Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655)

There are three strands of Gassendi's philosophy which are quite notable. First, he was responsible for making atomism respectable in European intellectual circles of the 17th century. Atomism derived from Greek philosophers, was transmitted and modified by Lucretius and Epicurus. In the Epicurean form atomism was incompatible with Christianity. Gassenid made atomism respectable by modifying it so that it did not conflict with Christianity. Thus, instead of insisting on the eternity of atoms, Gassendi has God create the atoms.

Connected with his efforts to make atomism respectable was his rejection of Aristotelianism. There was, from the Renaissance on, a revolt against Aristotelian philosophy. Many of the philosophers of the 17th century were part of this revolt. Aristotle had rejected atomism, and this gives Gassendi some reason to reject Aristotle. The conection between Aristotle and the Scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages, which still dominated the universities in Gassendi's time, provided another reason for philosophers opposed to Scholasticism to reject Aristotelian philosophy.

The third feature of Gassendi's philosophy is that he advocated a moderate skepticism. This moderate skepticism influenced philosophy perhaps more profoundly than Descartes' attempts to refute skepticism entirely.

Gassendi Time Line

1592January 22, born to poor parents at Champtercier in Provence.
1612 After studying at Digne and Aix Gassendi appointed professor of rhetoric at Digne.
1614Receives doctorate in theology at Avignon.
1616 Ordained priest.
1617 Professor of philosophy at Aix. Works on critique of Aristotelianism.
1624 Publishes first part of his crtitique of Aristotelianism Exercitationes Paradoxicae Adversus Aristoteleos. Six more parts are intended but only the second will be finished and is published postumously.
1625 Visits Paris briefly and established friendship with La Mothe Le Vayer and Marin Mersenne.
1628 Visits Flanders and Holland meeting with leading scholars and scientists.
1634 After several years spent in both Paris and Provence and writing on several scientific, philosophical and theological topics, Gassendi is elected provost of the Cathedral at Digne.
1641 Sent to Paris for the assembly of French clergy, while there he teaches philosophy to Moliere. At the request of Mersenne, publishes his objections to Descartes' < EM>Meditations.
1644Publishes Disquisitio Metaphysica, his answer to Descartes' reply to Gassendi's objections.
1645Appointed to the chair of mathematics at the Royal College.
1647Publishes "De Vita et Moribus Epicuri," an essay on the philosophy of Epicurus.
1648Due to poor health removes himself from his post at the Royal college.
1649Two other essays on Epicurus published.
1655 October 24, dies in Paris.
1658An edition of his complete works published.


In English, Craig B Brush, tans. and ed.,The selected Works of Pierre Gassendi, New York, 1972 and Howard Jones ed. and trans., Institutio Logica, Assen, 1981 are the available sources of Gassendi's works. Gassendi's obections to Descartes' Meditations can be found in a variety of editions of the Meditations which include the "Objections and Replies" including Haldane and Ross and the newer Cottingham translation of Descartes' works.

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