept as an indisputable fact the philosophical supremacy of Aristotelianism in the statement: "the philosophy of Aristotle is practically the whole of philosophy and the only philosophy in the whole wide world". In their writings scepticism was used as a tool and a stick with which to attack the dogmatism of the Aristotelians.

However, since the time of Ramus and Talon an important development had occurred in Renaissance scepticism. The main source of information concerning ancient scepticism for Ramus and Talon had been Cicero's Academica. These translations were the work of Henri Estienne, a Parisian printer, and Gentian Hervet, a Catholic scholar who promoted Pyrrhonism as a "new machine of war" to be deployed against Calvinist rationalism.

They were as follows: Francesco Pico della Mirandola has given a fine example of how great a use can be made of the commentary of Sextus Empiricus for safeguarding the dogma of the Christian religion against the pagan philosophers. See his book in which he defends Christian philosophy against the dogmas of the pagans. Thus Gassendi accepted Pico's anti-Aristotelian techniques and arguments and left aside his destructive scepticism, while it was Ramus, it appears, who influenced him to be a sceptic in the first place. The net result of these influences can be gauged from Gassendi's preface to the Exercitationes where he explained his reasons for adopting Pyrrhonism.

The reasons, as Gassendi related them, were wholly anti-Aristotelian, largely pedagogical, and significantly, in relation to Gassendi's future philosophical development after the Exercitationes, only fleetingly if at all were his reasons linked to a personal philosophical commitment to Pyrrhonism.

Gassendi told his story in the Exercitationes as follows. For Aristotelianism did not teach one how to arrive at that Stoic tranquillity which Cicero proclaimed to be the fruit of good philosophy. At first Gassendi was afraid to oppose the Aristotelians, but he was heartened and strengthened by Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola. Then, Gassendi's narration continued, he began to explore other philosophical traditions to see whether any of them could offer something more satisfactory. One might safely presume that he explored these other philosophies with the help of Pi co's Examen vanitatis, especially as Gassendi went on to state that he encountered difficulties with all of them.

As a consequence, he came to the conclusion that the only thing for him to do was to accept the akataiepsia, or doubt, of the Academicians and Pyrrhonists. He was repelled by the levity and arrogance of the dogmatic philosophers who boasted that they had attained to true knowledge of natural things, and came to the conclusion that the Academicians and Pyrrhonists showed greater wisdom, for, in order to demonstrate the vanity and uncertainty of human knowledge, they equipped themselves to be able to argue both for and against, on any subject. Although Gassendi was a Pyrrhonist, with special emphasis on the application of Pyrrhonism to the philosophy of nature, according to his own account as I have summarised it in the preceding paragraph, he was still officially a teacher of Aristotelian philosophy.

Gassendi endeavoured to surmount the difficulties involved in such an anomalous position by training his students to defend Aristotle well in the main body of his course, while presenting them with arguments in the appendices that, he claimed, completely overturned the Aristotelian doctrines. In this way he aimed to train his students in Pyrrhonism by professing to show them that there was no proposition or opinion, be it ever so generally accepted or attractive in itself, that its opposite could not be shown to be equally probable or even more probable.

Gassendi claimed that his pedagogical method resembled the original method of Aristotle himself. He wrote: Aristotle did not train his young students to dispute theses in the dry way of the philosophers, but with all the fulness of the rhetoricians, arguing both for and against, so that they would be able to speak with more elegance and more articulately. Yet, contrary to what one might expect, the Exercitationes is not a rational Pyrrhonist series of objections to Aristotelian philosophy.

There is little evidence of isosthenia, or a state of mental suspense depending upon a balance between pro and contra. Nor is the balance between pro and contra significantly ameliorated even when one takes into account that the Exercitationes reproduced only one side of the argument, since Gassendi did not publish his pro-Aristotelian philosophy.

Gassendi frankly considered the Aristotelian texts to be "unworthy" works,61 meaning that the commentaries were unworthy of being called Aristotelian. Also in Book I, Exercitatio 7, Gassendi gave a long list of all the things he considered to be wrong with Aristotle's philosophy, while in the next exercitatio he gave a similarly long list of all the things which he found to be contradictory in it. But Gassendi himself implied in the preface that he was no longer, or not always, a Pyrrhonist.

Consequently it is not correct to use the term "Pyrrhonism" to describe his position, since Pyrrhonism, especially as portrayed in the writings of Sextus Empiricus,63 was a radical, consistent and comprehensive scepticism. Gassendi's position is better described as a specifically anti-Aristotelian scepticism. In this chapter, attention has been focussed on the story of Gassendi's withdrawal from Aristotelianism. But so far only part of the story has been told, for Gassendi also underwent a process of conversion to an alternative philosophy that corresponded to his movement away from Aristotelianism.

That alternative philosophy was Epicureanism, a form of which was soon to become his new natural philosophy. This side of the story - the adoption of Epicureanism by Gassendi - will be explored in Chapter 3. To conclude this chapter, however, a number of features of the story of Gassendi's withdrawal from Aristotelianism should be underscored, since they are important for a better understanding of his intellectual journey away from Aristotelianism. First, Gassendi's anti-Aristotelianism was clearly in harmony with a popular, perhaps one might say 'fashionable', movement in Provence in the first quarter of the seventeenth century.

His contribution to the reaction against Aristotelianism was very favourably accepted by the people who counted for most in the region of Aix. Local notables such as Peiresc, a councillor of the Parlement of Provence, Galtier, the second highest ecclesiastical dignitary of the diocese, and Pibrac, a King's councillor and member of a very prominent family, paid special attention to Gassendi's work. According to Gassendi "the most renowned assemblies of the whole of Provence" attended his public disputations against the Aristotelians.

In particular, by being well received by Galtier he was thereby well received by the Church establishment. In fact, by reason of his own position he was a part of that Church establishment himself. A similar picture of Gassendi as a popular and fashionable philosopher is obtained from a consideration of the list of intellectual influences that Gassendi recognised. Against such a background of cultural influences there seems to be a high degree of predictability about the philosophical positions Gassendi adopted in the Exercitationes, especially his so-called Pyrrhonism, his anti-Aristotelianism, and even his emphasis on the practical sciences.

At the same time, Gassendi's Exercitationes express the mood of the dominant section of the educated public of Provence in the first quarter of the seventeenth century: humanist, anti- Aristotelian, interested in practical sciences, especially astronomy and anatomy. Second, Gassendi's scepticism was, at least originally, a limited weapon taken up for a specific purpose, namely for his polemic against Aristotelianism.

It was largely a fruit of his reading of the humanist authors, especially Charron, and according to Gassendi's own account it was originally adopted out of a dissatisfaction with Aristotelianism because it did not promote the Stoic ethical goal of ataraxia, or peace of mind. Sextus Empiricus represented Aristotelianism as a dogmatic philosophy;65 Charron had attacked dogmatism in a general way without mentioning the Aristotelians by name; Ramus and Pico had attacked Aristotelianism in overt fashion; finally, Gassendi was able to profit by the writings of the humanists to attack Aristotelianism with the weapons of scepticism, and thereby disturb the popular myth of the infallibility of the Aristotelians.

It would seem fairly clear, then, that any sense of an impending "sceptical crisis" was far from Gassendi's consciousness as he delivered his anti-Aristotelian lectures and composed the Exercitationes. He did not show signs of being concerned about the epistemological vacuum that would result once Aristotelian rationalism was undermined. His principal concern was to undermine the dogmatism of the Aristotelians as a means of promoting moderate Renaissance wisdom and for the sake of the free advancement of the practical sciences.

He gave no evidence of experiencing epistemological discomfort: the foundations of knowledge had not been disrupted as far as he was concerned; only the pretentions of the Aristotelians had been overthrown. Such a conclusion does not agree with the interpretations of many previous commentators as refined more recently by R.

However, it does fit well with the interpretation of O. Bloch, and it will be further corroborated in the next and later chapters. Th;rd, Gassendi's anti-Aristotelianism differed from that of Vives and Ramus in one important way: while Vives and Ramus criticised Aristotelianism, they retained a basic loyalty to the Aristotelian tradition and especially to the philosophy of Aristotle himself. Gassendi, on the other hand, accepted the view that it was time to abandon Aristotelianism and look for something to take its place. For instance, he considered that Porphyry's account of the Aristotelian concept of 'difference' was: a trifling and preposterously inept doctrine, in no way true to Aristotle.

