Harald Høffding.

A history of modern philosophy; a sketch of the history of philosophy from the close of the renaissance to our own day online

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position to the Aristotelio-mediseval dualism of a heavenly and
a sublunary world, they maintained the unity of the different
parts of the universe with respect both to matter and to force.
Although they considered themselves pioneers, particularly in
regard to method, yet their investigations are anything but
scientific or methodical. They had yet to learn the stricter


demands on method made by natural science, which were
emphasised by Leonardo da Vinci, Galilei, and Bacon. ^^ Their
thoughts, too, do not admit of being gathered up into an easily
apprehended whole ; as is the case — notwithstanding all methodo-
logical shortcomings — with Bernardino Telesio, whom we
will therefore regard as the representative of the philosophy
based on experience, which, while it was antecedent to the
founding of modern natural science, had yet already freed
itself from the Aristotelio-mediaeval conception.

With Telesio we step on to the soil of Southern Italy, which
had produced so many of the great thinkers of antiquity, and
which was to regain its ancient fame in the age of the Renais-
sance. It was the home of a Telesio, a Giordano Bruno, and
a Campanella. These three thinkers form a unique series :
their ideas run in the same direction, however characteristic
may be the differences which they otherwise present. Telesio
influenced both the others. Born of a noble family at Cosenza,
near Naples, he took advantage of his favourable external
circumstances to pursue comprehensive studies. After he had
studied at Milan, he went to Rome, where he suffered ill-treat-
ment during the taking of the town by the Imperialist troops
under Constable de Bourbon. Afterwards he went to Padua,
and here his breach with Aristotelianism is said to have taken
place. This laid the foundation of a clearly-defined antagonism
between the schools of Northern and Southern Italy. While in
Padua and Bologna they continued to reverence Aristotle and,
more or less blindly, to swear by his words, in South Italy men's
thoughts were turning in new directions, and new paths were
being opened out, while an attempt was made to found everything
on the newly emerging science of Nature. After staying in
Rome with Pope Paul IV., who held him in high esteem, and
even wished to make him Archbishop, Telesio returned to South
Italy. He lectured at Naples and founded an academy at
Cosenza. In the year 1565 appeared the first part of his chief
work, De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), which was
followed (1587) by a second part, dealing with men in their
psychological and ethical aspects. Telesio died in the year
1588. During the last years of his life he was the object of
violent attacks on the part of the monks, who thought that
with Aristotelianism all else must fall ; and a few years after
his death his works were entered on the Index.



Telesio contrasts his endeavour with that of all his pre-
decessors : they in their great self-confidence had hoped to
penetrate into the secrets of Nature by means of their reason,
just as though they were, equal with God in wisdom ; he himself
is more humble, and will only attain to human wisdom, which
has its limits in that which the senses teach us, and in what
may be inferred from resemblance with things that we perceive
by their means. He will build, that is to say, on sensuous-
experience, and on that alone. In this way he believes he
will be able to arrive at a surer knowledge than that of his
-' predecessors. Non ratione, sed sensu ! is his motto. But he is
convinced that sensuous perception will never bring him into
contradiction with himself, nor (this, however, he only added —
perhaps after he had learnt by experience— in a later edition)
in conflict with the Church. Aristotelianism, on the contrary,
contradicts experience as well as itself and the Church !

The most important feature of Telesio's natural philosophy
1 is his endeavour to substitute the relation between matter
and force for that between matter and form, which recurs so
constantly with Aristotle. It was characteristic of the antique,
ssthetic conception of Nature to look for the explanation
of natural phenomena in the forms under which they occurred ;
natural processes were understood by means of the fully
developed results which they effected. The modern conception
of Nature goes farther back, and inquires as to the active
principles. According to Telesio there are two such principles
(frmcipia agentid) : an expanding principle which he calls heat,
and a contracting principle which he calls cold. Heat and
cold, that is to say, are for him neither matter nor mere
qualities, but forces expressing themselves in two different
modes of motion. Telesio was thus not far from saying that
everything which goes on in Nature is to be conceived as
motion. These two principles work on matter which is never
increased or decreased, but which under their influence assumes
the most widely different forms, according to the different
proportions of contraction and expansion, and which is every-
where uniform, so that there is no need to assume a distinction
between heavenly and terrestrial matter.

