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My deepest gratitude goes to my advisor, Prof. Francine Cardman. Francine’s high standards and careful attention to my work have made me a better scholar and writer. Her painstaking analysis and correction of my neo-Latin translations were invaluable to me. Her support was often above and beyond the call of duty, such as her nighttime delivery of corrections to my apartment.
Rev. John O’Malley first suggested a focus on Gassendi for my dissertation, for which I am very grateful. John’s comments on my work forced me to greater precision in thought and language. I am also very grateful for John’s willingness to make a special trip to Cambridge for my defense. Prof. Khaled Anatolios was most helpful by suggesting that I clarify some of the distinctions between Platonic and Aristotelian theories of form and matter. I also appreciate Khaled’s willingness to interrupt his sabbatical to work on my dissertation. Prof. Norman Faramelli kindly agreed to serve as examiner in the defense. I appreciate his willingness to take time from his other responsibilities to assist me in this way.
I have benefited from the high standards of the faculty at Weston. In addition to Francine, John and Khaled, two others have been especially important to me Rev. Daniel Harrington was an invaluable resource for my STL thesis, and I want to acknowledge him here for that. Similarly, I want to acknowledge Dan’s pedagogy, which I have tried, however imperfectly, to emulate in my own teaching. Prof. Meg Guider has gently challenged the Weston STD candidates to consider carefully their role in society, academia and the Church. I am appreciative of her guidance in the STD program. In this regard, Pierre Gassendi was both on the vanguard of the new science and an intellectual anachronism. Gassendi was an excellent experimental scientist and a devout son of the Church. He was an active participant in the astronomical disputes of the day (including the Galileo affair); yet once the Church had ruled against Galileo he tried as he could to reconcile the new astronomy with Church teachings. Gassendi saw the need for a complete philosophical system to replace the Aristotelian (Scholastic) system that had held sway since the thirteenth century. The key for Gassendi was finding the correct philosophical framework within which to organize human knowledge. My primary motivation in this research is my belief that we live in an Epicurean age, which is to say that we are still living in the Age of the Enlightenment. Science, materialism, and individualism dominate every aspect of American life. Thus I am particularly interested in the devout Catholic priest who more than any other, introduced Epicureanism to Modernity. In particular I want to explore Gassendi’s ultimately unsuccessful efforts to Christianize Epicureanism. It was his Epicureanism that endured, not his Christianization of it. The Church Fathers, along with most other ancient schools of philosophy, condemned Epicureanism in almost all its aspects. Thus Gassendi had two tasks in order to make Epicureanism a suitable Christian (really Catholic) replacement to Aristotle; first, he had to counter the specific attacks that the Church Fathers had made against Epicurus and his followers; and, second, he had to demonstrate how his new philosophical system supported the Catholic doctrines developed by the Church Fathers and Councils. To investigate how Gassendi pursued these goals, and to evaluate the outcome of his efforts, I concentrate on the entirety of De Vita et Moribus Epicuri, the Preface and Ethics of the Syntagma Philosophicum and selections from the Physics in the Syntagma Philosophicum.5 The De Vita et Moribus Epicuri is important because here Gassendi addresses the ad hominem attacks against Epicurus in antiquity, including those from patristic authors. The Preface and selections from the Physics of Syntagma demonstrate how patristic authors were integrated into his development of natural philosophy (physics). In the Ethics of the Syntagma, Gassendi attempts to reconcile Epicurean ethic of pleasure with the Christian ethic of self-sacrificing virtue. While this dissertation focuses on Gassendi’s use of the Christian classics in portions of the Syntagma Philosophicum and De Vita et Moribus Epicuri, other works by Gassendi will also be used selectively. He also used Scripture creatively to support his physics; especially notable is that Gassendi seemed to think of Ecclesiastes as being explicitly supportive of Epicureanism. He frequently cites Ecclesiastes in support of his idea of time and space, multiple worlds, and ethics based on pleasure.
Gassendi’s extensive efforts to reconcile Christianity and the new physics by way of a refurbished Epicureanism were not deemed important by subsequent physicists or natural philosophers. In part this may be because by the end of the seventeenth century a distinction was being made between a physicist and a philosopher, a distinction that Gassendi would not have recognized.
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