Telesio Among the Novatores: Telesio’s Reception in the Seventeenth Century

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Bernardino Telesio was an important figure in Italian thought at the end of the sixteenth century, and his philosophy was thought to provide a genuine alternative to the Aristotelian natural philosophy then dominant. But by the middle of the seventeenth century, it was quite a different story. This essay examines two stages in the transformation of Telesio’s later reputation. In Francis Bacon’s De principiis et originibus, probably written in the early 1610s, Telesio is taken very seriously. While Bacon disagreed with Telesio in many respects, he was clearly an important interlocutor for Bacon. The essay then turns to an examination of the discussion of Telesio in Charles Sorel’s 1655 essay, “Le sommaire des opinions les plus estranges des Novateurs en Philosophie.” There Telesio appears as one of a long list of novateurs, an exhibition in a forgotten corner of a dusty Wunderkammer. By the middle of the seventeenth century, Telesio’s philosophy is no longer a live option, part of the lively discussion about Aristotelian natural philosophy that dominated the intellectual world at that moment. He was remembered as a pioneer, the first to oppose the dominant Aristotelianism, but his doctrines were largely forgotten. René Descartes is now usually considered the father of modern philosophy. (This is not just my opinion: it can now be substantiated scientifically. Google “father of modern philosophy” and up comes Descartes.) But Descartes’ contemporaries didn’t think so. For them the father of modern philosophy was Bernardino Telesio, a sixteenth-century figure now largely forgotten, except among scholars of Renaissance Italian philosophy. In this essay I would like to explore this curious figure, and how his thought was viewed in the seventeenth century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInternational Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Idees
PublisherSpringer Nature
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2016

Publication series

NameInternational Archives of the History of Ideas/Archives Internationales d'Histoire des Idees
ISSN (Print)0066-6610
ISSN (Electronic)2215-0307

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History and Philosophy of Science
  • Philosophy
  • History
  • Religious studies


  • Book Versus
  • Intermediate Zone
  • Italian Translation
  • Modern Philosophy
  • Seventeenth Century


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