1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Pomponazzi, Pietro

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POMPONAZZI, PIETRO (Petrus Pomponatius) (1462–1525), Italian philosopher, was born at Mantua on the 16th of September 1462, and died at Bologna on the 18th of May 1525. His education, begun at Mantua, was completed at Padua, where he became doctor of medicine in 1487. In 1488 he was elected extraordinary professor of philosophy at Padua, where he was a colleague of Achillini, the Averroist. From about 1495 to 1509 he occupied the chair of natural philosophy until the closing of the schools of Padua, when he took a professorship at Ferrara where he lectured on the De anirna. In 1512 he was invited to Bologna where he remained till his death and where he produced all his important works. The predominance of medical science at Padua had cramped his energies, but at Ferrara, and even more at Bologna, the study of psychology and theological speculation were more important. In 1516 he produced his great work De imrnortalitate aniini, which gave rise to a storm of controversy between the orthodox Thomists of the Catholic Church, the Averroists headed by Agostino Nifo, and the so-called Alexandrist School. The treatise was burned at Venice, and Pomponazzi himself ran serious risk of death at the hands of the Catholics. Two pamphlets followed, the Apologia and the Defensorium, wherein he explained his paradoxical position as Catholic and philosophic materialist. His last two treatises, the De incantationibus and the De fato, were posthumously published in an edition of his works printed at Basel.

Pomponazzi is profoundly interesting as the herald of the Renaissance. He was born in the period of transition when scholastic formalism was losing its hold over men both in the Church and outside. Hitherto the dogma of the Church had been based on Aristotle as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas. So close was this identihcation that any attack on Aristotle, or even an attempt to reopen the old discussions on the Aristotelian problems, was regarded as a dangerous heresy. Pomponazzi claimed the right to study Aristotle for himself, and devoted himself to the De anirna with the view of showing that Thomas Aquinas had entirely misconceived the Aristotelian theory of the active and the passive intellect. The Averroists had to some extent anticipated this attitude by their contention that immortality does not imply the eternal separate existence of the individual soul, that the active principle which is common to all men alone survives. Pomponazzi’s revolt went further than this. He held, with Alexander of Aprodisias, that, as the soul is the form of the body (as Aquinas also asserted), it must, by hypothesis, perish with the body; form apart from matter is unthinkable. The ethical consequence of such a View is important, and in radical contrast to the practice of the period. Virtue can -no longer be viewed solely in relation to reward and punishment in another existence. A new sanction is required. Pomponazzi found this criterion in τοῦ καλοῦ ἔνεκα—virtue for its own sake. “Praemium essentiale virtutis est ipsamet virtusquae hominem felicem facit, ” he says in the De immortalitate. Consequently, whether or not the soul be immortal, the ethical criterion remains the same: “Neque aliquo pacto declinandum est a virtute quicquid accidat post mortem.” In spite of this philosophical materialism, Pomponazzi declared his adherence to the Catholic faith, and thus established the principle that religion and philosophy, faith and knowledge, may be diametrically opposed and yet coexist for the same thinker. This curious paradox he exemplifies in the De inoantatione, where in one breath he sums up against the existence of demons and spirits on the basis of the Aristotelian theory of the cosmos, and, as a believing Christian, asserts his faith in their existence. In this work he insists emphatically upon the orderly sequence of nature, cause and effect. Men grow to maturity and then decay; so religions have their day and succumb. Even Christianity, he added (with the usual proviso that he is speaking as a philosopher) was showing indications of decline.

See A. H. Douglas, Philosophy and Psychology of Pietro Pomponazzi (1910); also Ritter, Geschichte der Philosophie; J. A. Symonds, The Renaissance in Italy; Windelband, History of Philosophy (trans. by James H. Tufts, pt. 4, c. 1); J. Burckhardt, Die Kultur der Renaissance in Italien; L. Ferri, La Psicologia di P. Pomponazzi.  (J. M. M.)