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Subverting Aristotle

Religion, History, and Philosophy in Early Modern Science

Craig Martin

Publication Year: 2014

“The belief that Aristotle’s philosophy is incompatible with Christianity is hardly controversial today,” writes Craig Martin. Yet “for centuries, Christian culture embraced Aristotelian thought as its own, reconciling his philosophy with theology and church doctrine. The image of Aristotle as source of religious truth withered in the seventeenth century, the same century in which he ceased being an authority for natural philosophy.” In this fresh study of the complicated origins of revolutionary science in the age of Bacon, Hobbes, and Boyle, Martin traces one of the most important developments in Western European history: the rise and fall of Aristotelianism from the eleventh to the eighteenth century. Medieval theologians reconciled Aristotelian natural philosophy with Christian dogma in a synthesis that dominated religious thought for centuries. This synthesis unraveled in the seventeenth century contemporaneously with the emergence of the new natural philosophies of the scientific revolution. Important figures of seventeenth-century thought strove to show that the medieval appropriation of Aristotle defied the historical record that pointed to an impious figure of dubious morality. While numerous scholars have written on the seventeenth-century downfall of Aristotelianism, almost all of those works have examined how the conceptual content of the new sciences—such as the heliocentric cosmology, atomism, mechanical and mathematical models, and experimentalism—were used to dismiss the views of Aristotle. Subverting Aristotle is the first to focus on the religious polemics accompanying the scientific controversies that led to the eventual demise of Aristotelian natural philosophy. Martin’s thesis draws extensively on primary source material from England, France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. It alters present perceptions not only of the scientific revolution but also of the role of Renaissance humanism in the forging of modernity.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 1-10

The belief that Aristotle’s philosophy is incompatible with Christianity is hardly controversial today. The conviction that his views about religion and society might be best understood placed in the context of Greek pagan culture is not likely to evoke strong reactions. What is true today, however, was not always the...

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1. Scholasticism, Appropriation, and Censure

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pp. 11-27

The introduction and integration of Aristotelian thought into the Latin West during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries is among the most remarkable movements of European intellectual history. The success that Aristotelianism enjoyed for more than four centuries obscures the originality and determination of those...

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2. Humanists’ Invectives and Aristotle’s Impiety

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pp. 28-50

Giles of Rome, Thomas Aquinas, Ramon Llull, and other ecclesiastical authorities critiqued Aristotelianism from within, believing that, if his texts were interpreted in the correct way, they were necessary for considerations of nature and theology. As a result, church decrees institutionalized Aristotelianism. The...

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3. Renaissance Aristotle, Renaissance Averroes

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pp. 51-69

A number of fifteenth-century humanists reviled Aristotle; others, such as Bruni, prized at least portions of Aristotelian thought, valuing it as part of antiquity’s intellectual heritage. Just as Ficino and his circle sought out new texts to interpret Plato’s thought, Aristotelians influenced by humanism attempted to find more accurate...

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4. Italian Aristotelianism after Pomponazzi

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pp. 70-85

Despite the Fifth Lateran Council and the controversy surrounding Pietro Pomponazzi, throughout the sixteenth century, Italian natural philosophers continued to attempt to uncover Aristotle’s true positions, regardless of their agreement or disagreement with Christian doctrines. Often appealing to Averroes’ or Alexander...

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5. Religious Reform and the Reassessment of Aristotelianism

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pp. 86-101

A number of Italian natural philosophers prized Averroes or attempted to follow Aristotle’s principles without regard for their correspondence to Christian doctrine. Sixteenth-century Catholic authorities reacted by trying to establish orthodox ways of considering Aristotle and Aristotelian natural philosophy. The rapid...

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6. Learned Anti-Aristotelianism

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pp. 102-120

Instruction in natural philosophy during the sixteenth century was overwhelmingly Aristotelian, in universities, in newly founded Jesuit colleges, and in other schools and religious institutions throughout Catholic and Protestant Europe. More commentaries on Aristotle were written between 1500 and 1650 than in the...

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7. History, Erudition, and Aristotle’s Past

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pp. 121-144

By the late Middle Ages, some interpretations of Aristotle’s philosophy and its relation to Christianity depended on knowledge of the past and on conceptions of historical practice. Readings of Augustine and Cicero shaped Petrarch’s, Bruni’s, Ficino’s, and Valla’s depictions of Peripatetic philosophy. The discovery of the...

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8. The New Sciences, Religion, and the Struggle over Aristotle

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pp. 145-168

In a 1647 treatise addressed to Mersenne, a Capuchin monk from Warsaw named Valeriano Magni stated, “Atheism [atheismus] is such a crime that no other one equally touches the anger of God. Atheism is such an evil that there is nothing more dangerous to the human race.”1 Despite writing this sentence before...

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pp. 169-178

As early as Petrus Ramus in the sixteenth century, Aristotle’s detractors labeled his followers as “atheists.” Atheism in early modern Europe is notoriously difficult to define as well as to detect. Since atheism was a crime punishable by death, extremely few publicly declared their lack of belief in the divine. The supposed...

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pp. 179-180

Several fellowships supported the research and writing of this book. A Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities funded my initial research at the History of Science Department at the University of Oklahoma. A Hanna Kiel Fellowship at Villa I Tatti gave me an additional year to investigate the Renaissance...


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pp. 181-240

Principal Primary Sources

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pp. 241-252


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pp. 253-262

E-ISBN-13: 9781421413174
E-ISBN-10: 1421413175
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421413167
Print-ISBN-10: 1421413167

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2014