This paper focuses on a notion that is strictly connected to that of sentient highlighted, as seen, by Giglioni as the more original trait of Telesio’s philosophy – that of self-preservation. In the De rerum natura iuxta propria principia, Telesio argues for the existence of two antithetical active principles, heat and cold, in turn corresponding to the Sun and heaven, and the earth respectively, and yielding motion and change, and rest and immutability. Heath and cold, rather than actively producing the matter on which they act, are the principles of its change, while the “mass or body” (moles vero corpus) on which the two active natures acts remain, though changing their natures and forms (I, 5, 17). Telesio conferred a crucial role to self-preservation, arguing that both principles are essentially antithetical and act tend to fight each other and seek their own preservation. The aim of this paper is not that of offering a genealogical reconstruction of Telesio’s notion of self-preservation (as Martin Muslow has already remarkably done) but rather to analyse its concept, its use within Telesio’s natural philosophy – with special regard to Telesio’s doctrine of motion –, and suggests, providing a working-hypothesis rather than as a solid Wirkungsgeschichte, that this doctrine might likely have had crucial bearings on seventeenth century developments of natural philosophy. I argue that it Telesio’s notion of self-preservation represents not only another element of critique of Aristotelianism, but also a crucial turn in the way Scholastic physics had understood activity in nature. Second, I show that Telesio’s notion of self-preservation was likely motivated by the need of providing an alternative to the Aristotelian theory of motion, and in particular roots on some crucial inconsistencies within Aristotle’s theory of falling objects. In conclusion of my paper, I hint to some possible bearing of Telesio’s doctrine of self-preservation on early modern proto-inertial natural philosophy, and in particular in authors such as Descartes, and Spinoza. While it is not possible to establish a direct influence of Telesio’s natural philosophers on these authors, and while I reject the narratives of Telesio as of a “forerunner” or “anticipator” of modern mechanics, I argue that Telesio’s critique of the Aristotelian doctrine of motion and activity and its explanation in terms of self-preserving tendencies contributed to create the intellectual atmosphere from which early modern mechanism stemmed. This paper is divided in four sections. I first offer a short reconstruction of the theme of self-preservation in Western philosophy, focusing in particular on its reception within Scholasticism. Second, I reconstruct Telesio’s notion of self-preservation. Third, through a comparison with the Scholastic (and even pre-Scholastic) notion of self-preservation, it shall show that Telesio’s detachment from the Scholastic tradition consisted of three traits: (1) the claim that this tendency to self-preservation is teleologically oriented but not intrinsically definite in time (that is, does not have a terminus ad quem). Then (2), I shall show that while the Thomists grounded the drive to self-preservation within a structured theological framework — in which the instinct to self-preservation stems from the love of God for his creation —, Telesio’s project of a study of nature “within its own principles” excludes such theological structure from the picture. Finally (3) strictly connected to the two points above — that these solution brings about a decisive passage from a teleology conceived as the passage between different states and having goals extrinsic to the subject to one that I will rather define “autotelic,” in which the subject itself — its persistence into existence and increase in power — becomes the goal of activity. Fourth, it shall show how the notion of self-preservation contributes to provide, and was likely motivated by the search of, an alternative explanation to Aristotle’s theory of motion, which was rooted on the dualism between natural and violent motion. In Telesio’s mind, self-preservation replaces the idea that the tendency to motion is brought about by the form of things. The conclusion is admittedly the most hypothetical part of my paper. Indeed, the autotelic drive to self-preservation characterizes many (proto)inertial natural philosophies of the seventeenth century, such as that of Descartes, and Spinoza. While it is uncertain to what extent Telesio’s philosophy influenced these authors, I argue that Telesio’s notion of self-preservation contributed to create the intellectual environment that lead to further development of seventeenth century-mechanics.

