chapter  1
20 Pages

Becoming an Outsider: Gassendi in the History of Philosophy


Pierre Gassendi (1592-1655) was an infl uential member of the community of natural philosophers during the fi rst half of the seventeenth century. As a young man, he taught philosophy at the University of Aix; he enjoyed the friendship, collaboration and patronage of Nicolas-Claude Fabri de Peiresc (1580-1637); and he developed a reputation for his contributions to astronomy. He devoted much of his scholarly life to restoring the philosophy of the ancient Greek atomist and hedonist Epicurus (342-270 BC) by showing how it could be made compatible with Christian theology. He moved in the highest intellectual circles, accepting patronage from Louis-Emmanuel de Valois, count of Alais, the governor of Provence, who was closely connected to the royal family.1 He was named professor of the Collège Royal in 1645, thanks to Cardinal Richelieu.2 He and René Descartes (1596-1650) were friends until their bitter dispute following the publication of the latter’s Meditationes in 1641. He corresponded with many of the notable scholars, natural philosophers and intellectuals of his day and became a close friend of the intellectual broker Marin Mersenne (1588-1648).