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The Concept of Philosophy in Early Modern Spanish Aristotelianism

1 Leave a comment on Absatz 1 0 Stefan Heßbrüggen-Walter

2 Leave a comment on Absatz 2 0 Abstract

3 Leave a comment on Absatz 3 1 The paper compares eight accounts of the concept of philosophy within early modern Spanish Aristotelianism. The authors under examination distinguish three approaches in defining philosophy: the etymology of the term ‚philosophy‘ (philosophy as love of wisdom), the aims of philosophy, and its objects. All texts point out that the etymology of ‚philosophy‘ gives insufficient clues for a valid definition of philosophy. As far as its aims are concerned, some Aristotelians hold that philosophy is only concerned with truth, i. e. an enhancement of our cognitive abilities. Others believe that it should have practical impact as well. Reflection on the objects of philosophy focuses on the question whether we can isolate a specific domain of philosophical discourse, or whether philosophy should provide a ‚theory of everything‘. The analysis of the arguments in this debate shows that they can only provide a starting point for the student of philosophy. Their primary purpose seems to have been didactical, a rationalisation of a certain course of study rather than a foundation of philosophical reflection in general.

4 Leave a comment on Absatz 4 0 Research on the history of early modern philosophy is more and more interested in the self-image of the early modern philosopher (documented e. g. in Condren 2006). Awareness of the decisive relevance of early modern Aristotelians for reading texts written by explicitly anti-Aristotelian philosophers like Hobbes and Descartes (cf. e. g. for Hobbes Leijenhorst 2002, for Descartes Des Chene 2000, and for an overall assessment of this development Edwards 2007) is on the rise. The question how early modern thinkers themselves approached the problem of defining philosophy as a discipline, however, is still by and large unanswered (studies like Blank 2005, Peperzag 1995, or Hoekstra 2006 notwithstanding). A comprehensive and comparative overview of early modern “philosophy of philosophy” is still lacking. Recent research on early modern Aristotelianism focuses on single disciplines like natural philosophy or metaphysics rather than on philosophy as a whole. Both areas of research, the historiography of the self-reflection of early modern philosophy and the exploration of early modern Aristotelianism, thus may profit from insights into how early modern Aristotelians defined the discipline they themselves practiced. Since the Iberian tradition seems to be more extensively explored than Aristotelianism e. g. in Italy (beginning with Eschweiler 1928), this paper will focus on early modern Aristotelians in Spain.

5 Leave a comment on Absatz 5 0 Within the overall structure of Aristotelian philosophy, the reflection on the status and definition of philosophy belongs either to logic or to natural philosophy. This does not imply that the definition of philosophy really is a problem either of logic or of natural philosophy. It suggests that early modern commentators on Aristotle were still heavily indebted to the approach chosen by their late ancient predecessors who discussed the topic in commentaries dedicated either to logic or to natural philosophy (cf. Westerink 1990). Ammonius Hermiae, for example, states in the beginning of his commentary on the Isagoge:

6 Leave a comment on Absatz 6 0 Quoniam de Philosophia disputationem instituimus, necesse est ut quid ea sit, cognoscamus. Is enim, qui aliquid aggreditur, quid illud sit, praediscat oportet, quo rem studiosus et diligentius persequatur. Sed cum ex definitionibus res nobis manifestae fiant, quonam pacto quippiam ex definitione percipiemus, nisi quid ea sit prius didicerimus?” (Ammonii Hermeae explanatio in quinque voces Porphyrii, fol. 2r).

7 Leave a comment on Absatz 7 0 For Ammonius, a definition of philosophy is required in order to teach it, because this simplifies the task of the beginner: The study of something is easier, if the student has grasped what this discipline is about beforehand. What a discipline is about, can be gathered from its definition. Toletus echoes this thought: To reflect on the definition of philosophy facilitates access to its insights (Commentaria, Una cum Quaestionibus, p. 1).

