Reconciling Christianity with Epicurean philosophy: A closer look at Gassendi’s attempt

This blog discusses the combination of Gassendi’s religious belief with his Epicureanism. It explores how his commitment to Epicurean philosophy is distorted as a result, before determining whether his overall view is consistent. The original title of this essay was ‘Whole Resolved Into Parts: Pierre Gassendi and the Reconciliation of Atomism and Christianity’. 

Unknown artist; Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655); The Royal Society;

Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655), 17th century French philosopher, priest, astronomer, mathematician, and scholar of ancient thought, is best known for his ‘Epicurean project’, an attempt to fuse Christian belief with Epicurean ideas. Through a close reading of chapter eight of the third book on Physics in his 1658 posthumous work The Syntagma Philosophicum, an attempt will be made to discern whether this enterprise of Gassendi’s is, on the whole, consistent. The main proposition is that, read historically, Gassendi’s synthesis is problematic, but approached through a mereological lens, it makes sense. Gassendi’s conception of atomism, and its attendant problems, are examined first. His reconciliation of parts (i.e. atoms) and the whole (i.e. universe) is assessed second. The problems of incorporeality and the void are analysed third. The paper concludes with an appraisal of Gassendi’s system overall.

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Structure and Agency in Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire

This essay forms part of an assessment I completed for a prerequisite course on class in political economy, and is reproduced below. It should be noted I am in no way interested in Marx’s social theories, only his economic ones, so have imposed on The Eighteenth Brumaire my own interest in structure and agency, and have analysed it only to the extent it provides some insight on such themes germane to complex systems theory, the school of thought I identify with.

Karl Marx’s 1852 historical essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte explores many issues in historical political economy. One of the more interesting aspects of the work is its treatment of structure and agency, particularly with regard to the question of which of the two drives change. At face value, Marx appears to argue the case for both: that is, that structure and agency both compel change, as when it is stated that ‘men make their own history, but not as they please’ (Tucker 1978: 595). This paper seeks to fill a gap in the literature by proffering an alternative view, namely, that it might be the case that sometimes neither structure nor agency compel change. The main proposition is that the divergence of political and economic interests drives this behaviour. The paper begins by revisiting Marx’s analysis of the events that led up to the coup d’état of 1851. This is followed by an evaluation of his argument that in the EB class interests diverge. The analysis concludes with a critical analysis of the dynamics of structure and agency in the light of their inversion.

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Theophrastus and the Theory of Spontaneous Generation

The Peripatetic theory of spontaneous generation is one of the foremost theories of the natural philosophy of classical antiquity. Having been accepted for two millennia, and only refuted as recently as the nineteenth century, it has proven to be a great legacy of Greek thought and its manifest reasoning. Its preeminence on the scientific stage has come to be as equally significant in the philosophical one, being embraced by materialist and idealist thinkers alike, as well as those on both sides of the theological-Darwinist divide. This paper seeks to examine how Theophrastus’ rehearsal of the theory of spontaneous generation illustrates the activities and philosophical orientation of the Peripetatic school. The paper first examines the historical context of the theory, before unpacking its theoretical and methodological background. The analysis concludes with an investigation of Theophrastus’ espousal of inductive reasoning.

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