Moreover, he was also decidedly opposed to Aristotle in
his teaching that matter is something other than space ; which
teaching gave its death-blow to the Aristotelian doctrine of


the " natural places " of the different elements. Different
places in space have not different qualities. The existence of
absolutely empty space must even be possible ; it was pure
imagination on Aristotle's part to say that Nature abhors a
vacuum. The Aristotelian doctrine of elements falls to the
ground, not merely because the " natural places " no longer
hold good, but also because all that remains is the one per-
sistent mass {moles), which assumes various forms in accordance
with the varying proportions of expansion and contraction. If
we are to assume different elements, there can at most be two, —
one in which the expansive, and a second in which the contrac-
tive principle works. The former has its central point in the
sun, the latter in the earth. Telesio accepts the Aristotelian
world-scheme to this extent, but he regards the mass of which
both the heavenly bodies are formed as uniform, and only the
forces as different ; and he also assumes a more lively interaction
between the heavenly and the earthly than did Aristotle. In
addition to this, he expresses himself as distinctly opposed
to Aristotle's theory that the heavenly spheres are guided
by particular spirits. The heavens move round, not because
they are constrained thereto by an alien principle, nor because
they strive after something that lies beyond them, but because
it lies in their own nature so to do. Similarly, the earth
remains at rest because this is its nature, i.e. cold and dark.
God does not intervene at particular points in Nature, but has
endowed every being with its own nature and manner of
working. And the several impulses to self-preservation of
individual beings are in harmony with one another, just as
the individual organs of an organism are in harmony, for they
serve the whole when each is active in the manner peculiar to
its own nature. There are therefore no especial final causes,
but it is a satisfaction to every cause to follow its own nature,
and thus arises the harmony between individual beings. Instead
of assuming an external accommodation and an external
intervention on the part of God, Telesio believed, on the con-
trary, that the divine wisdom is revealed precisely in this, — that
everything which happens according to necessary laws is, in and
for itself, purposive. The heavens do not move round for the
sake of the earth, but in accordance with their own nature, and
yet their motion benefits the earth.

Telesio evidently aims at establishing truer and more


fruitful concepts than those presented in the natural philosophy
of Aristotle. But he offers no methodical, inductive proof of
the validity and necessity of his fundamental concepts, and in
so far denies his own programme, according to which he is to
build on sensuous perception only. Against these fundamental
concepts themselves objections may be — and were— raised. A
contemporary philosopher, the Platonist Patrizzi, although on
important points a disciple of Telesio, yet carried on an inter-
esting discussion partly with Telesio himself, and partly with one
of his pupils,^'' in which he brings forward various pertinent
objections against his system ; remarking, inter alia, that what
Telesio calls matter cannot be apprehended by means of
sensuous perception, which shows us particular and changing
qualities only, not absolute, passive matter. Patrizzi here
touches on the important question of the relation of substance
to force. He further asks how it is possible to deduce from
the two forces all the manifoldness of phenomena. Both these
objections are valid, and the latter, especially, is confirmed by
Telesio's extremely arbitrary and naive explanations of in-
dividual phenomena. There was as yet no material to afford
a scientific explanation of particulars, and at this point
Telesio does not display the critical acumen which character-
ises his establishment of the fundamental concepts, valid for
all knowledge of Nature. Moreover it was entirely arbitrary
on his part to call the original principles Heat and Cold.
Amongst other things it followed logically from this that the
begetting of heat through motion must always be regarded as
secondary, or as the awakening of a pre-existent heat ; while
the begetting of motion through heat must be the original fact ;
which, as Patrizzi also pointed out, was a purely arbitrary
assertion. Finally, if heat is centralised in the sun and cold in
the earth, this does not, according to Telesio, exclude the pro-
duction of heat by the earth under the influence of the sun ;
but in that case, as Patrizzi explains, the earth would be able to
move also, since heat begets motion. Telesio did not answer
this objection himself, but one of his pupils remarked that
there were, to be sure, some people who believed the earth
moved, but they had proved nothing beyond their own saga-
city. The time when the Copernican theory could exercise a
decisive influence on the world-conception had not yet come.
Telesio's natural philosophy had to undergo a radical change


