- Julius Caesar Scaliger, Renaissance Reformer of Aristotelianism: A Study of His Exotericae Exercitationes by Kuni Sakamoto
Julius Caesar Scaliger (1484–1558) was a natural philosopher and literary theorist whose work was widely discussed throughout the second half of the sixteenth and the first half of the seventeenth centuries. After this period, it fell into oblivion, only to be rediscovered during the last three decades or so. His natural philosophy has triggered a series of specialized studies on particular aspects of his thought, especially those aspects that were influential in the development of early modern corpuscularianism. Sakamoto's book goes considerably beyond such fragmentary approaches and presents central strands of Scaliger's most important work in natural philosophy, a thousand-page critique of Girolamo Cardano's De Subtilitate, as a systematically integrated whole.
In three chapters, Sakamoto explores issues in Scaliger's thought that have not yet been discussed by contemporary commentators. In chapter 1, Sakamoto gives an interpretation of Scaliger's enigmatic remarks concerning Aristotle's commitment to creation theory and the compatibility of Aristotle's philosophical theology with the doctrine of the Trinity. Here, Sakamoto traces the sources of Scaliger's reinterpretation of Aristotle to the tradition of prisca theologia, which was usually appropriated by Renaissance Platonism. In chapter 2, Sakamoto studies Scaliger's qualified rejection of the theory of a world soul—qualified in the sense that Scaliger takes seriously the task of providing an alternative explication of the sense in which the world is a unity. As it turns out, Scaliger's explication of the unity of the world is connected with another central tenet of his natural philosophy, the theory of a hierarchy of teleologically ordered substantial forms. In chapter 5, Sakamoto delves into Scaliger's philosophical analysis of the Aristotelian conception of celestial intelligences and the Christian theory of angels—as Sakamoto brings to light, no matter how exotic these issues may appear to be, they were a major influence on Johannes Kepler's early cosmology. The remaining four chapters take up issues that have already been the subject of more specialized studies: the idea of the best possible world (chapter 3), the conception of void and place (chapter 4), the theory of the generation of living beings (chapter 6), and the theory of mixture (chapter 7). Although there is inevitably some overlap with what other commentators have written, these chapters offer extensive (and reliable) translations of central passages from Scaliger's difficult text and present a wealth of illuminating co-texts, both from Scaliger's commentaries on ancient botanical works, and from a wide range of medieval and sixteenth-century authors who influenced him or from whose views Scaliger [End Page 543] distanced himself. Most importantly, Sakamoto uncovers a tight net of argumentative connections that Scaliger draws between the theological and cosmological issues discussed in chapters 1–3 and 5 and the issues that belong more specifically to the behavior of natural particulars.
Sakamoto's book makes a persuasive argument for the claim that, in spite of the seemingly disorganized nature of the hundreds of separate remarks that constitute the Exotericae Exercitationes, Scaliger's thought shows a high degree of coherence and systematic integration. Perhaps the desire for harmonization is carried too far in Sakamoto's reading of Scaliger's theory of mixture, however. Scaliger offers not just one, but two separate treatments of mixture, and while the first claims that "neither forms nor qualities, which have been deprived of their forms, remain" (148), the second claims that "forms that are actualities become potentialities" (155). Sakamoto reads both passages in the light of Scaliger's claim that substantial forms of mixtures can arise through the "mixture of forms" (153–57), and suggests an analysis of the latter idea as amounting to the claim that the forms that have become potentialities "lose their independent existence" and "are integrated into the superior form" (159). While I agree that this interpretation is an ingenious...