Lumières de Descartes. La première diffusion de la philosophie cartésienne dans le Royaume de Naples

Agatopisto Cromaziano, nom de plume de Appiano Buonafede, écrit dans son œuvre De l’histoire et de la nature de toute philosophie (Della istoria e della indole di ogni filosofia, 1788) que le ‘rétablissement philosophique cartésienne’ avait été un vrai obstacle épistémologique qui avait limité la diffusion de la science de Newton; en effet, pour Buonafede, la philosophie de Descartes était en Italie un mélange de quelques notions cartésiennes (les idées claires, les principes évidents) avec la philosophie de Galileo Galilei. Mais cette présentation de la philosophie de Renato (comme Giambattista Vico appelait Descartes) était fausse ou pour mieux dire elle voulait présenter une histoire de la philosophie italienne toute indépendante de la pensée de Descartes.

Giuseppe Valletta

Giuseppe Valletta (1636-1714), fondateur de l’Accademia degli investiganti.

Paolo Mattia Doria, Giambattista Vico et Giovanni Battista De Benedictis, entre autres, ont décrit Descartes comme un philosophe corrompu et épicurien, mais c’était seulement le premier impact d’une nouvelle philosophie sur une philosophie qui était en difficulté aprés la condamnation de Galilée. D’ailleurs, le rapprochement de Descartes et de l’atomisme antique est courant à l’époque, par exemple Pierre Bayle dans son Dictionnaire historique et critique, dans l’article ‘Démocrite’ écrit que ‘c’est encore Democrite qui a fourni aux Pyrrhoniens tout ce qu’ils ont dit contre le témoignage des sens; car outre qu’il avait accoutumé de dire que la Vérité était cachée au fond d’un puits, il soutenait qu’il n’y avait rien de réel que les atomes et le vide, et que tout le reste ne consistait qu’en opinion. C’est ce que les Cartésiens disent aujourd’hui touchant les qualités corporelles, la couleur, l’odeur, le son, le saveur, le chaud, le froid; ce ne sont, disent-ils, que des modifications de l’âme.’ Et comme pour Pierre Bayle, on peut se demander si Giuseppe Valletta, auteur d’une Lettre apologétique de défense de la philosophie moderne et de ses spécialistes (Lettera in difesa della moderna filosofia e de’ coltivatori di essa, 1791), a l’intention d’attirer l’attention sur les éléments de la physique atomiste – et pour Valletta la philosophie atomiste de Démocrite avait un origine Mosaïque – qu’on a cherché di christianiser en soulignant sur la foi chrétienne de Descartes, en opposition des théories impies, telles que le refus de l’immortalité de l’âme et l’éternité du monde, que Valletta assignait à la philosophie aristotélicienne.

Tommaso Cornelio

Tommaso Cornelio (1614-1684).

Mais pour bien comprendre la première diffusion de la pensée de Descartes, avant tout chose il faut souligner que c’est le philosophe Tommaso Cornelio qui, les derniers mois de l’année 1649, a fait connaître a Naples beaucoup des œuvres des philosophes étrangers, pas seulement Descartes, mais aussi Francis Bacon et Pierre Gassendi et d’autres encore. Et à Naples les textes de Descartes sont étudié dans le cadre d’une querelle anti-péripatéticien et anti-scholastique, qui explore d’un point de vue critique la philosophie de la nature de la Renaissance, en se référant sans intermédiaire aux théories de Kepler, de Galilée, Gassendi, Bacon et Descartes, mais aussi à des auctoritates anciennes tels que Démocrite et Lucrèce, Platon, Pythagore et Epicure. Mais il faut encore souligner que pour gagner contre l’opposition des aristotéliciens dans le Royaume de Naples, la philosophie de Descartes et de ses companions doit démontrer sa supériorité dans la médécine.

Tommaso Cornelio, Progymnasmata physica

Tommaso Cornelio, Progymnasmata physica (Venetiis, F. Barba, 1663).