The Transformation of Final Causation. Telesio's Theories of Self-Preservation and Motion

Rodolfo Garau
2019

Abstract

This paper focuses on a notion that is strictly connected to that of sentient highlighted, as seen, by Giglioni as the more original trait of Telesio’s philosophy – that of self-preservation. In the De rerum natura iuxta propria principia, Telesio argues for the existence of two antithetical active principles, heat and cold, in turn corresponding to the Sun and heaven, and the earth respectively, and yielding motion and change, and rest and immutability. Heath and cold, rather than actively producing the matter on which they act, are the principles of its change, while the “mass or body” (moles vero corpus) on which the two active natures acts remain, though changing their natures and forms (I, 5, 17). Telesio conferred a crucial role to self-preservation, arguing that both principles are essentially antithetical and act tend to fight each other and seek their own preservation. The aim of this paper is not that of offering a genealogical reconstruction of Telesio’s notion of self-preservation (as Martin Muslow has already remarkably done) but rather to analyse its concept, its use within Telesio’s natural philosophy – with special regard to Telesio’s doctrine of motion –, and suggests, providing a working-hypothesis rather than as a solid Wirkungsgeschichte, that this doctrine might likely have had crucial bearings on seventeenth century developments of natural philosophy. I argue that it Telesio’s notion of self-preservation represents not only another element of critique of Aristotelianism, but also a crucial turn in the way Scholastic physics had understood activity in nature. Second, I show that Telesio’s notion of self-preservation was likely motivated by the need of providing an alternative to the Aristotelian theory of motion, and in particular roots on some crucial inconsistencies within Aristotle’s theory of falling objects. In conclusion of my paper, I hint to some possible bearing of Telesio’s doctrine of self-preservation on early modern proto-inertial natural philosophy, and in particular in authors such as Descartes, and Spinoza. While it is not possible to establish a direct influence of Telesio’s natural philosophers on these authors, and while I reject the narratives of Telesio as of a “forerunner” or “anticipator” of modern mechanics, I argue that Telesio’s critique of the Aristotelian doctrine of motion and activity and its explanation in terms of self-preserving tendencies contributed to create the intellectual atmosphere from which early modern mechanism stemmed. This paper is divided in four sections. I first offer a short reconstruction of the theme of self-preservation in Western philosophy, focusing in particular on its reception within Scholasticism. Second, I reconstruct Telesio’s notion of self-preservation. Third, through a comparison with the Scholastic (and even pre-Scholastic) notion of self-preservation, it shall show that Telesio’s detachment from the Scholastic tradition consisted of three traits: (1) the claim that this tendency to self-preservation is teleologically oriented but not intrinsically definite in time (that is, does not have a terminus ad quem). Then (2), I shall show that while the Thomists grounded the drive to self-preservation within a structured theological framework — in which the instinct to self-preservation stems from the love of God for his creation —, Telesio’s project of a study of nature “within its own principles” excludes such theological structure from the picture. Finally (3) strictly connected to the two points above — that these solution brings about a decisive passage from a teleology conceived as the passage between different states and having goals extrinsic to the subject to one that I will rather define “autotelic,” in which the subject itself — its persistence into existence and increase in power — becomes the goal of activity. Fourth, it shall show how the notion of self-preservation contributes to provide, and was likely motivated by the search of, an alternative explanation to Aristotle’s theory of motion, which was rooted on the dualism between natural and violent motion. In Telesio’s mind, self-preservation replaces the idea that the tendency to motion is brought about by the form of things. The conclusion is admittedly the most hypothetical part of my paper. Indeed, the autotelic drive to self-preservation characterizes many (proto)inertial natural philosophies of the seventeenth century, such as that of Descartes, and Spinoza. While it is uncertain to what extent Telesio’s philosophy influenced these authors, I argue that Telesio’s notion of self-preservation contributed to create the intellectual environment that lead to further development of seventeenth century-mechanics.
Bernardino Telesio and the Natural Sciences in the Renaissance
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