While he also professed that he had the greatest esteem for Aristotle and that his intention was to attack the Aristotelians rather than Aristotle himself,71 he did not set out to renew, reform or restore Aristotle's doctrine. For Gassendi, it was time to abandon both Aristotle and the Aristotelians. After a cursory glance through the other ancient philosophies, probably with the assistance of Pico through his Examen vanitatis, Gassendi settled for Pyrrhonism, seemingly as a result of his youthful enthusiasm for Charron, and as a preliminary to the development of his interest in Epicureanism.

Now the point has been reached at which an examination of Gassendi's Epicureanism may be opened. However, before passing to Gassendi's life- long effort to resuscitate Epicurean philosophy, it will be valuable to examine another life-long concern, Gassendi's astronomical work which in fact pre-dated his Epicureanism.

It is particularly appropriate to study Gassendi's astronomy before his Epicureanism because it was especially in his astronomical writings that his Pyrrhonism lingered on. In fact it did much better than linger: Gassendi's Pyrrhonism, as has been seen, tended to wax and wane, but in his astronomical writings it most definitely "waxed". But there were other weapons, more limited in range than scepticism, in Gassendi's arsenal, and chief among these was astronomy.

Aristotelianism was losing ground in astronomy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as a number of discoveries were made which refuted particular doctrines of Aristotelian cosmology. Galileo Galilei became a leader in the field during this period, and especially under his influence the anti-Aristotelian potential of the new developments in astronomy were exploited to such a degree that a clamorous debate arose between Aristotelian anti-Copernicans who were opposed to Galileo, and Copernican anti-Aristotelians who followed Galileo.

Gassendi joined the debate, and his writings reflect its course: he began as an enthusiastic Copernican anti-Aristotelian follower of Galileo; he suffered from afar the trauma of the condemnation of Galileo; and he ended his days as a mild Tychonian with most of his anti- Aristotelian fire spent. In this chapter I propose to describe the shifts and developments in Gassendi's position as he participated in the Copernican debate and tried to cope with the dilemma in which he found himself following the condemnation of Galileo.

The period which will be studied opened with the year , when Gassendi began to keep a record of his observations, and concluded in when he wrote his last pages on astronomical subjects and was forced to call a halt to his observations. Two years after his appointment to the chair of Aristotelian philosophy at Aix-en-Provence, in the year , Gassendi began to keep records of his astronomical observations. His records opened with a series of observations of the last of three comets which were seen between August and December of that year, and which aroused much controversy.

Gassendi welcomed this comet at the time when he was embarking on his attack on Aristotelianism in the Exercitationes the only record that remains of his lectures on astronomy at Aix , for it seemed to him at that time to provide a chance to score an easy victory over the Aristotelians. Hence it is better that we not pronounce conclusively on the question, but be satisfied to give a report of that comet which appeared not long ago, first as we saw it, and then, by way of conjecture and combining our observations with those of others, to say what can be said with some degree of verisimilitude.

At the time of publication of the Exercitationes Gassendi did not know of Galileo's theory about comets; he first wrote to Galileo in 7 and stated in the course of the letter that he had not yet been able to read the Saggiatore Like rainbows, GaliIeo maintained, comets appear to be displaced along with the observer as he moves from place to place, and so the argument from the lack of parallax for locating comets in the celestial regions was irrelevant.

He attributed the theory that the heavens were filled with impenetrable crystalline spheres to the whole Aristotelian tradition: Eudoxus, he claimed, was the first to present the hypothesis and Aristotle adopted and expanded the theory of Eudoxus in the Metaphysics;13 in the Exercitationes Gassendi rebuked the Aristotelians for continuing to take the theory seriously. He wrote: They reflect solemnly on a host of silly subjects which feed their bad dreams, such as the solidity and reality of the celestial spheres, the channels which the stars travel along 14 Gassendi was again following the lead of Tycho Brahe who had attributed the theory of solid spheres to the majority of his predecessors.

IS It has recently been argued that the belief that the heavenly bodies were carried in their orbits by real, solid, crystalline spheres was not as widespread as Tycho claimed. Gassendi had also welcomed the comet of because it provided empirical evidence against the Aristotelian doctrine according to which the super-lunary or celestial regions were immutable and perfect.

That a comet should come into view and disappear in the heavens was proof that changes take place in those celestial regions; and since it was further believed that comets came to birth and died in those regions, one could take them as evidence that the heavenly substance was not essentially different from earthly matter. More usually, however, Gassendi found Galileo's influence and leadership very helpful in his anti- Aristotelian polemic.

In the preface to the Exercitationes Gassendi promised that, in contradiction of the Aristotelian doctrine, He wrote: First of all my dear Galileo, I would like you to be fully assured that I have embraced your Copernican theory in astronomy with the greatest mental delight. He wrote: From the earliest days I have honoured your supreme wisdom and erudition. I cannot express how great was the silent worship I paid to you from the time your interpreter of the heavens revealed those mysteries so unknown by the human race. In March he wrote: I continually praise the fertility of your genius, and wherever you lead I shall follow Indeed, I am so moved with delight as I read it that even now, as often as I recall its contents to mind, I am extraordinarily moved.

Galileo became an ally against the Aristotelians, for Gassendi, as has been seen, intended to use Copernicanism against the Aristotelians in the Exercitationes, and presumably he had used it in this way in his lectures from which the Exercitationes was drawn. Once Gassendi stated explicitly to Galileo that he was using the latter's astronomical reasoning in his anti-Aristotelian project; he wrote: I do not intend to write anything concerning [my own] observations of sunspots except insofar as they lead, according to your principles, to a refutation of Aristotelianism and an exhortation that men adopt a truer and better philosophy.

From the foregoing samples taken from his correspondence with Galileo, Gassendi can be seen to have been an enthusiastic and somewhat uncritical follower of Galileo who was especially drawn to GaliIeo's work and to Copernicanism because of their anti-Aristotelian significance. Without doubt Gassendi was interested in Copernicanism for a variety of reasons: because it was modern and revolutionary; because many of the better educated scholars had been converted to it; because the most recent observations confirmed it Gassendi recorded very little concerning his discussions along the way but, from the little he did write to Peiresc, we learn that the Copernican theory and questions concerning the motion of bodies figured prominently in the discussions.

At Arras, Gassendi met Fr Malaperti, the Rector of the Jesuit college who, Gassendi noted, was on the point of publishing a book on sunspots, and was withholding publication until Fr Scheiner had published his work. Philip of Lansberg was on Gassendi's list of most important Copernicans. At his last stopping place, Gorkum, Gassendi met a Maronite whose opinions concerning the order and arrangement of the universe he found to be admirable. Gassendi did not indicate what these opinions were, but we may presume that they were Copernican.

He also recorded that he visited the army barracks and met a certain Monsieur de Fresnes Canaye who introduced him to the mathematician Albert Girard who had been responsible for the reprinting of the mathematical works of Samuel Marolois. His position met with peer-group approval and he was not intellectually isolated. After the publication of the Dialogo , Gassendi also accepted the movement of the tides as providing probable evidence. As he expressed his thought in the letter to Galileo of November , The systems and hypotheses of all the ancients seem mere nonsense and empty dreams when they are compared with your discovery.

Galileo had revealed, or discovered, the truth at last. In the matter of the tides, Galileo was, of course, mistaken. This was the area of Galileo's system that was least satisfactory. But Gassendi was not one to check Galileo's work for errors. Gassendi structured his own natural philosophy in a manner which corresponded to the realistic interpretation of astronomical hypotheses by combining physical, or natural, philosophy with astronomy. Indeed, he was working to achieve this combination immediately prior to According to this list, natural philosophy liLa physique" was to be expounded in four books, the first of which concerned nature "de natura" , the second concerned the universe 'de mundo" , the third concerned the heavens "de sublimibus", astronomy , and the fourth concerned the Earth "de humilibus".

In the Syntagma version, which he prepared between and , Gassendi connected astronomy and physical philosophy still more definitely by reducing the four divisions to three, of which the first was entitled "on nature in general" "de rebus naturae universe" , the second "on heavenly things" "de rebus caelestibus" , and the third "on earthly things" "de rebus terrenis". No longer were astronomical hypotheses permitted to be simply devices for saving phenomena: it was required that they be declarations concerning the real nature of things, and therefore had to be stated in a way that was compatible with the laws and theories determined by investigation of terrestrial phenomena.

