Jan. 22, 1592, Champtercier, Provence, Fr.
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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