The philosophy of Gassendi
Up to the present little attention has been paid to Gassendi. The want of a reliable account of his philosophy has caused him to be neglected, for the nature of his own writings is such as would naturally obscure the value of his message. Hallam, in his Introduction to the Literature of Europe (Part iv. chap, iii.), indicates the extent to which Gassendi has been neglected and also the reasons. He refers to Gassendi s "prolixity of the statement," " prodigality of learning," and " display of erudition," characteristics which have all militated against recognition of his real merits.
In consequence, he is little more than a name, or is known as the original of Bernier s work, and is either misunderstood or pushed aside as one who challenged Descartes from an antiquated and untenable standpoint. To remedy this error and supply what is undoubtedly a page in the history of philosophy I have tried in this book to express briefly the main lines of Gassendi s thought. It has been necessary to condense the matter ruthlessly, but this could be done with all the less danger because so much of the contents of the volumes is historical. None the less it is natural that there should arise the feeling that a process that condenses chapters into phrases and whole sections into sentences, is an injustice to an author.
The atmosphere of comprehensive learning which gives a peculiar charm to these volumes cannot be reproduced elsewhere : it is the breath of an age which every day puts further from us. In compensation for this loss, I can only plead the advantages of conciseness. Time works toward the setting forth of the skeleton with the destruction of all else, and in the world of books, we take an optimistic view of this unavoidable process and trust that it leaves us what is most enduring and most essential. That Gassendi deserves honourable mention in the history of philosophy will hardly be doubted. How far he is able to help in the solution of its problems is a point that the reader will estimate for himself.
Now that we are recovering somewhat from that disturbance of equilibrium that characterised the development of Cartesianism, such work as that of Gassendi has an opportunity of asserting itself more effectively. If we pause to ask what is the true and abiding characteristic of a philosophic mind we shall see that it is the comprehensiveness of view, breadth of vision, combined with a power to see, and not merely look at, the vast array of the knowable.
This comprehensiveness makes greatness: through it a man may be the spectator of all times and places. But he must not hope to gain this comprehensive outlook by occupying one solitary peak: he must not flatter himself that there is an essence of all essences, that he can condense all life and think into one magic drop.
On the contrary, he must keep the original wealth of material undiminished if he would have a world in which life s garden blows; if he abstracts and simplifies the product is an essence/ a drop of scent in place of the living flower. This fact is gaining more recognition now than it did some time ago. We do not always remember that the necessity for emphasising the point was not formerly so great as it has been recently. A reading of Gassendi brings home to us the fact that philosophy has not always considered concentration its prime duty, and a return to the atmosphere of naive pluralism is a refreshing reminder that thought was once childishly unsophisticated.
With no intention of denying the value of the progress that has been made, and no attempt to ignore crudities and fallacies, we can still go back with profit to a view of the world that is not obsessed with the tendencies of extreme idealism: we can even go back to the pre-Kantian days with profit so long as we remember that they are pre-Kantian. In some respects, it is peculiarly profitable to see what could be done with the material of knowledge before Hume was sceptical or Kant awakened: in the case of Gassendi the moderation and liberality of his views make him frequently strike the line to which thought was destined to return, and thus appear in close touch with later developments.
In reference to this, I may add that the quotations from the original have been limited as much as possible. As the whole account is a mere summary the original can be easily consulted, the chapters and divisions of my account indicate the parts of the author which are being considered. But I have felt compelled to insert quotations and phrases wherever there seemed a possibility of confusion or grounds for suspecting that the language used by me was not justified by the original.
In the parts of this book which profess to contain the thoughts and ideas of Gassendi, I have aimed only at exhibiting those thoughts and ideas with no more additions than were required to bridge over gaps caused by omission and no interpretation beyond what was demanded to make clear the underlying connexions of the original work. All references to previous philosophers and interpretations of their meaning within that part (i.e. Parts i. to in.) are to be credited to Gassendi. My own remarks are only intended to set the essential elements of Gassendi s philosophy in what I conceive to be their true historical light.
I. INTRODUCTORY - 19
II. TIME AND SPACE - - 34
III. FIRST PRINCIPLES
II. TIME AND SPACE - - 34
III. FIRST PRINCIPLES
(a) THE MATERIAL PRINCIPLE - 49
(6) PRIMARY AND SECONDARY CAUSES - 55
(c) MOTION AND MUTATION - 59
(d) ON QUALITIES - - 65
(e) ON THE ORIGIN AND DECAY OF THINGS - 82
I. THE INANIMATE WORLD 89
II. THE ANIMATE WORLD
(a) INTRODUCTORY - - .... 93
(b) ON DESIGN IN NATURE - 100
(c) THE THEORY OF THE SOUL 106
(d) THE ANIMA HUMANA Ill
(e) THE BASIS OF PSYCHIC LIFE - - - - 115
III. PSYCHIC LIFE
(a) SENSE AND SENSATION 121
(b) IMAGINATION 129
(c) INTELLECT AND ITS FUNCTIONS .... 139
(d) THE HABITS OF INTELLECT 150
(e) THE PASSIONS 153
IV. THE NATURE OF LIFE
(a) THE Vis MOTRIX - .... \Q\
(b) LIFE AND DEATH - 168
(c) THE CONSTITUTION OF ANIMALS - - 172
PAET III. ETHICS
I. ON HAPPINESS 183
II. THE VIRTUES 196
III. ON LIBERTY, FATE, AND DIVINATION - - 218
IV. ON GOD 224
NOTE ON DECLINATION 230
PART IV. GENERAL REVIEW
I. GASSENDI 245
II. LATER VIEWS 270INDEX 308
Pierre Gassendi was a French philosopher, Catholic priest, astronomer, and mathematician. While he held a church position in south-east France, he also spent much time in Paris, where he was a leader of a group of free-thinking intellectuals
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