Whence arose the realistic interpretation of hypotheses in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Furthermore, the realistic interpretation of hypotheses and the corresponding demand that the whole of the universe be understood as subject to the same natural laws would ultimately banish from philosophy the Aristotelian division between Heaven and Earth.

Consequently, it was germane to Gassendi's anti-Aristotelian project to combine astronomy and natural philosophy and to adopt a realist interpretation of astronomical hypotheses. The condemnation of GaIileo by the Roman authorities on June 22nd, ,48 came as a profound shock to Gassendi. We learn from a letter that Gassendi wrote to Thomas Campanella in May of that year that he had received information from GaIileo himself that conflict with the Roman authorities was looming. Gassendi informed Campanella: In recent long letters from GaIileo I have learnt that he is soon to be in Rome, whence he has been summoned.

I was astonished, for he has not published anything without [Ecclesiastical] approval. But it is not for us to know of such weighty matters. He wrote a letter to Galileo in mid-January of the following year which shows that he was still somewhat incredulous. Though a persistent rumour has been spread abroad, I cannot trust it until the affair has been made fully known.

Given his enthusiasm for almost everything Galileo did, given the anti-Aristotelian capital he had been making out of Galilean Copernicanism, and given the fact that, as it would seem,51 he was on the point of concluding a manuscript in which Epicurean philosophy was expounded as the new natural philosophy to support the Copernican system in astronomy, the condemnation of Galileo required that Gassendi completely change the direction in which he had been moving for as long as he had been professing philosophy.

Gassendi was also completely taken by surprise because he had not heeded the warning given to Galileo by Cardinal Bellarmine in Rome in Gassendi seems to have made but a single reference to the censure of Galileo in , in a very private letter to Peiresc in February , indirectly prompted by the condemnation of The relevant passage is worth quoting for the insight it gives into the caution that Gassendi considered necessary: As for M.

Diodati, I am happy that you are doing him the favour of sending your copy of Foscarini's book to him. It would be just as well, nevertheless, to warn him to take care that Bernegger should not mention that it was you who sent it. In any case, when I write to M. Diodati I shall give him the information which perhaps he does not have, that the same Foscarini has been censured, along with Galileo, I do not remember in which year, and that I recall having seen the censure in the commentary of Mersenne on Genesis.

It would be well to do this, not to prevent him from doing what he wants to do, but so that he will be properly forewarned. Even in this one reference to the censure of Gassendi was unclear concerning the precise year in which it had occurred. Especially significant were his reactions to the scriptural objections to Copernicanism and his understanding of the limitations of the authority of the Holy Office: even after he could barely conceal his disdain for the scriptural objections, and it would seem that it was only because the Roman authorities insisted a second time, in , -and with a greater show of strength, that Gassendi felt compelled to take notice.

Gassendi finally realised that it was no longer possible for him to support the Copernican opinion as he had done prior to But eleven whole years passed before he would even consider the compromise system of Tycho Brahe, and he only adopted this solution in his teaching at the College Royal in the academic year In this way he was able to avoid committing himself to adopting an alternative astronomical system during all those years. He was in effect silenced along with Galileo; possibly he hoped for a change in the ecclesiastical and cultural climate; perhaps he even hoped for a reversal of the anti-Copernican judgment.

Only once did Gassendi break his silence on the Copernican question of his own accord during this time, and that was in the two letters entitled De motu impresso a motore translalo 60 whereupon. Gassendi did this by writing an account of his experiments on the motion of projectiles, taking as his basic principle that a body in motion impresses its own motion on anything that it carries along with it, and presenting as his conclusion that the arguments from common sense employed against the Copernican theory had no value.

In fact, he outlined two different responses. The first was of the kind which GaIileo had given in his letter to the Grand Duchess Christina ,67 namely that the Bible is not a book which is concerned with physical, mathematical and such-like teaching, but one that instructs men concerning grace and supernatural salvation; it deals solely with appearances when it speaks of the motion of the Sun and the stability of the Earth, and it speaks in a language that is accommodated to the understanding of all men rather than the language of the natural philosopher.

The second response, which Gassendi claimed was given by a number of Copernicans, was that the stability attributed to the Earth At the same time, he could not see that the objections had validity. He wrote: Because those texts are explained in a different fashion by men who exercise considerable authority in the Church, I stand by their judgment, and in this I am not ashamed to enslave my intellect. Gassendi argued that the simple fact that authors quote scriptural passages as objections to the Copernican theory did not render it any more suspect than the opinions that the heavens are round, or that the Earth is surrounded by regions of air, fire and aether, that the heavens are fluid, and so on.

Objections based on scripture, Gassendi argued, could and often were made to all these opinions, yet they had never been suspect in the eyes of the Church. He made it perfectly obvious that the only reason why he accepted that he must abandon the Copernican theory was the weight of the authority of the Holy Office in Rome. He did not consider the judgment handed down by this authority to be an article of faith, nor did he believe that it had been formally promulgated as something to be accepted by the whole Church. But he did believe that As a consequence it was a very oppressive verdict for Gassendi.

Just how oppressive he felt it to be may perhaps be gauged from the following considerations. First, Gassendi's distress was particularly acute because for him, as it had been for Galileo,73 the only option to the Copernican system to be considered was the Ptolemaic system of which the system of Tycho Brahe was considered a version.

It was only in that, under the stimulus of his new post at the College Royal, Gassendi would bring himself to consider and adopt as a compromise the system of Tycho Brahe. Thus, for example, Gassendi failed to take into account that the transit of Mercury across the Sun in could have been accommodated in the Tychonic system just as easily as in the Copernican. One is the common opinion especially defended by Aristotle which places the Earth in the centre of the universe. The other is the opinion which contradicts the evidence of our senses and which was in former times proposed especially by Plato and Pythagoras, and recently by Copernicus and his followers.

The letter describing his observation is entitled Mercurius in sole visus. I9 In , at the request of the author, Gassendi wrote a critique of the De veritate of Herbert of Cherbury who has often been called "the father of deism";2o again Gassendi chose the epistolary form, and the letter was entitled Ad librum Dedoardi Herberti Angli. In Gassendi wrote a letter to his friend and Pyrrhonist Gabriel Naude, librarian of Cardinal Mazzarin, concerning the optical question of the differing apparent sizes of the Sun according to its position in the sky.

This letter was followed by another in written to the Aristotelian Fortunato Liceti, and by two further letters in , one to the Pyrrhonist Ismael Bouillard and the other to a young friend of Gassendi named John Capella. The series of letters was entitled De apparente magnitudine solis humilis et sublimis.

It included Gassendi's theory on the causes of motion, descriptions of his own experiments, and the implications for the Copernican debate. The treatise was published in under the title De motu impresso a motore translato epistolae duae. All three letters were published together in the Opera omnia under the title De motu impresso a motore translato. In these letters Gassendi replied to Cazree's Aristotelian objections against Galileo's analysis of the acceleration of falling bodies as presented in the Discorsi. Gassendi's letters are entitled De proportione qua gravia decidentia accelerantur.

Mersenne sent a copy of Descartes' Meditations to Gassendi and asked him "on account of their friendship"28 to write to Descartes giving an account of his objections. Gassendi's Pyrrhonist objections and Descartes' replies were published by Descartes as the "Fifth objections" and by Gassendi's friend, Samuel Sorbiere, with Gassendi's authorisation, under the title Disquisitio metaphysica. He called the lecture a "hymn to the Creator of the world", and presented himself as a Christian Plato explaining the reasons why he considered that the Creator was a geometer.

Again at the request of Capella, he wrote brief lives of Peurbach and his pupil Johann Muller or Regiomontanus in order to provide "a reasonably good account of the beginnings of the restoration of astronomy from Peurbach to Tycho. Scholars have already pointed out the limitations of a number of the earlier studies, judged according to our contemporary historiographical canons. For instance, in the opening pages of his study on Gassendi entitled Scetticismo ed empirismo which was published in ,34 Tullio Gregory has stressed the fact that it is common for authors to be preoccupied with the task of reconstructing a complete philosophical system from Gassendi's writings.