in many of its particulars before it could be harmonised with
the new astronomy, according to which it is the earth, the
"cold" body, which moves, and the sun, the "warm" body,
which is at rest. Notwithstanding this fact, however, Telesio
contributed suggestions on many important points to the new
world-conception. The best evidence of this is afforded by the
anger which he excited among the Aristotelians. Disputations
were organised throughout Italy in which the " forces " were
arrayed against the " forms," and where the battle was some-
times — e.g. in a disputation of i S 7 3 a-t Venice, between the
Telesians and the students of Padua — fought out with cor-
poreal weapons. The philosophies of Northern and Southern
Italy here confronted one another.

Mind, according to Telesio, stands in the closest relation
possible to matter — it is not really, indeed, anything different
from it. The material forces — "Heat" and "Cold" — must
possess the capacity of feeling, otherwise they would not be
able to exist ; for they must feel, in order, each one for itself,
to be able to offer resistance to the other opposing force, to
mark its approach, and to feel satisfaction in its own existence
and working. Moreover, every material thing must be able to
feel with other things, in order to follow them when they with-
draw ; this, too, presupposes sense and feeling. But we need
not, on this account, attribute special sense-organs to things ;
for a sense-organ is nothing but a means for passing on an
impression, and can be dispensed with in immediate feeling.
In this mythological and animistic fashion, Telesio finds, in
the animation of bodies, the necessary presupposition of
their reciprocal action. Of more lasting importance is an
argument which he uses in support of his theory of animation,
viz. if the original forces and original matter possessed no
feeling, the genesis of this in beings which consist of the
original forces and the original matter would be altogether
inexplicable, for nothing can give what it does not possess.
He maintains, that is to say, the impossibility of explaining
the genesis of consciousness out of matter, unless we suppose
matter to be originally endowed with consciousness. But in
so saying he confesses that the original matter and the original
forces from which he started are by no means adequate
to the explanation of all things in the world. For a new
force is here introduced ! And yet Telesio would not have



admitted the validity of this criticism. For, as he attributes con-
sciousness to matter, so, too, he conceives the soul as a material
being. For if the soul were not material, how could it be
influenced by material forces ? How could it become aware
of expansion and contraction, were it not itself expanded or
contracted ? In pleasure the soul expands, in pain it contracts.
And since it can contract and expand quickly and easily, it
must consist of very fine matter. This soul-stuff {spiritus) is
situated in the cavities of the brain. The proof of this lies
partly in the fact that the nerves proceed from the brain and
not, as Aristotle believed, from the heart, while the nerve-
substance resembles that of the brain, not that of the heart ;
and partly in the fact that death occurs when the brain-cavities
are filled with too dense matter, or if the brain is otherwise
injured, and also that unconsciousness may supervene in
apoplexy, fainting, and sleep, without other parts of the body
suffering change. We have already encountered this vital
spirit in Vives and Melancthon, which, regarded sometimes as
the seat of the soul, sometimes, as here with Telesio, as the
soul itself, is a notion inherited from Greek physicians and
philosophers. It is evident that since Telesio conceives all
matter as endowed with consciousness, he cannot be very much
opposed to conceiving consciousness itself as material. It
appears, however, that he distinguishes between consciousness
itself and that which goes on in every " spirit " which stirs the
nerves and brain and is in motion. For, when pointing out
that a uniform motion of the " spirit " is associated with no
sensation, but that a change in the motion of the "spirit" deter-
mined by the influence of things is necessary to arouse feel-
ing, he remarks : " Feeling (smsus), then, is a perception
{perceptid) of external impressions and of internal changes ;
before all things it is a perception of internal changes, since
it is only by means of the latter that we can know external
impressions." ^^ Feeling, that is to say, is not merely identical
with the changes of motion of the internal soul-substance, but
is the " perception " of them. But then arises a new question,
How is this perception possible? By this interpolated /£r«//w
Telesio has been betrayed into the involuntary confession that
the matter is not so very simple after all. He believed him-
self to have solved the problem by making the soul material ;
but, like a mocking Jack-in-the-box, pops up the question, —


