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Pierre Gassendi


born Jan. 22, 1592, Champtercier, Provence, Fr.
died Oct. 24, 1655, Paris

Gassendi also spelled Gassend
French scientist, mathematician, and philosopher who revived Epicureanism as a substitute for Aristotelianism, attempting in the process to reconcile mechanistic Atomism with Christian belief in immortality, free will, an infinite God, and creation.

Gassendi received a doctorate in theology at Avignon (c. 1614) and was ordained a priest the following year. Persuaded by the mathematiciantheologian Marin Mersenne to abandon mathematical and theological pursuits in favour of philosophy, he turned to Epicureanism. In Syntagma Philosophicum, published posthumously (1658; Philosophical Treatise) among his collected works, he followed the Epicurean triple division of philosophy. In part one (logic) he rejected the innate ideas of Descartes and emphasized the inductive method and the senses as primary sources of knowledge; however, as a mathematician, he also accepted deductive reasoning. In part two (physics) he defended a mechanistic explanation of nature and sensation. His proof for a rational and immortal soul derived from man's awareness of moral values, universal ideas, and the power of reflective thought. Gassendi saw in the harmony of nature proof for the existence of God. In part three (ethics) he viewed happiness (peace of soul and absence of bodily pain) as the end of man, only imperfectly attainable in this life.

Gassendi's philosophical writings include several works on the life, pleasures, and ethics of Epicurus and rather lengthy objections (1641) to Descartes's Meditations. His Disquisitio Metaphysica (1644; Disquisition on Metaphysics) was a consequence of Descartes's reply to his criticism.

Gassendi was the first to observe a planetary transit, that of Mercury in 1631, predicted by Kepler. His publications on science were considerable, but his greatest influence was through philosophical Atomism.

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His major contribution in the development of ideas lies in his translation of Epicurus which contributed much to the rebirth of materialism among a number of prominent intellectuals.


You might wonder why I pasted the account of the life of a priest.  For 3 reasons.  One, of all schools of thought, that of the Greek philosophers have had the greatest impact upon me--even if it was only to clarify and reinforce (strengthen) what I already believed.  Of the Greek philosophers, those of the atomist school had the greatest impact upon me.  At the age of 18, while a senior in high school,  I read a verse translation of Lucretius, De Rerum Natura.  I had spent the previous summer reading Latin authors--in translation.  (And Epicureans didn't believe in the gods of the common herd.)  Second, I have published a site on Greek philosophy and the Greeks, with emphasis upon the Epicureans (Epicurus was probably an atheist).  Third, Gassendi through his translation of Epicurus did much to reinstate the Greek atomists prospective, and thus Gassendis influence upon the enlightenment was, though indirect, great.  I have read both his reply to Descarte's Meditation (Descarte has sent his unpublished work to serval prominent thinkers for critical commentary), and a work on the influence of Epicurus in which, according to its author, Gassendi had done much to promote the Epicurean thought, and its consequences.  I don't think Gassendi's purpose was like that of the priestly translator of Sextus Empicurus, which was done for the sake of criticism of skepticism (a school of philosophy).