Olivier Bloch, in his La philosophie de Gassendi published in ,35 re-echoed the criticism, stating that a number of works have been "vitiated" by a "systematic postulate". The criticism is justified, for the principal defect of a number of studies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is that their authors attempted to provide a synthesis of Gassendi's philosophical doctrine or some part thereof, and in so doing, concentrated exclusively on the Syntagma philosophicum,37 or the first two volumes of the six-volume Opera omnia.

They neglected the non-systematic and more occasional writings including the Exercitationes, the writings against the contemporary authors, Fludd, Descartes and Herbert of Cherbury, also Gassendi's scientific writings and voluminous correspondence. Consequently, these authors attempted to study Gassendi in isolation from the people with whom he was in continual dialogue, the developments to which he responded and the problems to which he offered solutions.

Furthermore, they largely neglected his work as polemicist, historian, classicist, astronomer and experimenter. A prime early example of such a non-contextualist study such as has just been described is La philosophie de Gassendi of P. Furthermore, he referred to Gassendi's occasional writings as "accidents" and "hors-d'oeuvre" which fortunately "did not distract" their author from his grand design of compiling the Syntagma.

Thus, while it is true that the Syntagma philosophicum was Gassendi's magnum opus a fact which, it should be said, Gregory did not stress sufficiently in his criticism of Thomas ,39 nevertheless, by underrating the significance of the occasional writings, Thomas precluded serious consideration of any possible evidence contained in them of development in Gassendi's thought and expression which might have been stimulated by his discussions with other scholars.

Sortais in his history of modern philosophy;40 The philosophy of Gassendi of G. Brett published in ;41 the Pierre Gassendis Metaphysik by P. Pendzig also published in ;42 the papers published on the occasion of the tricentenary of Gassendi's death in the Synthese collection,43 and in the Acts of the congress for the tricentenary. In F. Kiefl published Pierre Gassendis Erkenntnisstheorie a predominantly analytical study of Gassendi's "theory of knowledge". The Pierre Gassendi of G. Hess, published in ,47 examined Gassendi's scepticism against the background of the humanist movement.

Then, in , Rene Pintard published his Le libertinage erudit a study of Gassendi's scepticism which was composed in the form of history writing described by the author himself as "moral history". Following the publication of Pintard's work, much discussion arose on the question of Gassendi's sincerity, and on whether he was a libertine philosopher posing as a devout Churchman or an honest liberal philosopher who allowed his freedom to be suffocated in his later writings by a philosophy of concession, conciliation and calculation.

Pintard took the unpopular view that Gassendi was, to some degree, a two-timer, and he further defended his thesis against its critics in an article entitled "Modernisme, humanisme, libertinage" which was published in I believe, however, that a closer examination of Gassendi's goals in relation to his intellectual and cultural context reveals that much of the discussion was based on a series of misinterpretations.

This should become apparent in the arguments that I develop in the following pages. The most significant treatment of the subject of Gassendi's scepticism, at least for this thesis, is that which has been given by R. Popkin in articles and in his history of scepticism, all of which appeared during the s. Accordingly, Popkin maintained, Gassendi advocated a mitigated scepticism which was specifically intended to be a response to the supposed sceptical crisis. In terms of literary output B.

Rochot has been the most important specialist in Gassendi studies. Rochot traced the development of Gassendi's interests in Epicureanism in an historical account of Gassendi's labours entitled Les travaux de Gassendi sur Epicure et sur i'atomisme, published in Gassendi emphasised the need for the natural philosopher to be an experimenter, warning that it was not enough to contemplate nature in a lazy, superficial manner, but that one must actively search out the truth, probing and exploring the natural world.

Gassendi's astronomical work has been described in a number of publications written by Pierre Humbert between the years and Gassendi also did experiments with bodies in motion, and his writings on them have received a measure of attention from A. Debus,65 P. Ariotti, 66 P. Pav67 and J. Clark might well be considered the most illuminating of the latter articles, for the author argued that there was a link between the following aspects of and events in Gassendi's intellectual development: his anti-Aristotelianism, his Epicureanism, his meeting with Isaac Beeckman in , his interest in Galileo's writings, and his debate with Pierre de Cazree.

Clark concentrated in his discussion on the alleged development of Gassendi's exposition of the principle of inertia. I have come to similar conclusions from a more wide- ranging consideration of Gassendi's work, and I shall be presenting my conclusions at length in the chapters that follow. Articles such as those that have been referred to in the foregoing paragraphs can offer only limited insights into a philosopher's mentality and activities. Two particularly noteworthy studies of this kind have been published in the last thirty years.

Both have already been referred to: the first is Tullio Gregory's Scetticismo ed empirismo. Gregory was one of the scholars who reacted strongly to the influence of the "systematic postulate" in studies of Gassendi's philosophy and to the consequent lack of reference in such studies to the historical context in which Gassendi worked. At the same time he offered an analysis of what he considered to be the "fundamental structures" of Gassendi's thought in relation to the problems and discussions of his age. Gregory described Gassendi's philosophy as a humanist re-discovery of an ancient philosophical tradition that is not to be reduced to a simple continuatioJ,l of scholastic Aristotelianism.

Gassendi made experience the way to knowledge and progress in knowledge.

He rejected the metaphysical pretentions of rationalism in favour of a more limited but more 'useful' and more 'human' way of philosophising: the phenomenological description of 'what is', together with a recognition of the provisional nature of the solutions arrived at by human reasoning. In the light of these "fundamental structures" of Gassendi's philosophy - empiricism and scepticism or the hypothetical philosophy - Gregory examined the reasons for Gassendi's opposition to the Aristotelians, to Robert Fludd's neo-Platonist and magical philosophy of nature, Herbert of Cherbury's neo-Platonism, and to the metaphysics of Descartes.

In all cases, Gregory maintained, the reason was essentially the same: Gassendi worked to achieve the separation of "physics" and religious metaphysics. He considered that science and faith were concerned with two distinct kinds of truth, one human and hypothetical, the other divine and absolute, and that confusion could be avoided only by the clear separation of the two. Matters of faith were not to be treated as matters of the natural world: they belonged to a different order of knowledge based on different principles and required a different methodology.

Thus Gregory saw Gassendi's philosophy as a break from the medieval, 'pyramid' concept of knowledge in which each science or branch of science was co-ordinated with every other and subordinated to higher sciences. At the apex of the pyramid was metaphysics, the "scientia scientiarum", the most noble science because the most distant from the world of becoming.

In place of the 'pyramid' concept, Gassendi, according to Gregory, worked with a non-unitary, non-subordinationist concept which allowed autonomy to each sphere of knowledge and did not attribute a minority status to the empirical sciences. Gregory considered that the aforesaid distinction of "orders" - of nature and supernature, reason and faith, free philosophical research and unconditional allegiance to religious authority - was the most significant aspect of Gassendi's philosophy.

Gregory wrote: Anyone who wants to place these solutions in opposition, as though each must necessarily exclude the other, forgets one of the principal characteristics of the author and of the period: the awareness of the limits of all human knowledge, and hence the possibility of the co-existence of diverse solutions. Consequently, in the opinion of Gregory, one can glimpse already in Gassendi's work in the first half of the seventeenth century the coming crisis of the European mind. I believe that Gregory's interpretation might be found useful as a description of the relationships of Gassendi's work to medieval scholasticism and later modern philosophy.

Gassendi might be suitably described, following Gregory, as an example of a post-scholastic and early modern philosopher. One might also agree with Gregory in his presentation to the extent of affirming that certain basic structures of Gassendi's philosophy and certain ends which Gassendi deliberately aimed to foster were related to the resurgence of empiricism and the emancipation of the lower-order disciplines on the medieval pyramid of knowledge.

But I consider that Gregory's conclusions are too general in character. He has located Gassendi as a philosopher within a generally accepted scheme of historical interpretation which embraces practically the whole of the second millennium of European intellectual history.

While it might be found illuminating in some ways for him to have done this, I believe that Gregory's account of Gassendi's philosophy is markedly a prioristic, and that his account of Gassendi's aims and purposes is inadequate: for while Gassendi may be considered to have been influenced by the general philosophical trends that Gregory has described, his conscious goals were, I consider, more specific than those which Gregory has presented.