8 Leave a comment on Absatz 8 0 Simplikios‘ position in his commentary on the Physics is less strict: He merely states that it will not be detrimental to reflect on philosophy in general and the way it is divided before discussing Aristotle’s intention in writing on natural philosophy:

9 Leave a comment on Absatz 9 0 Aristotelis intentionem de naturali auscultatione facile discere possumus, si philosophiae eius partis, quae naturalis est divisionem ad memoriam revocarimus. Forsitan autem nec nocebit universam philosophiae Aristotelis divisionem afferre.” (Simplicii Commentaria, Prooemium, n. p.)

10 Leave a comment on Absatz 10 0 Some notable early modern Aristotelians felt no need to follow this tradition. In the Cursus Philosophici of Rodrigo Arriaga or John of St. Thomas, or in important textbooks like Perera’s De communibus omnium rerum naturalium principiis we do not find any preliminary discussion of philosophy as a discipline. An explanation of this fact must be purely speculative, since we do not find explicit comments on such omissions in the texts. Yet, the answer may be quite simple: These authors may have been content to deal with genuine philosophical problems and did not feel the need to reflect explicitly on what they were doing (or did not believe that a definition of philosophy could be helpful in reflecting on what they were doing).

11 Leave a comment on Absatz 11 0 Nevertheless, four popular textbooks on Aristotle’s Physics do provide attempts to define philosophy (the links in this list lead to German summaries of relevant passages):

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  • Conimbricenses, Commentarij Collegij Conimbricensis Societatis Iesu in octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis Stagiritae, Conimbricae 1592 (1st edition, EMTO 41211, cf. Doyle 1998)
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  • Complutenses, Collegij Complutensis Discalceatorum fratrum B. Mariae de Monte Carmeli Disputationes in octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis, Compluti 1625 (1st edition, EMTO 4566, cf. Zimmermann 1912, A Sanctissimo Sacramento 1884)
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  • Antonio Rubio, Commentarij in octo libros Aristotelis de physico auditu, Madriti: L. Sanchez, 1625 (1st edition 1605, EMTO 39299, cf. Osorio Romero 1988)

16 Leave a comment on Absatz 16 0 In order to give a fuller picture four lesser known texts are included in the following analysis as well:

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  • Vicente Montañés, Commentarii in Porphyrium phoenicen de quinque communibus vocibus dialecticis : in quibus quaestiones ferè omnes tam à graecis quàm latinis … continentur / autore V. Montanyesio …, Valentiae 1564 (1st edition, EMTO 39461)
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  • José Sáenz de Aguirre, Philosophia nou-antiqua seu Disputationes in universam physiologiam Aristotelis : cuius antiquae sententiae, exceptis quae ad aeternitatem mundi attinent, sicut et D. Tomae plerumque noviter elucidantur …, Salmanticae 1672, (1st edition, EMTO 25132)

21 Leave a comment on Absatz 21 0 Villalpando (cf. Rubio Fuentes 1998), Montañés (cf. Massot 1699), and Toletus (cf. Baldini 1992, Des Chene 1996, Doyle 1998a) wrote roughly one generation before the Conimbricenses (cf. Doyle 1998). Mas was their contemporary and is known today mainly for his contributions to metaphysics (cf. Gallego Salvadores 1970). Most of Sáenz de Aguirre’s works were published 80 years after the first edition of the Coimbra commentary (cf. Kreuzer 1994). His (limited) notoriety today is due to his comprehensive commentary on the Nicomachean ethics.

22 Leave a comment on Absatz 22 0 Prima facie, the passages to be examined here seem to confirm the established opinion on early modern (Spanish) Aristotelianism: It appears to have been a remarkably homogeneous body of doctrine. Still, a more detailed analysis will show that even though there is some common ground, substantial disagreements can be found as well. The sources distinguish three different paths to defining philosophy: the etymology of the term “philosophy”, the aims of philosophy, and its objects (Toletus, Commentaria, Una cum Quaestionibus, p. 2, points out that philosophy as a habit can be defined either through its end or its object. Both definitions need not be exclusive. Yet, we will see that no author defines philosophy simultaneously through its end and its objects).

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