The Philosophy and Psychology of Pietro Pomponazzi/Introductory Note

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Pietro Pomponazzi is a unique figure in the history of the last phase of scholasticism.

Born at Mantua in 1462, he studied philosophy and medicine in Padua, and taught first there and afterwards at Ferrara and Bologna. At Bologna he died in 1524. His life was wholly that of a student; and his disinterested pursuit of truth subjected him to constant censure and even to persecution.

His singularity consists in the fact that, while he lived in the very heart of the Renaissance period, and while his work forms an integral part of the intellectual change which the revival of learning produced, he is himself apparently uninfluenced by the spiritual circumstances of his time. He is unaffected by the new discovery of Plato which inspires Plethon and Ficino, and Pico della Mirandola. The repudiation of Aristotle as a pagan Oriental finds no echo in his thought. He is not led away from the subtleties of scholastic theology by the enlarging influence of classical learning which withholds Erasmus, his contemporary, from doctrinal controversy. He is not confronted with the fresh spiritual realities which in the same years possess the mind of Savonarola. He becomes neither scholar nor saint, but remains an Aristotelian student in the direct line of the scholastic tradition, occupied with the problems of the schoolmen and inheriting their instrument of thought—the Aristotelian logic.

In others we perceive scholasticism and the old intellectual world undergoing change from without, through the intrusion of new interests or the discovery of new realms of knowledge. In Pomponazzi we see a different spectacle. We see scholasticism, unmixed with streams from any source except its own, under going inward changes not less complete and not less significant than those which, in other minds, are brought upon it from elsewhere.

To the contemporaries of Pomponazzi, the main interest of his writings was in his conclusions—in his refusal to accept the reasoning either of the argument for individual immortality which St Thomas drew from Aristotle, or of the more subtle construction put by Averroes upon the Master, to prove for humanity in the abstract an immortality denied to individual men.

But to us the transient phase of a perennial problem—the dead controversy and all its vanished presuppositions—the denial by thought of that which is yet yielded to faith—these are less interesting than the emergence in Pomponazzi of a new comprehension and use of Aristotelian philosophy. The vital fact is not that he refuses the conclusions of St Thomas and the Arabians, but that he changes their methods, and reverts to simpler and clearer ways of thinking which he finds for himself in Aristotle.

This is really the end of scholasticism. Pomponazzi, the last of the schoolmen, is, in a sense, the first of the Aristotelians.

C. D.
R. P. H.