Like Gregory, he reacted to the presupposition that a complete and coherent philosophical system is to be discovered in Gassendi's writings. Bloch contended that Gassendi never constructed such a system. Indeed, he failed in his efforts to do so. Bloch made this failure the object of his study, which he described as "the anatomy of an abortive system". These, Bloch maintained, were Gassendi's theory that vision is the model of knowledge; his views concerning philosophical liberty and its limits which views Bloch described as "mitigated modern" ;71 his scepticism and agnosticism; and his nominalism.

Bloch concluded that although Gassendi managed to give an impression of unity in his philosophy, this impression was superficial and masked a diversity of mutually exclusive orientations which were all held together by the deeper current of nominalism that runs through all his writings. Next, Bloch turned to Gassendi's "scientific philosophy" and again discovered a diversity of orientations which Gassendi did not systematise. There was an orientation towards materialism: Bloch explained that he meant by this that Gassendi presented a natural philosophy in which the basic explanatory principles were formulated solely in terms of matter, its properties, structures and processes.

He developed a concept of space that was adapted to the mechanics of Galileo, and a materialist concept of dynamic matter that was suitable for the new physical science. His biology also moved towards materialism, though definite elements of vitalism and animism were discernible. And his atomistic chemistry contained contradictory orientations towards materialism and hylozoism. Bloch maintained that Gassendi did not tidy up all these contradictions into a synthesis because he held back from following the direction that his philosophy was pointing.

Gassendi chose, Bloch considered, not to develop his philosophy to its logical conclusion; consequently he presented an abortive system rather than a fully coherent synthesis. Bloch explained that Gassendi strove throughout his work to maintain an accord between his scientifically inspired materialism and the demands of his Christian faith, and that the achievement of his goal took precedence for Gassendi over philosophical coherence. Bloch considered that there was a rupture between Gassendi the man with his sentiments and Gassendi the philosopher; or, if the word "rupture" is too strong, at least a wedge had been driven between the two.

Gassendi was consequently concerned to prevent the materialist themes of his scientific philosophy and epistemology from harming the faith. Throughout, he strove to make it possible for physical materialism to co-exist with religious metaphysics. According to Bloch's account, Gassendi's efforts were of two kinds. First, he was satisfied simply to juxtapose his philosophy of nature and the various orthodox affirmations that were intended to render this philosophy acceptable. Then, after , Gassendi attempted to integrate his materialist philosophy into an all-embracing religious and metaphysical world-view, with the intention of arresting the trend towards materialism in his own philosophy.

As Bloch wrote in an article which he published two years after the appearance of his major study, 73 he considered that an historical interpretation made by Karl Marx is verified in Gassendi's philosophy, viz. Bloch's analysis is illuminating in many different ways. It is the most thorough examination of Gassendi's writings that has yet been produced. However, I do not agree with his general interpretation of Gassendi's philosophy, and in the course of this study I explain why.

Principally, I do not agree that Gassendi was concerned about an alleged drift towards materialism. Consequently, while I find Bloch's study informative and valuable for many reasons, I believe that we must not be satisfied with his interpretation of Gassendi's work. Three further book-length studies have been published since that of Bloch.

The first, by Reiner Tack,74 is a comprehensive study of two hundred and forty three pages which deals with Gassendi's scepticism, the principles of his Epicurean physical theory and his application of these principles to Galilean mechanics, his doctrine of the soul and the mental faculties, and his Epicurean ethics. The second work is that of Wolfgang Detel,75 who has compared the empiricism of Gassendi with that of Epicurus. Each of these works in its own way, helps to fill out the picture of Gassendi and his philosophical concerns, due allowance being made for the need to complement them with the findings of more recent scholarship.

The third and the most recent study written by Howard Jones,76 is of greater interest. This is a full-length study of Gassendi's life and work, the sole such study in English apart from that of G. Brett Howard Jones is skilled in the art of criticism of seventeenth-century philosophical texts and brings his learning to bear upon Gassendi's philosophical corpus. Jones introduces us to Gassendi's philosophy by way of a section of more general biography. The result is an informative and interesting exposition of Gassendi's philosophy from the original texts which will spare the non-specialist much heavy, plodding labour.

But it will not adequately satisfy the historian of science who will be looking for a sharper focus on the central themes of Gassendi's life-work rather than a biographical and chronological account, and more critical assessment of accepted interpretations. The most recent contributions of all to the literature on Gassendi have been articles which have appeared since In two articles,77 Louise Sarasohn has studied Gassendi's ethical and political theory.

In her second article Sarasohn, she has explored the interaction between Gassehdi and Hobbes. She has claimed that the two philosophers stimulated each other in the development of their political and ethical theories: Hobbes adopted some themes from Gassendi's Epicureanism but developed them in overtly materialistic and deterministic ways; Gassendi was greatly disturbed and reacted by incorporating more theology into his physics and by developing further his doctrine on human liberty. Margaret Osler has argued that Gassendi's voluntarist theology played a formative role on his empiricist approach to natural philosophy.

It is important that he and his philosophy should be correctly understood. Yet I am convinced that we still have not adequately understood Gassendi or his life-work. It is true that the more immediately striking aspects have been presented at some length in the literature: that Gassendi was anti-Aristotelian and a sceptic, and that he laboured to restore Epicurean philosophy in the seventeenth century, these truisms constitute the mainstays of any interpretative reconstruction of his philosophy.

But what has not been clearly understood or agreed upon is the trajectory of Gassendi's life-work: what he did - opposed Aristotelianism, adopted a sceptical approach and promoted Epicureanism - in the light of what he aimed to do. Or, to make the same point in more technical language: the structure of Gassendi's philosophy has been identified, but we have not reached the same clarity about its function. It will be my purpose, therefore, to explain what I consider to have been the function of Gassendi's philosophy. But we shall be exploring some less familiar tracks and by- ways as well; in particular we shall be examining the sources of Gassendi's scepticism, his Copernicanism, his ideological relationship with Marin Mersenne, and his wide-ranging hostility to occult philosophies, among other more incidental features of his work, and we will often be sifting through Gassendi's much-neglected early manuscripts.

What comes into view when we begin looking in these directions will be found significant for an over-all understanding of our subject. In brief, I am presenting a new interpretation of Pierre Gassendi's philosophical work with the aim of clarifying the goals and the tactics of this pioneer architect of a mechanistic system, thereby hoping to throw some further light on the origins of mechanicism in the seventeenth century.

His complaints at that time concerned an alleged ethical inadequacy in Aristotelianism, for the Peripatetic philosophy, in his view, did not measure up to the Stoic philosophical ideal to which Cicero had alluded in his praise of philosophy: "Philosophy can never be praised as she merits; the man who obeys her precepts may live all the days of his life without trouble".

At the same time they would have fuelled his discontent with Aristotelianism. Gassendi would have us believe that his distaste for Aristotelianism was aroused in his own soul first, and that he found support for his feelings in the writings of the humanists subsequently. In any case, Gassendi acknowledged that his anti-Aristotelianism was greatly influenced by humanist authors, specifically by Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola evidently Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola, the nephew.

These writers, Gassendi explained, helped him overcome his fear of opposing the Aristotelians: When I read Vives and my own Charron my spirits rose and all my fears left me. I saw that there was nothing wrong in suspecting that the Aristotelians were not always correct just because most people approved of them. But my boldness rose as I read Ramus especially, and also Mirandola.

I mention these authors because I have always made a point of naming those from whom I have drawn profit. The methods, in his view, were purely theatrical, the philosophy was empty, useless, unworthy of the title Aristotelian and of the name philosophy, while the teachers were credulous, arrogant, supercilious and presumptuous fools. First, they neglected serious authors such as Plato, Cicero, Seneca, Pliny, Plutarch and others - authors who would be able to contribute much wisdom.

Second, they deliberately neglected the mathematical disciplines, the part of philosophy which was not open to dispute: "It is through mathematics that we have knowledge, if we ever have it". Thus, in physical philosophy they treated only the chimeras such as substantial forms, and neglected the subjects that might be treated in an historical manner. For example, they neglected the history of stones, metals, plants and animals, believing such things to be appropriate for lapidarians, goldsmiths, botanists and hunters, but not for philosophers,lO They also neglected the questions concerning the elements, their number and kinds, and concentrated on inept and frivolous combinations of qualities.