How, in that case, is that which goes on in this material soul
perceived ?

Telesio's attempt to prove that all knowledge is feeling is 1/
interesting. He denies the distinction between feeling and
thought ; in such a way, indeed, as to reduce all thought to feeling.
For if a motion has once been excited in the " spirit " it can be
subsequently recalled, since it becomes habitual, or even, per-
haps, persists to a certain extent. The knowledge associated
with such habitual or repeated motion is memory. When,
then, a thing which has once been perceived by us in its
totality afterwards presents to our immediate perception
isolated qualities only, we are able, on account of its resem-
blance to that which we had formerly apprehended, to fill out
what is missing and to grasp the thing, although given as a
fragment only, in its totality. We can imagine the fire with
all its qualities, even though, perhaps, we can only see its light,
and cannot perceive its heat nor its consuming power. In
such an apprehension as a totality of fragmentary data consists,
according to Telesio, the understanding (Jntelligere), which he
would therefore prefer to call a memory or a judgment. Even
the highest and most perfect knowledge contains nothing more
than the capacity to discover, by means of resemblance with
a case with which we are familiar as a totality, the unknown
qualities and conditions of things. The absolutely unknown
cannot be known. There must always be a point of contact
with a datum, — a connecting link, that is to say, for sense
and memory, which latter is nothing more than prolonged
sense-impression. To infer is only to recognise in this manner
the missing qualities. Even pure logic and mathematics arise
out of sensation, since sensation shows us something similar
to that which is contained in the fundamental principles of
logic and mathematics. Sensuous perception gives me in-
numerable examples that the whole is greater than the part,
and that I cannot at the same time assert and deny the same
thing ; as it also directly shows me that snow is white as well
as cold, and that men have two legs. The simplest sensuous
perceptions are connected, through all degrees of approximation,
with ideal scientific principles. There is, then, no reason to
split up our faculty of knowledge into two faculties. In its
essence it is single, and rests entirely on the relation of re-
semblance — or perhaps on several very composite relations of


resemblance — between objects which are apprehended in
immediate sensation, and accordingly is nothing at all but

This whole doctrine rests upon the assumption that
similarity and difference can be " felt " like any other qualities.
" The spirit," says Telesio, " perceives the similarity and the dif-
ference between things felt ; whatever has the same effects it ap-
prehends as one and the same thing, and whatever has different
effects as different things." The question now arises whether
these are quite simple sensuous acts. At any rate there is the
distinction between similarity and difference on the one side, and
all other qualities on the other, while the former — more than
the latter — presuppose a process of comparison ; so that we
must distinguish, within sense, an active and a passive side. It
is, then, only a question of terminology whether we shall use
the term sensation of both sides, or whether (with Cusanus)
we shall say that thinking enters into all sensuous perception.
It sometimes happened, however, that Telsio himself set up
the perception of similarity in opposition to sensation. To
Patrizzi's reproach that he despised reason {ratio), he answers :
" I in no way despise reason, i.e. that knowledge of things
which is given to us, not through sensation, but through the
resemblance of things which are perceived by sensation, and I
could never believe that it is to be despised. But I shall
always maintain that sensation is more to be trusted than
reason." To which Patrizzi very rightly answers : " You
do not seem to assert of this resemblance that it can be
perceived through sensation ; how, then, can it be apprehended,
if not through the reason ? " In the apprehension of resem-
blance, that is to say, there is something more than is con-
tained in the simplest acts of the senses. Telesio's attempt
to make knowledge at all stages absolutely identical was
therefore not successful : in and for itself, however, it was a
justifiable attempt — a pendant to that of Cusanus. Both
schemes contain creative thoughts within the spheres of
psychology and theory of knowledge.

