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The Philosophy of Tommaso Campanella

Background: The New Consideration of Nature

The Renaissance, as an age of transition, was not conducive to the building of great philosophical systems. It contained, in germinal form, the directive ideas of modern times, but under the guise of the past. Thinkers preferred to write in ancient Latin, and the style of their writing is also archaic. Under this external aspect, which smacks of antiquity, are hidden the signs of the next age.

The greatest representatives of thought, in the order of time, are Nicholas of Cusa, Telesio, Bruno, and Campanella; the most important is Bruno. In the thought of all these men there is a new view of nature, in which nature is considered immanently, according to the forces inherent in it, and is accessible to experience and reason. These forces are considered as living ones, vital spirits, demons; everything is animate; the physical world has a soul.

It is necessary to investigate these animate forces, for it is on the basis of their activity that all events can be explained. It is because of this desire to bring into subjection the occult forces of nature that during the Renaissance we find so widely diffused the science of "magic," which professes to know the good and evil spirits of nature, and to make them allies in good and evil enterprises.

Also characteristic are alchemy, with its objective of discovering the philosophical stone which can change everything into gold; and medicine, with its hope of finding the panacea of evil by uncovering the common animating force of the universe. This is a charlatan school, to be sure, but it indicates the tendency of some of the chief exponents of the age to explain nature through the forces imbedded in it.

Hence we see Neo-Platonic tendencies, and the Neo-Platonic thinkers mentioned above. Although Neo-Platonism, logically developed, leads to pantheism, the thinkers of the Renaissance, with the exception of Bruno, are not pantheists. Without any logical foundation they still affirm transcendency, but this more from faith than from conviction.

Now to the Philosophy of Tommaso Campanella

I. Life and Works

Campanella was born in Stilo in Calabria in 1568 and became a member of the Dominican order in the Catholic Church. He underwent various trials for heresy but was absolved. Accused of having started a conspiracy against Spanish rule in Naples, he was tried and imprisoned for about twenty-eight years. Transferred to Rome and held in benevolent custody by the Holy Office of the Pope, he was set free at last. He took refuge in France and died at Paris in 1639.

The important works of Campanella are: De sensu rerum et magia (On the Meaning of Things and on Magic); Universalis philosophiae seu metaphysicarum rerum juxta propria dogmata, partes tres (Universal Doctrine of Philosophy or of Metaphysical Things according to Their Proper Principles, in Three Parts). Some years ago was begun the publication of the unedited works of Campanella, such as his theology, comprising thirty books. This has modified to some extent the standard interpretation of his thought.

Campanella reveals a dependence upon the thought of Nicholas of Cusa, Bernardino Telesio, and Giordano Bruno.

II. Theory of Knowledge

For Campanella, to know means to feel -- "Cognoscere est sentire" -- and to feel means to take notice of the sensitive modifications of the subject. In this self-consciousness or feeling of one's own modification, it is necessary to distinguish the sensus inditus (also called the "sensus innatus" or "abditus") from the sensus additus (or inferred knowledge).

The first is knowledge of oneself as a subject; it is elementary and immediate knowledge, the identity of the subject-object. It reveals the existence of the subject. With this process Campanella restates the argument of Augustine, "Si fallor, sum," and anticipates the "Cogito, ergo sum" of Descartes.

The "sensus additus," inferred knowledge, is knowledge of objects distinct from the subject. But if we know only subjective modifications, we may ask ourselves how it is possible to know objects distinct from these modifications. Campanella answers that this is possible through the medium of a superior knowledge received from the "mens."

In fact, according to Campanella, besides the knowledge of the senses, we have also that of reason, of the intellect, and of the "mens." The knowledge of reason and of the intellect are inferior to that of the senses. Reason has the power of inferring like from like, and hence lacks the immediacy that the senses possess. The intellect represents for us the universal, which is a confused and general knowledge and hence lacks the concreteness of the senses.

But higher than reason and intellect is "mens," which is the divine principle in us, similar to the illumination of St. Augustine. Mens guarantees to us not only the existence of objects distinct from the subject, but also gives us assurance that our sense modifications are representations of these objects. Thus Campanella believes that he has overcome agnosticism with fideism.

III. Metaphysics

Campanella's metaphysics today has only a historical value. It consists in the doctrine of the three primary facts: "posse, nosse, velle" (power, knowledge, volition). Reflection upon one's own consciousness reveals three things: "I am; I know I am; I love my own being; hence I am power, knowledge, love." These are the "three primalities" of my being.

But the same self-consciousness reveals to me that these three primalities are limited. Hence they refer me to a Being in which power, knowledge and volition ("posse, nosse, velle") are absolute, infinite. This is God. Thus knowledge of self is knowledge of the subject, of the limits of the subject, and of a Reality that transcends the subject.

Metaphysics thus is made dependent on the theory of knowledge.

Another particular of the metaphysics of Campanella is that the universe is animated, and that all things feel and are felt.

IV. Religion

In addition to his theory of knowledge, Campanella distinguishes as innate religion and an acquired religion. The consciousness of self reveals itself as a love of our own being and as an aspiration toward an infinite being. Man not only loves what he actually is, but he acts for his own conservation and tends toward an infinite being. But only God is infinite; hence he who loves himself, loves God. Innate religion consists in this love of God which man attains through love of self; this is natural religion.

All positive religions are acquired, and all tend to be interpretations of innate religion, that is, of natural religion. Of all positive religions only one adequately expresses this innate or natural religion; this is Christianity, the supernatural religion which satisfies all the exigencies of natural religion.

V. Politics

The politics of Campanella is a practical application of his philosophico-religious concept. In his work De monarchia hispanica (1599) he dreams of a universal society with the Pope as head of the religious aspect and the King of Spain as head of the civil, assisted by a Senate made up of all the princes of the world.

On the other hand, in his City of the Sun, following the Republic of Plato, he visualizes a communist state. He imagines an ideal republic professing a natural religion, directed by universal laws -- a state ruled by philosopher-priests. Campanella calls the head of this state King Sun; he is assisted by three ministers, Power, Wisdom, Love. In this republic all property and private homes and family are abolished.

The thought of Campanella is a compromise between the immanentist tendencies of the Renaissance and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, which was carried out during his lifetime. His political thought is inferior to that of Machiavelli, who truly represents the spirit of the Renaissance.

Adapted from the book: "Modern Philosophy"

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