Bernardino Telesio
Bernardino Telesio (1509–1588) was an Italian philosopher and natural scientist
Natural science
The natural sciences are branches of science that seek to elucidate the rules that govern the natural world by using empirical and scientific methods...

While his natural theories were later disproven, his emphasis on observation made him the "first of the moderns" who eventually developed the
scientific method
Scientific method
Scientific method refers to a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of...



Telesio was born of noble parentage in Cosenza
Cosenza is a city in southern Italy, located at the confluence of two historic rivers: the Busento and the Crathis. The municipal population is of around 70,000; the urban area, however, counts over 260,000 inhabitants...

, a city in Calabria
Calabria , in antiquity known as Bruttium, is a region in southern Italy, south of Naples, located at the "toe" of the Italian Peninsula. The capital city of Calabria is Catanzaro....

, Southern Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

. He was educated in Milan
Milan is the second-largest city in Italy and the capital city of the region of Lombardy and of the province of Milan. The city proper has a population of about 1.3 million, while its urban area, roughly coinciding with its administrative province and the bordering Province of Monza and Brianza ,...

 by his uncle, Antonio, himself a scholar and a poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 of eminence, and afterwards in Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and Padua
Padua is a city and comune in the Veneto, northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Padua and the economic and communications hub of the area. Padua's population is 212,500 . The city is sometimes included, with Venice and Treviso, in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area, having...

. His studies included all the wide range of subjects, classics
Classics is the branch of the Humanities comprising the languages, literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology and other culture of the ancient Mediterranean world ; especially Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome during Classical Antiquity Classics (sometimes encompassing Classical Studies or...

, science
Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe...

 and philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

, which constituted the curriculum of the Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 savants. Thus equipped, he began his attack upon the medieval Aristotelianism which then flourished in Padua and Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...

. In 1553 he married and settled in Cosenza, becoming the dominant figure of Cosentian Academy
Cosentian Academy
The Cosentian Academy was founded in Cosenza, Italy, by Aulo Giano Parassio, in 1511. Initially named after its founder, Accademia Parassiana, it was dedicated to philosophical and literary studies. After Parassio’s death Bernardino Telesio reorganized the academy, which was renamed Accademia...

, founded by Aulo Giano Parassio in 1511. In 1563, or perhaps two years later, appeared his great work De Rerum Natura Iuxta Propria Principia (On the Nature of Things according to their Own Principles), which was followed by a large number of scientific and philosophical works of subsidiary importance. The heterodox views which he maintained aroused the anger of the Church on behalf of its cherished Aristotelianism
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, and a short time after his death his books were placed on the Index.

Theory of matter, heat and cold

Instead of postulating matter and form, he bases existence on matter and force. This force has two opposing elements: heat, which expands, and cold, which contracts. These two processes account for all the diverse forms and types of existence, while the mass on which the force operates remains the same. The harmony of the whole consists in this, that each separate thing develops in and for itself in accordance with its own nature while at the same time its motion benefits the rest. The obvious defects of this theory, (1) that the senses alone cannot apprehend matter itself, (2) that it is not clear how the multiplicity of phenomena could result from these two forces, thought it is no less convincing than Aristotles hot/cold, dry/wet explanation, and (3) that he adduced no evidence to substantiate the existence of these two forces, were pointed out at the time by his pupil, Patrizzi.

Moreover his theory of the cold earth at rest and the hot sun in motion was doomed to disproof at the hands of Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus
Nicolaus Copernicus was a Renaissance astronomer and the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric cosmology which displaced the Earth from the center of the universe....

. At the same time, the theory was sufficiently coherent to make a great impression on Italian thought. It should be mentioned, though, that his obliteration of a distinction between superlunar and sublunar physics was certainly quite prescient though not acknowledged by his successors as particularly worthy of note. When Telesio went on to explain the relation of mind and matter, he was still more heterodox. Material forces are, by hypothesis, capable of feeling; matter also must have been from the first endowed with consciousness. For consciousness exists, and could not have been developed out of nothing. This leads him to a form of hylozoism
Hylozoism is the philosophical point of view that all matter is in some sense alive. This may include the view that "inanimate" matter has latent powers of abiogenesis, a widely held position in the scientific community...

. Again, the soul is influenced by material conditions; consequently the soul must have a material existence. He further held that all knowledge is sensation ("non ratione sed sensu") and that intelligence is, therefore, an agglomeration of isolated data, given by the senses. He does not, however, succeed in explaining how the senses alone can perceive difference and identity.

At the end of his scheme, probably in deference to theological
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

 prejudices, he added an element which was utterly alien, namely, a higher impulse, a soul superimposed by God
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

, in virtue of which we strive beyond the world of sense. This divine soul is hardly a completely novel concept if viewed in the context of Averroes
' , better known just as Ibn Rushd , and in European literature as Averroes , was a Muslim polymath; a master of Aristotelian philosophy, Islamic philosophy, Islamic theology, Maliki law and jurisprudence, logic, psychology, politics, Arabic music theory, and the sciences of medicine, astronomy,...

tic or Thomasian
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 perceptual theory.

The whole system of Telesio shows lacuna
Lacuna may refer to:* Lacuna , a missing section of text* Lacuna , an extended silence in a piece of music* Lacuna , a lexical gap in a language* Lacuna , the lack of a law or legal source addressing a situation...

e in argument, and ignorance of essential facts, but at the same time it is a forerunner of all subsequent empiricism
Empiricism is a theory of knowledge that asserts that knowledge comes only or primarily via sensory experience. One of several views of epistemology, the study of human knowledge, along with rationalism, idealism and historicism, empiricism emphasizes the role of experience and evidence,...

