Pomponazzi, Pietro 1462–1525 Italian Philosopher
Pietro Pomponazzi was an important Italian philosopher who explored the theories of the ancient Greek thinker Aristotle. His most famous and controversial work, Treatise* on the Immortality of the Soul, examined the idea of whether the human soul lived on after the death of the body. In other works, he examined the idea of fate and the cause of miracles.
Pomponazzi became famous for his claim that reason could not prove that a person's soul lived on after death. In Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul he argued that the soul was the same as the intellect, and that the intellect could not function without the body's senses. Without input from the senses, he claimed, the mind is unable to form images and ideas, and therefore it cannot survive after the body dies.
Pomponazzi realized that his theory presented a problem. By stating that reason showed the soul was mortal, he contradicted the doctrines of the Catholic Church, which taught that people who lived a moral life would be rewarded after death and that those who sinned would suffer punishment. He knew some people might argue that without fear of punishment beyond the grave, no one would have any reason to live a virtuous life. Pomponazzi responded to this argument by claiming that moral behavior was a reward in itself.
Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul set off a large controversy. Clergy members throughout Italy attacked Pomponazzi, and in Venice some publicly burned his book. Philosophers and religious thinkers, including one of Pomponazzi's pupils, wrote works attacking him. The author responded with two pieces defending his work. He claimed that he had based his arguments on reason and on Aristotle's ideas, and that he had said nothing against the religious belief that the soul is immortal.
Pomponazzi's works on fate and miracles appeared in print after his death. In On Fate, he explored the hidden causes behind human decision-making. In his work on miracles, On Incantations, Pomponazzi searched for natural reasons to explain so-called miracles. He also defined religion itself in terms of nature and the cycle of the planets. Although many of his claims conflicted with those of Christianity, Pomponazzi stressed that philosophy and religion were two different subjects, and that his attacks on certain ideas did not apply to religious beliefs.
- * treatise
long, detailed essay