The philosophy of Pierre Gassendi: science and belief in seventeenth-century Paris and Provence

Makin, William Edward Anselm (1985). The philosophy of Pierre Gassendi: science and belief in seventeenth-century Paris and Provence. PhD thesis The Open University.



This is a multi-disciplinary study which examines the life and thought of Pierre Gassendi as a whole and in the context of seventeenthcentury Paris and Provence. There are sections on the political, religious and social fabric of Provence, on the Catholic Church and on Gassendi's view of his clerical function, on Absolute Monarchy and his intimate involvement with the theory and practice of politics. The justification for the sheer weight of minute investigative detail used in the historical side of this inquiry is that the printed texts of Gassendi, and of most of his circle, cannot be properly evaluated without this sort of inside knowledge of the circumstances in which they were written. One fruit of this method is the discovery that Gassendi was devoloping in almost total secrecy, from as early as 1618, his own Copernican physics, which in many ways must be regarded as a prototype of that deployed seventy years later in the PRINCIPIA. Evidence to support this argument is in the sections on the Galley Experiment of 1640, Gravitation, Atomism and Astronomy. It is the extent of Gassendi's co-operation with mathematicians, astronomers and scientists, and the fact that most of them must have shared the secret of his working assumption, that is the most remarkable aspect of the case. It indicates that all those contemporary rumours of underground scientific organisations were well-founded. Gassendi's secret Copernicanism seems to pale into insignificance beside my claim that he was not a believing Christian. A hitherto unclassified form of sceptical materialism, a sort of Pythagorean pantheism, was a major source of his interest in atomism, astronomy and nature in general. The evidence for this is presented in the sections on the Church, Life and Souls, Friendship, Atoms and Indivisibles. Whilst these views were relevant to his motivation they had, arguably, no direct influence on the structure of his science. This was constructed on the principle of separating metaphysics from science altogether and, within bounds of any given inquiry, keeping hypotheses-however attractive-separate from the observations and their analysis.

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