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  • Il problema del libero arbitrio nel pensiero di Pietro Pomponazzi: La dottrina etica del De fato: spunti di critica filosofica e teologica nel Cinquecento
  • Martin L. Pine
Rita Ramberti . Il problema del libero arbitrio nel pensiero di Pietro Pomponazzi: La dottrina etica del De fato: spunti di critica filosofica e teologica nel Cinquecento. Pansophia: Testi e Studi sulla Modernità 7. Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 2007. xxiii + 325 pp. index. bibl. €35. ISBN: 978–88–222–5678–2.

Pietro Pomponazzi's De Fato (1520, published 1567) is his most elusive and difficult work. Yet only in the last two decades have scholars wrestled with its subtleties. Rita Ramberti's work is an important contribution to this continuing discussion.

Ramberti clearly demonstrates that Pomponazzi's earlier works, both published and in manuscript, reflect the fundamental paradox of his thought: the simultaneous assertion of a deterministic universe governed by immutable laws, and the conviction that the human will is free, escaping all external forces. The De immortalitate (1516) illustrates this problem with the dual assertion of a determinism produced by the Intelligences acting through the heavens and the capacity of all men to exercise free will by means of the practical intellect. The other immortality treatises, the Apologia (1518) and the Defensorium (1519), present the same duality. The full examination of the natural laws of the universe is explored in the De incantationibus. Through an exhaustive search of medical, psychological, and occult sources, Pomponazzi eliminates many wondrous pagan, biblical, and recent occurrences usually ascribed to the miraculous intervention of God, angels, or demons. For all of these events Pomponazzi finds a cause within nature itself. Through the eternal cycles of birth, growth, and decay, the heavens even control the fate of kingdoms and religions. Christianity itself, he claims, is dying, having reached the end of its natural life cycle. Only the philosopher, perfecting the potentialities of human nature (though not achieving its transformation as in Pico and Ficino) fully grasps the essence of these eternal cycles and escapes the "domination of the stars." Yet this view seems to eliminate free will for the vast majority of individuals who, dominated by their instincts, are subject to the deterministic laws of the universe.

The conflict of determinism and free will culminated in the De fato. In a long passage, Pompanzzi declares free will to be a necessary element in the very structure of the universe. But the same structure, according to Stoic logic and Aristotelian [End Page 918] physics, demonstrates that human freedom is an illusion. The psychological act of deliberation indeed occurs, but the determinants of choice, hidden by their multiplicity, lead the will to a predetermined end.

The only way to save human freedom, Pomponazzi decides (in an apparent change of focus if not method), is to find a place for human freedom within the realm of Christian natural theology. However, within Christian theology divine omniscience and omnipotence, embodied in foreknowledge and predestination, apparently eliminate human freedom. To save human freedom as an ontological necessity, Pomponazzi develops a new theological strategy. God himself, he declares, limits his foreknowledge and predestinating decree so that each of these divine acts coincides with the precise temporal instant in which man wills and acts.

Now, as Ramberti notes, the issues of the De fato have produced widespread debate from Pomponazzi's time to the present day. In one of the most original parts of the book, Ramberti examines the views of the various readers of the widely diffused manuscript before its publication in 1567. And these readers reflect the same division of interpretation found in modern scholarship. Respecting his claims of absolute acceptance of Church doctrine, some of his students and friends in the Church defended his orthodoxy. Others, especially around the time of the Council of Trent, not only rejected his profession of faith but accused him of supporting Luther's heretical denial of free will.

This book derives its importance in part from its fully developed fideistic interpretation of Pomponazzi's works. For Ramberti, Pomponazzi's denial of immortality, attacks on miracles, and innovations in Christian theology are elaborated within natural limits. Pomponazzi's aim, she claims, is to protect the fully indemonstrable...


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