En effet les questions epistémologiques et scientifiques soulevées par la médecine engagent Tommaso Cornelio et ses amis de l’Accademia degli investiganti,  Leonardo Di Capua et Sebastiano Bartoli, et font gagner à l’Accademia une visibilité européenne dans l’an 1656, lorsque à Naples éclate une épidemie de peste. Cette pandémie marque un moment dramatique dans l’histoire de la ville: la médecine des savants fait l’expérience de son impuissance, tandis que la propagation devient irrésistible à cause de la paresse des autorités compétentes et l’ignorance des savants qui insistaient pour suivre les théories de Galien, contaminées avec des infiltrations astrologiques.

Largo Mercatello durante la peste a Napoli

Largo Mercatello durante la peste a Napoli, 1656, par Micco Spadaro (Domenico Gargiulo) (c.1609-1610 – c.1675).

Et alors, Descartes n’est qu’un auteur, un philosophe, un savant, mais il se transforme en un symbole de la nouvelle philosophie, une nouvelle science que ne veut pas jurer sur les doctrines des anciens (nullius jurare in verba magistri) mais interroger la nature des choses. C’est la libertas philosophandi qui est le but des partisans de la philosophie cartésienne, c’est à dire de la philosophie moderne, et Giulia Belgioioso a suivi le parcours de Descartes à Naples en démontrant que ce n’est pas seulement la philosophie ou les œuvres de René Descartes mais aussi l’image différente du philosophe (La variata immagine di Descartes. Gli itinerari della metafisica tra Parigi e Napoli) qui est un emblème de la nouvelle science de la nature et, après l’épidémie du 1656, un modèle idéal pour les nouvelles recherches qui ont l’ambition de défaire l’émerveillement. Ettore Lojacono (Immagini di René Descartes nella cultura napoletana dal 1644 al 1755) écrit que cette ambition mêle la tradition aristotélicienne avec la pensée de Bacon et Descartes, selon lequel l’émerveillement est un motif de réflexion mais aussi le signe d’un état d’ignorance qui est dû surtout aux préjugés d’Aristote.

Leonardo Di Capua

Leonardo Di Capua (1617-1696).

Gaetano Tremigliozzi et Giacinto Gimma, dans une petite œuvre écrite pour défendre Carlo Musitano et la médecine moderne contre la médecine de Galien (Nuova Staffetta da Parnaso circa gli affari della Medicina pubblicata dal sig. Gaetano Tremigliozzi e dirizzata all’illustrissima Accademia degli Spensierati di Rossano, in Francfort, 1700) rapprochent Descartes et Hippocrate tels que partisans de la science médicale face aux partisans de Galien; modernité philosophique n’est pas seulement suivre la philosophie cartésienne ou baconienne mais, comme beaucoup des Novateurs, adopter une stratégie rhétorique qui a pour but d’isoler le philosophe péripatéticien et le médecin sectateur de Galien, en utilisant l’héritage de la philosophie de Démocrite, Epicure et Hippocrate.

Parere del signor Lionardo di Capoa divisato in otto ragionamenti

Parere del signor Lionardo di Capoa divisato in otto ragionamenti (Naples, 1689), page de titre.

Les premières lumières de Descartes dans l’Italie du Sud étaient lumières d’un physician proche à la révolution scientifique mais elles sont surtout les lumières d’un philosophe qui n’est pas encore devenu le philosophe du Cogito. Et il faut attendre l’an 1755 pour la première traduction de Fortunato Bartolomeo De Felice du Discours de la méthode (Dissertazione del sig. Renato Des Cartes sul metodo di ben condurre la sua ragione e di cercare la verità nelle scienze), traduction presque inconnue et sur laquelle a attiré l’attention Ettore Lojacono, et encore dans cette traduction la métaphysique de Descartes n’a pas la première place, face à la querelle sur l’âme des bêtes: à savoir, la diffusion de la philosophie de Descartes dans le Royaume de Naples a été surtout une réflexion sur la science et la médécine de la modernité.