They indulged in idle discussions about heavenly bodies, and the solidity and reality of the heavenly spheres, without ever looking into the skies. Nothing of what they taught could be corroborated by observation and experiment. Gassendi wrote: In a word, they examine nothing in this world. When they enter their Schools they enter into another nature which has nothing in common with this nature outside. As a consequence, the Aristotelians do not teach their students how to study nature. It is significant that Gassendi appears not to have made any real contact with Jesuit Aristotelians before their arrival at Aix to replace him and his colleagues in the year Had he been more familiar with the Jesuit model of education he might have realised that his criticisms were less than just when applied to the Jesuits; and it was the Jesuits who dominated Catholic education in Europe at that time.

Likewise the need for training in mathematics was emphasised, and the adequacy of the teaching of the subject was assured through the efforts of Peter Clavius in creating a mathematical school within the Collegio Romano.

Article Summary

Most especially,. Gassendi's teaching incorporated discussions of developments in the field of astronomy, physiology and alchemy. We learn this fact from the preface to Book 1 of the Exercitationes in which Gassendi outlined the contents of all projected seven books of the work. As it turned out, only two of these books were completed; hence we have to rely on the summary in this preface for our information on. The whole work, as Gassendi stated in the same preface, was a publication of a newly edited version of part of his course of lectures on Aristotelian philosophy, the anti-Aristotelian part.

In Book 5 he would trace the paths of comets through the aethereal spaces and he would establish it as a fact that these paths are no less unbroken than the paths of the visible stars. Specifically, he would attack Aristotle's elements in respect of their number and the qualities produced by change and alteration; he would also attack the theory of transmutation of elements.

It seems that local scholars and teachers first aroused and channelled his enthusiasm in that direction. According to Gassendi's own testimony, his interest in astronomy was first awakened by Joseph Galtier, mathematician, astronomer, Doctor of Arts and Theology, Prior of la Valette and Vicar General of the diocese of Aix,22 while his interest in physiology was influenced by a surgeon at Aix, Jean Payan, whose dissections he had witnessed. They helped him in his teaching of philosophy by encouraging him not to ignore the practical sciences.

Yet it is noteworthy that Gassendi did not cite these local scholars among those whom he mentioned as. However, at the time of publication of the Exercitationes , Gassendi did not see their contribution to his anti- Aristotelian polemic as particularly noteworthy, and he more readily and spontaneously gave to the four humanist authors, Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola, the credit for lending him the needed strength to dare to oppose the Aristotelians. It can be seen from the Exercitationes that Gassendi saw things in the way just outlined.

The Exercitationes was intended to be a work that would present objections to the whole range of doctrines contained in the Aristotelian corpus - the logical writings, the De caelo and De generatione et corruptione, the Meteorologica, Historia animalium, De anima, Parva naturalia, Metaphysica and works on ethics as well as the Aristotelian writings on natural philosophy.

The summary of the projected work already referred to makes this fact clear. Consequently, when Gassendi accorded credit to the people who had assisted him in opposing the Aristotelians, he was thinking of the Aristotelians as those philosophers who were engaged in teaching the whole corpus of Aristotelian doctrine, and he considered those authors as his anti-Aristotelian allies who had shown him how to oppose the Aristotelians who were so engaged.

It was a different kind of support from that which he received from his friends and mentors who had inducted him into the practical sciences, and whose support was of a comparatively peripheral kind, since it related only to his polemic against the Aristotelian writings on natural philosophy. He wrote: After I had come to see how great a gulf there is between the human mind and Nature's genius, what else could I conclude than that the intimate causes of natural phenomena totally escape the power of human discernment?

Therefore I became upset and ashamed at the foolishness and arrogance of the dogmatic philosophers who boast that they have attained a knowledge of nature and propound it with such rigour. As he wrote a little later in the same preface, he believed the Aristotelians would have made much progress in the discovery of truth if they had not been so sure that they already possessed it. Thus Gassendi considered that a general attack needed to be mounted against Aristotelianism, one which would strike at the very foundations of their reputation for infallibility, and he decided to respond to that need in the Exercitationes.

He recorded: I considered that I should strive with might and main to blunt the spearhead of all this credulity [in favour of the Aristotelians] and try to do something at the same time to lessen the arrogant presumption of the Aristotelians themselves. Accordingly, he embarked upon the ambitious project of the Exercitationes, a point-by-point refutation of the whole corpus of Aristotelian doctrine, and he looked for support in his efforts to undermine the authority of the Aristotelians particularly in the works of the sixteenth- century humanists, Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola.

In his own statement already quoted 26 he attributed more significance to the influence of Charron - "my own Charron" - and Ramus - "Ramus especially" - than to the significance of Vives and Mirandola. Further, he linked the four names into two pairs, Vives and Charron, Ramus and Mirandola. Gassendi had reasons for the different emphases and for pairing the names in that manner.

Renaissance admiration for the ancients had led Vives, Charron, and now Gassendi onto contentious ground as they advocated pagan morality in a Christian world. Vives and Charron had both extolled the virtue of the Stoic sage and linked it closely with Christian virtue. Vives was somewhat ambiguous, or perhaps circumspect, but he did stress a similarity between the natural ethical way of life of the pagan sage and the ideal Christian way of life.

He wrote, for instance: "In my estimation, no man has been a truer Christian than this [Stoic] sage". Charron responded to his critics in the preface to the second and subsequent editions of the Sagesse, and more at length in a new work especially written for the purpose which appeared posthumously under the title Traicte de sagesse Once again, Charron was acknowledged by Gassendi as the more important influence, in keeping with the fact that Charron's scepticism was more explicit and pronounced than that of Vives.

Scepticism was an essential feature of Stoic ethics, for it was the only way to attain isosthenia or the state of mental suspense36 which deepens into epoche or an habitual state of suspension of judgment,37 which is ultimately accompanied 1? He criticised the extreme sceptics, those who search for objections even when there are none, claiming that in undermining the false knowledge of the ignorant they also tear down the true knowledge of the learned and the experts.

It was a means of "emptying" oneself - divesting oneself of all opinion, belief and affection, becoming dead to oneself and to the world so that God might come and dwell and act within one's soul. Further, he claimed that the Sagesse was a manual that could be used as an instrument for the step-by-step conversion of the pagan Chinese, for instance, to wisdom and ultimately to the Christian faith. Furthermore, Charron claimed, in an obvious allusion to the theological controversies of the age, Pyrrhonists could never become heretics - Pyrrhonists and heretics were opposities. Out of a need to defend his doctrine in the Sagesse against the critics and the "esprits faibles" Charron was pushed into avenues of discussion which, possibly, he was not otherwise inclined to follow.

However, by emphasising emphatically the relationship between Stoic and Christian ethics, the Traicte de sagesse does bear witness to Charron's conviction of his own orthodoxy and shows clearly how he felt it should be defended. Gassendi took Charron's Sagesse as his philosophical and ethical vade mecum, most probably from his student days. For a young cleric such as Gassendi, who was training to become a Canon of the diocese of Digne, Pierre Charron was in many ways a natural model and highly recommendable author, all the more so since Charron had been theologal, or official teacher of theology of several dioceses in the south-west of France; also ecoldtre, or master of the Cathedral school and supervisor of all diocesan schools in the diocese of Bordeaux.

As well as that, Charron's works were enjoying enormous popularity: first published in , by the year the Sagesse had appeared in four editions and had been reprinted numerous times. Thus, when Gassendi was teaching in the school of Aix, a leading citizen of the town, Henri du Faur de Pibrac, recommended that he read Charron, and Gassendi responded with enthusiasm in a way that shows that he had already done so. But Gassendi also paired Gianfrancesco Pico della Mirandola and Pierre de la Ramee, or Ramus, as another two authors whom he recognised as having fortified him in his revolt against Aristotelianism.

Of the two he gave special emphasis to Ramus by the words "especially Ramus". In naming these sixteenth-century humanists, Gassendi acknowledged further sources for his Pyrrhonism, in this instance Pyrrhonism as a specifically anti-Aristotelian weapon. Vives and Charron had used scepticism and pyrrhonism in a more general way against dogmatists and dogmatism and made only rare mention of Aristotelian dogmatism; Pico and Ramus, however, were more explicitly anti- Aristotelian sceptics.

