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History of Philosophy
Italian Philosophy of Nature
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)

This school is characterized by naturalism and a tendency towards pantheism. Cardano (1501-1576), a Milanese physician, was the first to formulate the principles of modern naturalism. These principles were reduced to a system of speculative thought by the Calabrian Bernardino Telesio (1508-1588), who is, therefore, regarded as the founder of the school. In his work De Rerum Natura juxta Propria Principia, he advocates the use of the empirical method of investigating nature, and formulates a system according to which the universe results from the combination of three principles, mailer, heat, and cold. Patrizzi (1529-1597), in his Nova de Universis Philosophia, combined the doctrines of Neo-Platonism with the naturalism of Telesio, and thus imparted to the school its pantheistic tendency. These pantheistic principles reached their logical development in the full-blown systems of pantheism of Bruno and Campanella.


Life. Giordano Bruno was born at Nola, in Campania, in the year 1548. At an early age he entered the order of St. Dominic, but his distaste for Scholasticism and his enthusiasm for the writings of Telesio developed before long a spirit of dissatisfaction with his order and with the teachings of the Church. Discarding the garb of religion, he wandered through Italy, France, England, and Germany, and is said finally to have joined the reformed Church. Apparently, however, he found Protestantism as distasteful as the religion he had abandoned. Returning to Italy (1592), he was arrested by the Inquisition at Venice, and was burned at the stake in Rome in the year 1600. His principal works are Della causa, principio, ed uno and Del infinito universo e dei mondi. [1]

[1] Opere di Giordano Bruno Nolano (Leipzig, 1830). Other editions by Tocco (Napless 1891) ann Wagner (Leipzig, 1829), etc.

Bruno's philosophy is a system of naturalistic pantheism: its pivotal thoughts are the doctrine of the identity of God with the world and the Copernican idea of the physical universe.

God, he teaches, is identical with the universe, for the universe is infinite, and there cannot be two infinities. God is, therefore, the sum of all being, and the phenomena, or accidental forms of being, which exist, are merely the unfolding (explicatio) of the immensity of God. He is the original matter of the universe (and on this point Bruno cites the authority of David of Dinant), as well as the primitive form, the world-soul, which vivifies the original matter. Indeed these two, matter and form, not only interpenetrate each other, but are absolutely identical. God is also the final cause of all things; for to Him, the God-universe, all things are constantly returning.

The universe is, therefore, essentially one: the Aristotelian distinction between celestial and terrestrial matter can no longer be maintained. The stars are part of our solar system, or are themselves suns surrounded by planets and forming part of the one great system which is the universe. It is in this portion of his philosophy that Bruno makes use of the discoveries of Copernicus.

The universe is ruled by law: there is no place for human freedom in this system of determinism. The soul is an emanation from the Divine Universe, and all organisms are composed of living monads each of which reflects all reality.


Life. Tommaso Campanella was born in Calabria in the year 1568. In 1583 he entered the order of St. Dominic. Arrested on suspicion of conspiring against the Spanish rule, he was cast into a dungeon at Naples. After spending twenty-seven years in prison he escaped to Paris, where he died in 1639. His most important work is Universalis Philosophia.


Campanella's philosophy is the resultant of various influences, chief among which are the naturalism of Telesio, the Greek Pyrrhonism restored by the humanists, and the enthusiasm for the study of nature which resulted from the discoveries made by Copernicus and Galileo.

Campanella starts by inquiring into the conditions of knowledge. The veracity of the external senses rests on the testimony of the inner sense. On this inner sense rests also the belief in my own existence and in the existence of God. The inner sense testifies, moreover, to the existence of three functions in my own soul, -- power, knowledge, and volition. By thinking away the limitations of the power, knowledge, and volition, of which I am conscious, I arrive at an idea of an Infinite Being possessed of omnipotence, infinite wisdom, and infinite love. These three are, then, the "pro-principles" of infinite being: they are also the pro-principles of created being. For all creatures are endowed with life, feeling, and desire: they all proceed from God and they desire to return to Him, as is evident from the universality of the creature's dread of annihilation. This desire of the creature to return to the Creator is a kind of religion, and so far is atheism from being true that the most universal of all phenomena is the religious tendency by which every created being proclaims the existence of God. This thought is developed by Campanella in a treatise entitled Atheismus Triumphatus.

In the Civitas Solis Campanella outlines his ideal scheme of political government. The scheme is based on the idea of the divine government of the world communicated through the papacy to a world-monarchy and through this to the individual kingdoms, provinces, and cities.

Historical Position. The Italian school of natural philosophy resulted from the repudiation of Scholasticism by the humanists and the inauguration, by scientific discoveries, of a new era of nature-study. The extraordinary enthusiasm with which the contemporaries of Copernicus and Galileo addressed themselves to the study of natural phenomena is seen in the naturalistic pantheism of the Italian school no less clearly than in the extravagance of the Paracelsists and others who devoted themselves to the occult sciences and the practice of magic. But whatever may be said of the occultists and magicians, it is certain that the scientific discoveries would never have led to naturalism and pantheism if the principles of Scholastic philosophy had not fallen into discredit. Let us pass, therefore, to the study of the scientific movement and its influence on Scholastic philosophy.


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