, scientific and philosophical, and marks clearly the period of transition from authority and reason to experiment and individual responsibility.

Reliance on sensory data

Telesio was the head of the great Southern Italian movement which protested against the accepted authority of abstract reason, and sowed the seeds from which sprang the scientific methods of Tommaso Campanella
Tommaso Campanella
Tommaso Campanella OP , baptized Giovanni Domenico Campanella, was an Italian philosopher, theologian, astrologer, and poet.-Biography:...

 and Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno
Giordano Bruno , born Filippo Bruno, was an Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician and astronomer. His cosmological theories went beyond the Copernican model in proposing that the Sun was essentially a star, and moreover, that the universe contained an infinite number of inhabited...

, of Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, 1st Viscount St Albans, KC was an English philosopher, statesman, scientist, lawyer, jurist, author and pioneer of the scientific method. He served both as Attorney General and Lord Chancellor of England...

 and René Descartes
René Descartes
René Descartes ; was a French philosopher and writer who spent most of his adult life in the Dutch Republic. He has been dubbed the 'Father of Modern Philosophy', and much subsequent Western philosophy is a response to his writings, which are studied closely to this day...

, with their widely divergent results. He, therefore, abandoned the purely intellectual sphere and proposed an inquiry into the data given by the senses, from which he held that all true knowledge really comes (his theory of sense perception was essentially a reworking of Aristotle's theory from De Anima
On the Soul
On the Soul is a major treatise by Aristotle on the nature of living things. His discussion centres on the kinds of souls possessed by different kinds of living things, distinguished by their different operations...


Telesio writes in the beginning of the Proem
A preface is an introduction to a book or other literary work written by the work's author. An introductory essay written by a different person is a foreword and precedes an author's preface...

 of the first book of the third edition of De Rerum Natura Iuxta Propria Principia Libri Ix... "That the construction of the world and the magnitude of the bodies contained within it, and the nature of the world, is to be searched for not by reason as was done by the ancients, but is to be understood by means of observation." (Mundi constructionem, corporumque in eo contentorum magnitudinem, naturamque non ratione, quod antiquioribus factum est, inquirendam, sed sensu percipiendam.) This statement, found on the very first page, summarizes what many modern scholars have generally considered to be Telesian philosophy, and it often seems that many did not read any further for on the very next page he sets up his hot/cold theory of informed matter, a theory that is clearly not informed by our modern idea of observation. For Telesio, observation (sensu percipiendam) is a much larger mental process than simply recording data, observation also includes analogical thought.

Though Francis Bacon is generally credited nowadays with the codification of an inductive
Inductive reasoning
Inductive reasoning, also known as induction or inductive logic, is a kind of reasoning that constructs or evaluates propositions that are abstractions of observations. It is commonly construed as a form of reasoning that makes generalizations based on individual instances...

 method that wholeheartedly endorses observation as the primary procedure for acquiring knowledge, he was certainly not the first to suggest that sensory perception should be the primary source for knowledge. Among natural philosophers from the Renaissance, this honor is generally bestowed upon Telesio. Bacon himself acknowledges Telesio as being "the first of the moderns" (De Telesio autem bene sentimus, atque eum ut amantem veritatis, & Scientiis utilem, & nonnullorum Placitorum emendatorem & novorum hominum primum agnoscimus., from Bacon's De principiis atque originibus) for putting observation above all other methods for acquiring knowledge about the natural world. This frequently quoted phrase from Bacon, though, is misleading, for it oversimplifies and misrepresents Bacon’s opinion of Telesio. Most of Bacon's essay is an attack on Telesio and this phrase, invariably taken out of context, has facilitated a general misconception of Telesian natural philosophy by giving to it a Baconian stamp of approval, which was far from Bacon’s original intentions. Bacon sees in Telesio an ally in the fight against ancient authority, but he has little positive to say about Telesio's specific theories.

What is perhaps most striking about De rerum natura is Telesio's attempt to mechanize as much as possible. Telesio clearly strives to explain everything in terms of matter informed by hot and cold and to keep his arguments as simple as possible. When his discussions turn to human beings he introduces an instinct of self-preservation to account for their motivations. And when he discusses the human mind and its ability to reason in the abstract about immaterial and divine topics, he adds a soul. For without a soul, all thought, by his reasoning, would be limited to material things. This would make God unthinkable and clearly this was not the case, for observation proves that people think about God.

Telesio can be seen as a Stoic
Stoicism is a school of Hellenistic philosophy founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium in the early . The Stoics taught that destructive emotions resulted from errors in judgment, and that a sage, or person of "moral and intellectual perfection," would not suffer such emotions.Stoics were concerned...

, an Epicurean
Epicureanism is a system of philosophy based upon the teachings of Epicurus, founded around 307 BC. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, following in the steps of Democritus. His materialism led him to a general attack on superstition and divine intervention. Following Aristippus—about whom...

, a Parmenidian
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, and even though he resists the ideas of Aristotle with vigor, his overall theory is quite Aristotelian. He may have felt that he was overturning the Aristotelian world view and in his own time his views may have been perceived as radical, but from today's perspective he seems very endebted to Aristotle.


Besides De Rerum Natura, he wrote:
  • De Somno
  • De his quae in aere fiunt
  • De Mari
  • De Cometis et Circulo Lactea
  • De usu respirationis

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.