Hence the particular contributions made by both Pico and Ramus to Gassendi's philosophical development, though they were significant, were rather directly related to his anti-Aristotelian polemic, in contrast to the more generally humanist formative influences of Vives and Charron. Pico's sceptical contribution was especially limited. What discord has arisen among the theologians comes entirely from the sources of the philosophers. Hence, Pico maintained, philosophy was the source of all heresy, and he set out to tear up every last root and branch of this vanity which was pullulating unchecked.

In propounding this view Pico was expressing an attitude that was similar. In fact, Gassendi's acknowledgment of the influence of Gianfrancesco Pico is a little surprising, since he was not nearly as popular an author as the other three. Schmitt has suggested. It would seem that it was through the influence of Ramus rather than Pico that Gassendi was first stimulated to deploy the weapons of scepticism against the Aristotelians. Although Ramus belonged to a later generation than Gianfrancesco Pico , it is Ramus who has been identified as an originator, along with his colleague Omer Talon , of the link between scepticism and anti-Aristotelianism.

His task, as he saw it, was one of purification and restoration of the true Aristotle, and of healing the wounds inflicted by the commentators on Aristotle's original work. He seemed to accept as an indisputable fact the philosophical supremacy of Aristotelianism in the statement: "the philosophy of Aristotle is practically the whole of philosophy and the only philosophy in the whole wide world".

In their writings scepticism was used as a tool and a stick with which to attack the dogmatism of the Aristotelians. However, since the time of Ramus and Talon an important development had occurred in Renaissance scepticism. The main source of information concerning ancient scepticism for Ramus and Talon had been Cicero's Academica. These translations were the work of Henri Estienne, a Parisian printer, and Gentian Hervet, a Catholic scholar who promoted Pyrrhonism as a "new machine of war" to be deployed against Calvinist rationalism. They were as follows: Francesco Pico della Mirandola has given a fine example of how great a use can be made of the commentary of Sextus Empiricus for safeguarding the dogma of the Christian religion against the pagan philosophers.

See his book in which he defends Christian philosophy against the dogmas of the pagans. Thus Gassendi accepted Pico's anti-Aristotelian techniques and arguments and left aside his destructive scepticism, while it was Ramus, it appears, who influenced him to be a sceptic in the first place.

The net result of these influences can be gauged from Gassendi's preface to the Exercitationes where he explained his reasons for adopting Pyrrhonism. The reasons, as Gassendi related them, were wholly anti-Aristotelian, largely pedagogical, and significantly, in relation to Gassendi's future philosophical development after the Exercitationes, only fleetingly if at all were his reasons linked to a personal philosophical commitment to Pyrrhonism.

Gassendi told his story in the Exercitationes as follows. For Aristotelianism did not teach one how to arrive at that Stoic tranquillity which Cicero proclaimed to be the fruit of good philosophy. At first Gassendi was afraid to oppose the Aristotelians, but he was heartened and strengthened by Vives, Charron, Ramus and Mirandola. Then, Gassendi's narration continued, he began to explore other philosophical traditions to see whether any of them could offer something more satisfactory. One might safely presume that he explored these other philosophies with the help of Pi co's Examen vanitatis, especially as Gassendi went on to state that he encountered difficulties with all of them.

As a consequence, he came to the conclusion that the only thing for him to do was to accept the akataiepsia, or doubt, of the Academicians and Pyrrhonists. He was repelled by the levity and arrogance of the dogmatic philosophers who boasted that they had attained to true knowledge of natural things, and came to the conclusion that the Academicians and Pyrrhonists showed greater wisdom, for, in order to demonstrate the vanity and uncertainty of human knowledge, they equipped themselves to be able to argue both for and against, on any subject.

Although Gassendi was a Pyrrhonist, with special emphasis on the application of Pyrrhonism to the philosophy of nature, according to his own account as I have summarised it in the preceding paragraph, he was still officially a teacher of Aristotelian philosophy. Gassendi endeavoured to surmount the difficulties involved in such an anomalous position by training his students to defend Aristotle well in the main body of his course, while presenting them with arguments in the appendices that, he claimed, completely overturned the Aristotelian doctrines.

In this way he aimed to train his students in Pyrrhonism by professing to show them that there was no proposition or opinion, be it ever so generally accepted or attractive in itself, that its opposite could not be shown to be equally probable or even more probable. Gassendi claimed that his pedagogical method resembled the original method of Aristotle himself.

He wrote: Aristotle did not train his young students to dispute theses in the dry way of the philosophers, but with all the fulness of the rhetoricians, arguing both for and against, so that they would be able to speak with more elegance and more articulately. Yet, contrary to what one might expect, the Exercitationes is not a rational Pyrrhonist series of objections to Aristotelian philosophy.

There is little evidence of isosthenia, or a state of mental suspense depending upon a balance between pro and contra. Nor is the balance between pro and contra significantly ameliorated even when one takes into account that the Exercitationes reproduced only one side of the argument, since Gassendi did not publish his pro-Aristotelian philosophy.

Gassendi frankly considered the Aristotelian texts to be "unworthy" works,61 meaning that the commentaries were unworthy of being called Aristotelian. Also in Book I, Exercitatio 7, Gassendi gave a long list of all the things he considered to be wrong with Aristotle's philosophy, while in the next exercitatio he gave a similarly long list of all the things which he found to be contradictory in it.

But Gassendi himself implied in the preface that he was no longer, or not always, a Pyrrhonist. Consequently it is not correct to use the term "Pyrrhonism" to describe his position, since Pyrrhonism, especially as portrayed in the writings of Sextus Empiricus,63 was a radical, consistent and comprehensive scepticism. Gassendi's position is better described as a specifically anti-Aristotelian scepticism.

In this chapter, attention has been focussed on the story of Gassendi's withdrawal from Aristotelianism. But so far only part of the story has been told, for Gassendi also underwent a process of conversion to an alternative philosophy that corresponded to his movement away from Aristotelianism.

That alternative philosophy was Epicureanism, a form of which was soon to become his new natural philosophy. This side of the story - the adoption of Epicureanism by Gassendi - will be explored in Chapter 3. To conclude this chapter, however, a number of features of the story of Gassendi's withdrawal from Aristotelianism should be underscored, since they are important for a better understanding of his intellectual journey away from Aristotelianism.

First, Gassendi's anti-Aristotelianism was clearly in harmony with a popular, perhaps one might say 'fashionable', movement in Provence in the first quarter of the seventeenth century. His contribution to the reaction against Aristotelianism was very favourably accepted by the people who counted for most in the region of Aix. Local notables such as Peiresc, a councillor of the Parlement of Provence, Galtier, the second highest ecclesiastical dignitary of the diocese, and Pibrac, a King's councillor and member of a very prominent family, paid special attention to Gassendi's work.

According to Gassendi "the most renowned assemblies of the whole of Provence" attended his public disputations against the Aristotelians. In particular, by being well received by Galtier he was thereby well received by the Church establishment. In fact, by reason of his own position he was a part of that Church establishment himself. A similar picture of Gassendi as a popular and fashionable philosopher is obtained from a consideration of the list of intellectual influences that Gassendi recognised.

Against such a background of cultural influences there seems to be a high degree of predictability about the philosophical positions Gassendi adopted in the Exercitationes, especially his so-called Pyrrhonism, his anti-Aristotelianism, and even his emphasis on the practical sciences. At the same time, Gassendi's Exercitationes express the mood of the dominant section of the educated public of Provence in the first quarter of the seventeenth century: humanist, anti- Aristotelian, interested in practical sciences, especially astronomy and anatomy.

Second, Gassendi's scepticism was, at least originally, a limited weapon taken up for a specific purpose, namely for his polemic against Aristotelianism. It was largely a fruit of his reading of the humanist authors, especially Charron, and according to Gassendi's own account it was originally adopted out of a dissatisfaction with Aristotelianism because it did not promote the Stoic ethical goal of ataraxia, or peace of mind. Sextus Empiricus represented Aristotelianism as a dogmatic philosophy;65 Charron had attacked dogmatism in a general way without mentioning the Aristotelians by name; Ramus and Pico had attacked Aristotelianism in overt fashion; finally, Gassendi was able to profit by the writings of the humanists to attack Aristotelianism with the weapons of scepticism, and thereby disturb the popular myth of the infallibility of the Aristotelians.

