Pomponazzi, Pietro


Pomponazzi, Pietro
(1462-1525)
   Italian scholastic philoso-pher, known for his loyalty to the authority of Aristotle and especially for his treatise De immortalitate animae / On the Immortality of the Soul (1516), which denies that belief in personal immortality can be proved by reason (though he claimed that he accepted the be-lief as a religious doctrine based on faith). Both before and after pub-lication of this work, which aroused criticism but did not in any way endanger his academic career, he was the outstanding figure among Italian university philosophers of his generation.
   A native of Mantua, Pomponazzi enrolled at the University of Padua in 1484, received a doctorate in arts in 1487, and a doctorate in medicine in 1494. From 1488 he lectured on philosophy at Padua. In 1511 he moved to the University of Bologna, where he taught un-til his death. He was a popular teacher and lectured on a broad range of philosophical subjects, with a special interest in natural philoso-phy. Pomponazzi's treatise on immortality focused not on the truth about the doctrine but on the question of Aristotle's opinion. Al-though he conceded that the human intellect is immaterial, he argued that it depends on the body since it is helpless without sensory knowl-edge. He boldly faced and refuted the objection that questioning im-mortality would undermine morality, arguing that virtue is its own reward and that actions done out of fear of punishment are base and servile. He published defenses against attacks by his critics in 1518 and 1519.
   A slightly less controversial but still hotly debated work was his De fato / On Fate (1520), upholding the proposition that all human actions happen out of necessity, not free will, and that what we think is contingency in our actions is merely a product of our lack of self-knowledge. In the same book, however, Pomponazzi also addressed the same question on the basis of faith, relying on the scholastic the-ologians Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus to defend the freedom of the will. A third work of about the same period was De incantation-ibus /On Incantations, in which he made a critical assessment of mir-acles and tried to establish purely natural causes for apparently miraculous events, including those recorded in the Bible.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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