Pierre Gassendi

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Gassendi, Pierre

(pyĕr gäsäNdē`), 1592–1655, French philosopher and scientist. A teacher and priest, Gassendi taught at Digne, Aix, and the Royal College at Paris and held several church offices. He ranked with the leading mathematicians of his day. He violently opposed the authoritarianism of Aristotle, especially in the Exercitationes paradoxicae adversus Aristoteleos (1624). He revived and interpreted the atomic theory of Democritus and Epicurus in terms of the new science, thereby opposing the Cartesian school, and also attempted to reconcile atomism and Epicurean ethics with the teachings of the church.

Gassendi, Pierre


Born Jan. 22, 1592, at Champtercier, in Provence; died Oct. 24, 1655, in Paris. French materialist philosopher who also did work in mathematics, astronomy, mechanics, and the history of science. Priest and professor of theology in Digne (from 1613), of philosophy in Aix (from 1616), and of mathematics at the College Royal in Paris (from. 1645).

Advocating the atomism and ethics of Epicurus, Gassendi opposed the theory of innate ideas and the metaphysics of Descartes from the standpoint of materialist sensationalism and in one work criticized scholastic Aristotelianism. Gassendi’s philosophical system comprises logic (which establishes the signs of truth and the ways leading to its cognition), physics, and ethics (the doctrine of happiness). According to Gassendi’s theories everything that exists is made up of atoms and void and is located in space, which is understood as the infinite possibility of being filled, and in time. Time and space were not created and cannot be destroyed, unlike atoms, which according to Gassendi were created by God but possessed an independent inner striving toward movement. The number of atoms is limited, albeit enormous. The soul is made up of special atoms dispersed throughout the body. The basis of cognition is the evidence of the sensory organs (sensations). Marx noted that having freed Epicurus “from the interdict imposed upon him by the church fathers and by the whole of the Middle Ages,” Gassendi at the same time strove “to reconcile his Catholic conscience with his pagan knowledge, Epicurus with the church” (K. Marx, and F. Engels, Iz rannikh proizvedenii, 1956, p. 23). Gassendi influenced J. Locke, P. Bayle and I. Newton. In his political outlook he shared the views of J. Bodin and believed in absolute monarchy, if it did not degenerate into tyranny.


In Russian translation:Sochineniia. Introduction by E. P. Sitkovskii, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1966-68.


Bykhovskii, B. E. “P’er Gassendi i frantsuzskii materializm 17 veka.” Nauchnye tr. Moskovskogo gosundarstvennogo ekonomicheskogo in-ta, 1957, no. 1.
Pendzig, P. P. Gassendi: Metaphysik und ihr Verhältnis zur scholastischen Philosophie. Bonn, 1908.
Rochot, B. Les Travaux de Gassendi sur Epicure et sur I’atomisme. Paris, 1944.
Pierre Gassendi 1592-1655. Sa Vie et son oeuvre. Paris [1955].


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Pierre Gassendi is best known for his revival of the atomic theory of Epicurus, advanced as a hypothetical system for modern science.
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