Imaginary Spaces and Cosmological Issues in Gassendi’s Philosophy

  • Delphine BellisEmail author
Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 48)


Pierre Gassendi (1592–1655) is often viewed mostly as an antiquarian because of his interest in reconstructing Epicurean philosophy. Admittedly, Gassendi was one of the main actors in the revival of atomism in the seventeenth century, but he was also a supporter of Copernican cosmology, and he proposed a groundbreaking theory of space: not only did he depart from the Aristotelian notion of place, but he even proposed a new ontological conception of space as neither a substance nor an accident. For Gassendi, space was a homogeneous, infinite, three-dimensional entity which could be filled with bodies but was independent of them and could remain void. This new conception of space was elaborated not only as a revival of Epicureanism, or as a foundation for the new science, but also through a re-elaboration of the scholastic notion of imaginary spaces. The aim of this paper is to unravel some of Gassendi’s unacknowledged scholastic sources and explore how Gassendi, a staunch anti-Aristotelian, relied on a reinterpretation of this scholastic notion for his construction of a cosmological system immune to theological criticisms otherwise directed at the Epicurean and Brunian infinitist worldviews. This reinterpretation directly paved the way for a geometrical conception of space.


  1. Albert of Saxony. 2008. Quaestiones in Aristotelis De caelo, ed. Benoît Patar. Louvain-la-Neuve: Peeters.Google Scholar
  2. Albert the Great. 1651. Opera Omnia, 21 vols, ed. Peter Jammy. Lyon: Claude Prost et al.Google Scholar
  3. Aversa, Raffaele. 1625. Philosophia metaphysicam physicamque complectens quaestionibus contexta. Vol. 1. Rome: Iacomo Mascardo.Google Scholar
  4. Bloch, Olivier. 1971. La Philosophie de Gassendi: Nominalisme, matérialisme et métaphysique. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  5. Brundell, Barry. 1987. Pierre Gassendi: From Aristotelianism to a New Natural Philosophy. Dordrecht: Reidel.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Canone, Eugenio. 1993. Nota introduttiva: Le biblioteche private di eruditi, filosofi e scienziati in età moderna. In Bibliotecae selectae da Cusano a Leopardi, ed. Eugenio Canone, IX–XXII. Florence: Olschki.Google Scholar
  7. Clark, Joseph T. 1963. Pierre Gassendi and the Physics of Galileo. Isis 54 (3): 352–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Conimbricenses. 1596. Commentarium Collegii Conimbricensis Societatis Iesu, in octo libros physicorum Aristotelis Stagiritae. Cologne: Lazarus Zetzner.Google Scholar
  9. Del Prete, Antonella. 2000. Pierre Gassendi et l’univers infini. Libertinage et philosophie au XVIIe siècle 4: 57–68.Google Scholar
  10. De Risi, Vincenzo. 2016. Francesco Patrizi and the New Geometry of Space. In Boundaries, Extents and Circulations: Space and Spatiality in Early Modern Natural Philosophy, ed. Koen Vermeir and Jonathan Regier, 55–106. Dordrecht: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Descartes, René. 1991. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, vol. 3: The Correspondence, ed. John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, Dugald Murdoch, and Anthony Kenny. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  12. ———. 1996. Œuvres de Descartes, ed. Charles Adam and Paul Tannery, 2nd ed. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
  13. Fonseca, Pedro da. 1589. Commentarii in libros metaphysicorum Aristotelis Stagiritae. Vol. 2. Rome: Jacob Torneri.Google Scholar
  14. Galilei, Galileo. 1896. Le opere di Galileo Galilei: Edizione Nazionale. Vol. 6. Florence: G. Barbera.Google Scholar
  15. Gassendi, Pierre. 1632. Mercurius in sole visus et Venus invisa Parisiis anno 1631. Paris: Sébastien Cramoisy.Google Scholar
  16. ———. 1636. De vita et doctrina Epicuri, book XII. MS Tours 709, ff. 147r–166v.Google Scholar
  17. ———. 1637. De vita et doctrina Epicuri, book XIV. MS Tours 709, ff. 193r–214v.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1641–1642. De vita et doctrina Epicuri, books XVII-XX. MS Tours 709, ff. 268r–500v.Google Scholar
  19. ———. 1642–1643. De vita et doctrina Epicuri, books XXII-XXIII. MS Tours 710, ff. 576r–720v.Google Scholar