It would seem fairly clear, then, that any sense of an impending "sceptical crisis" was far from Gassendi's consciousness as he delivered his anti-Aristotelian lectures and composed the Exercitationes. He did not show signs of being concerned about the epistemological vacuum that would result once Aristotelian rationalism was undermined.

His principal concern was to undermine the dogmatism of the Aristotelians as a means of promoting moderate Renaissance wisdom and for the sake of the free advancement of the practical sciences. He gave no evidence of experiencing epistemological discomfort: the foundations of knowledge had not been disrupted as far as he was concerned; only the pretentions of the Aristotelians had been overthrown. Such a conclusion does not agree with the interpretations of many previous commentators as refined more recently by R.

However, it does fit well with the interpretation of O. Bloch, and it will be further corroborated in the next and later chapters. Th;rd, Gassendi's anti-Aristotelianism differed from that of Vives and Ramus in one important way: while Vives and Ramus criticised Aristotelianism, they retained a basic loyalty to the Aristotelian tradition and especially to the philosophy of Aristotle himself.

Gassendi, on the other hand, accepted the view that it was time to abandon Aristotelianism and look for something to take its place. For instance, he considered that Porphyry's account of the Aristotelian concept of 'difference' was: a trifling and preposterously inept doctrine, in no way true to Aristotle. While he also professed that he had the greatest esteem for Aristotle and that his intention was to attack the Aristotelians rather than Aristotle himself,71 he did not set out to renew, reform or restore Aristotle's doctrine.

For Gassendi, it was time to abandon both Aristotle and the Aristotelians. After a cursory glance through the other ancient philosophies, probably with the assistance of Pico through his Examen vanitatis, Gassendi settled for Pyrrhonism, seemingly as a result of his youthful enthusiasm for Charron, and as a preliminary to the development of his interest in Epicureanism.

Now the point has been reached at which an examination of Gassendi's Epicureanism may be opened. However, before passing to Gassendi's life- long effort to resuscitate Epicurean philosophy, it will be valuable to examine another life-long concern, Gassendi's astronomical work which in fact pre-dated his Epicureanism. It is particularly appropriate to study Gassendi's astronomy before his Epicureanism because it was especially in his astronomical writings that his Pyrrhonism lingered on. In fact it did much better than linger: Gassendi's Pyrrhonism, as has been seen, tended to wax and wane, but in his astronomical writings it most definitely "waxed".

But there were other weapons, more limited in range than scepticism, in Gassendi's arsenal, and chief among these was astronomy. Aristotelianism was losing ground in astronomy in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries as a number of discoveries were made which refuted particular doctrines of Aristotelian cosmology. Galileo Galilei became a leader in the field during this period, and especially under his influence the anti-Aristotelian potential of the new developments in astronomy were exploited to such a degree that a clamorous debate arose between Aristotelian anti-Copernicans who were opposed to Galileo, and Copernican anti-Aristotelians who followed Galileo.

Gassendi joined the debate, and his writings reflect its course: he began as an enthusiastic Copernican anti-Aristotelian follower of Galileo; he suffered from afar the trauma of the condemnation of Galileo; and he ended his days as a mild Tychonian with most of his anti- Aristotelian fire spent.

Chapter Eleven: Explanatory Uses of the Atomist Hypothesis

In this chapter I propose to describe the shifts and developments in Gassendi's position as he participated in the Copernican debate and tried to cope with the dilemma in which he found himself following the condemnation of Galileo. The period which will be studied opened with the year , when Gassendi began to keep a record of his observations, and concluded in when he wrote his last pages on astronomical subjects and was forced to call a halt to his observations. Two years after his appointment to the chair of Aristotelian philosophy at Aix-en-Provence, in the year , Gassendi began to keep records of his astronomical observations.

His records opened with a series of observations of the last of three comets which were seen between August and December of that year, and which aroused much controversy. Gassendi welcomed this comet at the time when he was embarking on his attack on Aristotelianism in the Exercitationes the only record that remains of his lectures on astronomy at Aix , for it seemed to him at that time to provide a chance to score an easy victory over the Aristotelians.

Hence it is better that we not pronounce conclusively on the question, but be satisfied to give a report of that comet which appeared not long ago, first as we saw it, and then, by way of conjecture and combining our observations with those of others, to say what can be said with some degree of verisimilitude. At the time of publication of the Exercitationes Gassendi did not know of Galileo's theory about comets; he first wrote to Galileo in 7 and stated in the course of the letter that he had not yet been able to read the Saggiatore Like rainbows, GaliIeo maintained, comets appear to be displaced along with the observer as he moves from place to place, and so the argument from the lack of parallax for locating comets in the celestial regions was irrelevant.

He attributed the theory that the heavens were filled with impenetrable crystalline spheres to the whole Aristotelian tradition: Eudoxus, he claimed, was the first to present the hypothesis and Aristotle adopted and expanded the theory of Eudoxus in the Metaphysics;13 in the Exercitationes Gassendi rebuked the Aristotelians for continuing to take the theory seriously. He wrote: They reflect solemnly on a host of silly subjects which feed their bad dreams, such as the solidity and reality of the celestial spheres, the channels which the stars travel along 14 Gassendi was again following the lead of Tycho Brahe who had attributed the theory of solid spheres to the majority of his predecessors.

IS It has recently been argued that the belief that the heavenly bodies were carried in their orbits by real, solid, crystalline spheres was not as widespread as Tycho claimed. Gassendi had also welcomed the comet of because it provided empirical evidence against the Aristotelian doctrine according to which the super-lunary or celestial regions were immutable and perfect. That a comet should come into view and disappear in the heavens was proof that changes take place in those celestial regions; and since it was further believed that comets came to birth and died in those regions, one could take them as evidence that the heavenly substance was not essentially different from earthly matter.

More usually, however, Gassendi found Galileo's influence and leadership very helpful in his anti- Aristotelian polemic. In the preface to the Exercitationes Gassendi promised that, in contradiction of the Aristotelian doctrine, He wrote: First of all my dear Galileo, I would like you to be fully assured that I have embraced your Copernican theory in astronomy with the greatest mental delight. He wrote: From the earliest days I have honoured your supreme wisdom and erudition.

I cannot express how great was the silent worship I paid to you from the time your interpreter of the heavens revealed those mysteries so unknown by the human race. In March he wrote: I continually praise the fertility of your genius, and wherever you lead I shall follow Indeed, I am so moved with delight as I read it that even now, as often as I recall its contents to mind, I am extraordinarily moved.

Galileo became an ally against the Aristotelians, for Gassendi, as has been seen, intended to use Copernicanism against the Aristotelians in the Exercitationes, and presumably he had used it in this way in his lectures from which the Exercitationes was drawn. Once Gassendi stated explicitly to Galileo that he was using the latter's astronomical reasoning in his anti-Aristotelian project; he wrote: I do not intend to write anything concerning [my own] observations of sunspots except insofar as they lead, according to your principles, to a refutation of Aristotelianism and an exhortation that men adopt a truer and better philosophy.

From the foregoing samples taken from his correspondence with Galileo, Gassendi can be seen to have been an enthusiastic and somewhat uncritical follower of Galileo who was especially drawn to GaliIeo's work and to Copernicanism because of their anti-Aristotelian significance. Without doubt Gassendi was interested in Copernicanism for a variety of reasons: because it was modern and revolutionary; because many of the better educated scholars had been converted to it; because the most recent observations confirmed it Gassendi recorded very little concerning his discussions along the way but, from the little he did write to Peiresc, we learn that the Copernican theory and questions concerning the motion of bodies figured prominently in the discussions.

At Arras, Gassendi met Fr Malaperti, the Rector of the Jesuit college who, Gassendi noted, was on the point of publishing a book on sunspots, and was withholding publication until Fr Scheiner had published his work. Philip of Lansberg was on Gassendi's list of most important Copernicans. At his last stopping place, Gorkum, Gassendi met a Maronite whose opinions concerning the order and arrangement of the universe he found to be admirable. Gassendi did not indicate what these opinions were, but we may presume that they were Copernican.

He also recorded that he visited the army barracks and met a certain Monsieur de Fresnes Canaye who introduced him to the mathematician Albert Girard who had been responsible for the reprinting of the mathematical works of Samuel Marolois.



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