Like all matter, the soul, too, seeks to preserve itself. It
strives after many different goods and is prompted by many
different impulses ; but when it makes a choice and sub-
ordinates all other goods to a single one, it is very evident
that the regulator of this choice is self-preservation and its



conditions. The value of all goods is constituted by their
connection with self-preservation, and an immediate feeling of
pleasure is associated with the natural activity by which a
being preserves and maintains itself. No being, not even the
'' spirit," can strive after any other goal than self-preservation.
It is especially evident that knowledge is a means to this
end. Wisdom is the sum of all virtue, since the right know-
ledge for the discovery of the means to self-preservation is of
the utmost importance. Only in reciprocal action with others
can the individual live safely and at ease ; and, if this recipro-
cal action is to be fervent and fruitful, the individuals must
be as closely united as if they formed a single composite
being, so that they work together like the organs of an
organism. In this way arise the motives of the social virtues,
whose sum is humanity {humanitas), and the possibility of
which rests on the need of social life, of confidence, and of
goodwill. The highest of all virtues,^^ however, is magna-
nimity [sublimitas), which regulates love of esteem. Man will
not submit to be despised : he cannot endure to be regarded
as inadequate to fill his position, as impure, or as obnoxious.
Hence, since his own strength does not always afford him
sufficient testimony, he seeks a support in the opinion of other
men. Magnanimity, then, consists in this : that only such
honour must be sought after as is founded in the individual's
own inner goods, and that these are precisely the goods which
are to be preferred on account of the honour that may be
bound up with them. Honour is for magnanimity no necessary,
internal good ; the important point is to be worthy of honour ;
a sufficient source of satisfaction lies in purity and integrity in
and for themselves.

All this, knowledge as well as self-preservation, concerns,
according to Telesio, the material soul only ; that which is
developed out of the seed {spiritus e semine eductus). But
in addition to this sense knowledge and natural self-preservation,
a higher impulse and intention makes itself felt in man, which
points beyond our life on this earth and its preservation, and must
therefore be explained thus : God has implanted in us another
soul, which, as non- corporeal form, unites with that which de-
veloped naturally, when the body became fully developed. In this
way only can we explain the fact that, in contemplation, men can
forget the needs of the senses ; and also that, in this earthly life.


complete satisfaction is never found. How this form, '' super-
added from above " {forma superaddita), is related to the natural
soul, Telesio does not explain more nearly. By this doctrine,
which is perhaps only introduced as a concession to theology,
Telesio interrupts the finished character of his philosophy.
And he forgets that in his natural ethics he has already
described a condition of character which is exalted above
purely physical self-preservation. Various psychological
middle terms are needed to explain to us how magnanimity
can develop out of the original impulse to self-preservation.
Telesio's endeavours ought to have been directed towards the
filling up of these lacuns, rather than to the addition of supple-
ments which are not altogether in harmony with his foundation.
In spite of all its imperfections, however, Telesio's system
is one of the most remarkable which the Renaissance
produced. Born in the dust, and rooted in the senses, it yet
soars boldly aloft to the sublime. It draws conclusions and
intimates modes of conception which were only developed
much later, on a more productive soil. Nevertheless it
caused great excitement among his contemporaries, and
exerted no inconsiderable influence on such thinkers as
Bruno, Campanella, and Bacon.



The traditionary conception of the world had been shaken
by Cusanus' criticism of the doctrine of absolute motion and

Online LibraryHarald HøffdingA history of modern philosophy; a sketch of the history of philosophy from the close of the renaissance to our own day → online text (page 10 of 52)