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The Myth of Renaissance Atheism and the French Tradition of Free Thought

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 6, Number 3, July 1968
pp. 233-243 | 10.1353/hph.2008.1356

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The Myth of Renaissance Atheism and the French Tradition of Free Thought PAUL OSKAR KRISTELLER WITHIN THE VAST AND COMPLEX area of Renaissance philosophy, the thought of Pietro Pomponazzi and of the entire Italian school of Aristotelianism of which he is the best known representative has not yet been studied in all its aspects? Apart from a number of recent studies, mostly Italian or American, there is an important body of French studies on the subject that are distinguished by their ample documentation and by a general and consistent tendency of interpretation and that have exercised a predominant influence in this field of research. The fountainhead of this French scholarship on Renaissance Aristotelianism is E. Renan's book on Averroes and Averroism, a remarkable achievement for its time, and a classical study still worth reading after more than a hundred years have passed since it was first published. 2 It is generally recognized that Renan's conclusions about Averroes himself and about the Latin Averroism of the thirteenth century have been superseded by the later studies of P. Mandonnet and others? It is less well known that, for the This paper was read many years ago at the New England Conference on the Renaissance at Brown University, and at the Universit~ de Fribourg. It was published as "El Mito del Ateismo Renacentista y la Tradici6n Francesa del Librepensamiento" in Notas y Estudios de Filoso]la, ed. Prof. Juan Adolfo Vazquez, IV, 13 (Tucums Argentina, 1953), pp. 1-14. The present ver- sion has been only slightly revised, and I hope to return to the subject on a later occasion. Among recent studies, I should like to mention G. Spini, Ricerca dei l.,ibertini (Rome, 1950) and D. C. Allen Doubt's Boundless Sea (Baltimore, 1964), who follow on the whole the view criticized in this paper, and L. Febvre, Le problhme del lincroyance au XVI ~ si~cle (Paris, 1947) and R. H. Popkin, "Skepticism and the Counter-Reformation in France," Archiv ]iir Re]ormationsgeschichte LI (1960), 58-88, who seem to concur with my view. See also a paper by Popkin~ "Skepticism, Theology and the Scientific Method in the 17th century," in Problem8 in the Phdosophy o] Science, ed. I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Co., 1968). 1 See now B. Nardi, Saggi sull'Aristotelismo Padovano dal secolo XIV al XVI (Florence, 1958) and Studi su Pietro Pomponazzi (Florence, 1965) ; J. H. Randall, The School o] Padua and the Emergence o] Modern Science (Padua, 1961) ; P. Pomponazzi, De ]ato, de libero arbi- trio et de praedestinatione, ed. R. Lemay (Lugano, 1957); Tractatus de immortalitate animae, ed. G. Morra (Bologna, 1954) ; Corsi inediLi dell'insegnamento padovano I, Super libello de sub- stantia orbis et quaestiones quattuor, ed. A. Poppi (Padua, 1966); P. O. Kristeller, "A New Manuscript Source for Pomponazzi's Theory of the Soul from his Paduan Period," Revue In- ternationale de Philosophie, V: 2 (16, 1951), 144-157, and "Two Unpublished Questions on the Soul by Pietro Pomponazzi," Medievalia et Humanistica, IX (1955), 76-101, and X (1956), 151. See also: G. Di Napoli, L'immortalit~ dell'anima nel Rinascimento (Turin, 1963); E. GiN ~L ,, 3 son, Autour de Pomponazzi, Archives d histoire doctrinale et litt~raire du Moyen Age, c, , , , LXIII (1961, pub. 1962), 163-279 and Laffaire de limmortalit~ de ls ~ Venise au debut 9 ,, du XVI si~cle, in Umanesimo europeo e umanesimo veneziano, ed. V. Branca (Florence, 1963), 31-61. Relevant are also the unpublished Columbia dissertations by William F. Edwards (on Zabarella), Martin Pine (on Pomponazzi and his critics) and Edward Mahoney (on Agostino Nifo). Averro$s et l Averro~me (Paris, 1852). 8Siger de Brabant et l'averroisme latin au XIII ~ si$cle (2nd ed.; Paris, 1908-11); F. Van [233] 234 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY history of Italian Aristotelianism after the thirteenth century, this book by Renan has never been completely superseded, but still constitutes the general basis for a large part of the later literature on the subject. Recent studies have added numerous details, but have failed to correct numerous errors and misconceptions. The main thesis of Renan's book on which we shall focus our attention in this...

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