  20. ———. 1649. Animadversiones in decimum librum Diogenis Laertii. Lyon: Guillaume Barbier.Google Scholar
  21. ———. 1658. Opera Omnia, 6 vols. Lyon: Anisson and Devenet.Google Scholar
  22. ———. 1727. Opera Omnia, 6 vols. Florence: Giovanni Gaetano Tartini and Santi Franchi.Google Scholar
  23. ———. 1972. The Selected Works. Trans. Craig Brush. New York/London: Johnson.Google Scholar
  24. Goclenius, Rudolph. 1613. Lexicon philosophicum. Frankfurt: Matthias Becker.Google Scholar
  25. Grant, Edward. 1981. Much Ado About Nothing: Theories of Space and Vacuum from the Middle Ages to the Scientific Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Helden, Albert van. 1985. Measuring the Universe: Cosmic dimensions from Aristarchus to Halley. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  27. Henry, John. 1979. Francesco Patrizi da Cherso’s Concept of Space and its Later Influence. Annals of Science 36: 549–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Henry of Ghent. 2007. Quodlibet XV, ed. Girard Etzkorn and Gordon A. Wilson. Leuven: Leuven University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Humbert, Pierre. 1936. L’Œuvre astronomique de Gassendi. Paris: Hermann.Google Scholar
  30. John Buridan. 1509. Acutissimi philosophi reverendi Magistri Johannis Buridani subtilissime questiones super octo Phisicorum libros Aristotelis diligenter recognite et revise a Magistro Johanne Dullaert de Gandavo antea nusquam impresse. Paris: Denis Roce.Google Scholar
  31. John Duns Scotus. 1895. Quaestiones quodlibetales. In Opera Omnia, vol. 25. Paris: Louis Vivès.Google Scholar
  32. Koyré, Alexandre. 1957a. Gassendi et la science de son temps. In Actes du Congrès du Tricentenaire de Pierre Gassendi (4–7 août 1955). Digne: R. Vial.Google Scholar
  33. ———. 1957b. From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Leijenhorst, Cees. 1996. Jesuit Concepts of Spatium Imaginarium and Thomas Hobbes’s Doctrine of Space. Early Science and Medicine 1 (3): 355–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. LoLordo, Antonia. 2007. Pierre Gassendi and the Birth of Early Modern Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  36. Mamiani, Maurizio. 1979. Teorie dello spazio da Descartes a Newton. Milan: Franco Angeli.Google Scholar
  37. McGuire, James E. 1978. Existence, Actuality, and Necessity: Newton on Space and Time. Annals of Science 35 (5): 463–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Morin, Jean-Baptiste. 1631. Famosi et antiqui problematis de telluris motu, vel quiete, hactenus optata solutio. Paris: Apud authorem.Google Scholar
  39. Muccillo, Maria. 2010. La concezione dello spazio di Francesco Patrizi (1529–1597) e la sua fortuna nell’ambito della reazione anticartesiana inglese. In Dal cartesianismo all’illuminismo radicale, ed. Carlo Borghero and Claudio Buccolini, 49–71. Florence: Le Lettere.Google Scholar
  40. Nicole Oresme. 1968. Le Livre du ciel et du monde, ed. Albert D. Menut and Alexander J. Denomy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.Google Scholar
  41. ———. 2013. Questiones super Physicam (Books I-VII), ed. Stefano Caroti, Jean Celeyrette, Stefan Kirschner, and Edmond Mazet. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  42. Paganini, Gianni. 2005. Hobbes, Gassendi und die Hypothese der Weltvernichtung. In Die Konstellationsforschung, ed. Martin Mulsow and Marcelo Stamm, 258–339. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  43. ———. 2008. Le néant et le vide: Les parcours croisés de Gassendi et Hobbes. In Gassendi et la modernité, ed. Sylvie Taussig, 177–214. Turnhout: Brepols.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Palmerino, Carla Rita. 1998. Atomi, meccanica, cosmologia: Le lettere galileiane di Pierre Gassendi. PhD dissertation. Florence.Google Scholar
  45. ———. 2001. Galileo’s and Gassendi’s Solutions to the Rota Aristotelis Paradox: A Bridge Between Matter and Motion Theories. In Medieval and Early Modern Corpuscular Matter Theories, ed. John E. Murdoch, William R. Newman, and Christoph H. Lüthy, 381–422. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar
  46. ———. 2004a. Gassendi’s Reinterpretation of the Galilean Theory of Tides. Perspectives on Science 12 (2): 212–237.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. ———. 2004b. Galileo’s Theories of Free Fall and Projectile Motion as Interpreted by Pierre Gassendi. In The Reception of the Galilean Science of Motion in Seventeenth-Century Europe, ed. Carla Rita Palmerino and Hans Thijssen, 137–164. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. ———. 2011. The Isomorphism of Space, Time and Matter in Seventeenth-Century Natural Philosophy. Early Science and Medicine 16 (4): 296–330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pantin, Isabelle. 2006. Teaching Mathematics and Astronomy in France: The Collège Royal (1550–1650). Science & Education 15: 189–207.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Patrizi, Francesco. 1591. Nova de universis philosophia. Ferrara: Mammarelli.Google Scholar
  51. ———. 1943. On Physical Space. Trans. Benjamin Brickman. Journal of the History of Ideas 4(2): 224–245.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Peiresc, Claude Nicolas Fabri de. 1893. Lettres de Peiresc publiées par Philippe Tamizey de Laroque. Vol. 4. Paris: Imprimerie nationale.Google Scholar
  53. Peter John Olivi. 1922. Quaestiones in secundum librum Sententiarum. Vol. 1. Ad Claras Aquas: Quaracchi.Google Scholar
  54. Pintard, René. 1943. La Mothe Le Vayer, Gassendi, Guy Patin: Études de bibliographie et de critique suivies de textes inédits de Guy Patin. Paris: Boivin & Cie.Google Scholar
  55. Richard of Middleton. 1591. Clarissimi theologi magistri Ricardi de Media Villa… super quatuor libros Sententiarum Petri Lombardi quaestiones subtilissimae, 2 vols. Brescia: De consensu superiorum.Google Scholar
  56. Rochot, Bernard. 1944. Les travaux de Gassendi sur Épicure et sur l’atomisme, 1619–1658. Paris: Vrin.Google Scholar
  57. Sakamoto, Kuni. 2009. The German Hercules’s Heir: Pierre Gassendi’s Reception of Keplerian Ideas. Journal of the History of Ideas 70 (1): 69–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Schuhmann, Karl. 1994. La doctrine gassendienne de l’espace. In Pierre Gassendi 1592-1655. Actes du Colloque International Digne-les-Bains, 18-21 mai 1992, 233–244. Digne-les-Bains: Annales de Haute-Provence.Google Scholar
  59. Sturlese, Rita. 1987. Bibliografia, censimento e storia delle antiche stampe di Giordano Bruno. Florence: Olschki.Google Scholar
  60. Suárez, Francisco. 1861. Disputationes metaphysicae, part 2. In Opera Omnia, vol. 26. Paris: Louis Vivès.Google Scholar
  61. Suarez-Nani, Tiziana. 2017. L’espace sans corps: Étapes médiévales de l’hypothèse de l’annihilatio mundi. In Lieu, espace, mouvement: Physique, métaphysique et cosmologie (XIIe-XVIe siècles), ed. Tiziana Suarez-Nani, Olivier Ribordy, and Antonio Petagine, 93–107. Barcelona/Rome: Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tack, Reiner. 1974. Untersuchungen zum Philosophie- und Wissenschaftsbegriff bei Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655). Meisenheim am Glan: Anton Hain.Google Scholar
  63. Thomas Bradwardine. 1618. De causa Dei contra Pelagium. London: John Bill.Google Scholar
  64. Toletus, Franciscus. 1593. Societatis Iesu, commentaria, una cum quaestionibus, in octo libros Aristotelis de Physica auscultatione. Cologne: Birckmann.Google Scholar
  65. Westfall, Richard S. 1962. The Foundations of Newton’s Philosophy of Nature. British Journal for the History of Science 1 (2): 171–182.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. William of Ockham. 1980. Venerabilis inceptoris Guillelmi de Ockham Quodlibeta septem, ed. Joseph C. Wey. St. Bonaventure: St. Bonaventure University.Google Scholar
  67. Zittel, Claus. 2013. Gassendis Astronomen-Viten. In Die Vita als Vermittlerin von Wissenschaft und Werk: Form- und Funktionsanalytische Untersuchungen zu frühneuzeitlichen Biographen von Gelehrten, Wissenschaftlern, Schriftstellern und Künstlern, ed. Karl Enenkel and Claus Zittel, 123–156. Berlin: LIT.Google Scholar
  68. ———. 2015. “Copernicus Found a Treasure the True Value of Which He Did Not Know at All”: The Life of Copernicus by Gassendi. In The Making of Copernicus: Early Modern Transformations of a Scientist and His Science, ed. Wolfgang Neuber, Thomas Rahn, and Claus Zittel, 251–286. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyPaul Valéry UniversityMontpellierFrance

Personalised recommendations