Fabio A. Sulpizio

Never the twain shall meet: the correspondence of Pietro and Alessandro Verri (1766-1797)

Pietro_Verri

Pietro Verri, by Giuseppe Benaglia / Image Civica Raccolta delle Stampe Achille Bertarelli, Milan

When, in October 1766, Alessandro Verri left Milan to go to Paris with Cesare Beccaria at the invitation of André Morellet (the translator of Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments) and of the encyclopédistes, he concluded an epistolary pact with his brother Pietro. Pietro, who was thirteen years Alessandro’s senior, remained in Lombardy and ensured the preservation of the correspondence by having the letters carefully and systematically copied into large in-folio registers.

After his trip to Paris and London, Alessandro settled in Rome in 1767 and he continued his correspondence with his brother until Pietro’s death in 1797. The time span it covers and its candid take on private and public matters make it the richest correspondence in eighteenth-century Italy. It extends over three decades, from the age of Reforms in Lombardy under the rule of Maria Theresa to the eve of the proclamation of the Roman republic in 1798, and encompasses the French Revolution, the invasions of Piedmont and Lombardy by General Bonaparte, and the creation of the Cisalpine republic.

At first, the brothers’ dialogue preserved the harmony that characterised the discussions held at the Accademia dei Pugni (the ‘Academy of Punches’), the learned society that they had founded in Milan in 1761, and which had been the incubator for two seminal works of the Lombard Enlightenment, namely Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments and the Caffè periodical (1764-1766). Yet, the brothers’ apparent convergence of views in the first months of their correspondence could hardly conceal the fact that they were growing apart intellectually.

Pietro’s letters reveal his strong belief in intellectual passions as drivers of historical change, and in the necessity to work towards the happiness of the masses. Throughout his life he remained an ardent reformist and never gave up on his ambition to ‘electrify minds’ through his writings. [1]

Alessandro’s letters, by contrast, show his individualistic conception of happiness and his wariness of any developments that might upset society’s order and stability (free thought, popular passions), as well as his conviction that attempting to create and shape public opinion was a dangerous endeavour. His refusal to envision a society made up of free individuals – and above all a secular society – alienated him from the spirit of modernity that was emerging at the end of the century.

In 1782, a dispute cropped up between the brothers over the interpretation of Pope Pius VI’s trip to Vienna. The Pontiff had decided to take this unprecedented step to try and dissuade Emperor Joseph II from carrying out a series of religious reforms which would lead to the closure of a number of convents and monasteries, and to the abolition of regular religious orders. Pietro praised the Emperor, whom he saw as an enlightened monarch: ‘To make his people more virtuous, humane, industrious and felicitous, he’s declaring war on superstition, he inspires and commands tolerance, and leads the way towards a time when vice will be stripped of the treacherous veil which gives it the appearance of virtue.’ [2] As for Alessandro, he regarded the Pope’s failure as a humiliation inflicted on the Holy See, but expressed pride at the ‘veneration’ and ‘infinite demonstrations of respect’ displayed by Italian and Austrian crowds towards the Pope during his journey. Those who ‘claim[ed] that their pens commanded public opinion have been proven wrong’, he thought. [3]

Pietro strove to demonstrate that the political victory of the Emperor was a harbinger of religious regeneration, of the restoration of religion’s social import and public efficacy: ‘Religion is saved, evil is rooted out.’ Above all, he saw this as the outcome of the ‘enduring battle’ waged by a few superior, isolated but victorious minds, in favour of liberties and science. While he clung to Bayle’s belief that ‘no religious opinion is essential to civilian government’, [4] Alessandro, for his part, regarded religion as part of ‘the arcane foundations of the State […] essential to restrain human passions and refrain the multitude, as we have seen men become fierce and mad when the yoke is broken.’ [5]

After the French Revolution the epistolary dialogue between the two brothers evolved into overt antagonism, as clearly summed up by Pietro in March 1796: ‘You hate modern philosophers, who have demonstrated that vigorous passions trigger great actions, while I agree with them.’ [6] For Pietro, the 1790s were an exaltated time in an era of political frustration. While he had been disappointed by the reforms carried out by Joseph II in Lombardy, he was filled with enthusiasm for the ideals of liberty and equality proclaimed by the French National Assembly in 1789. However, he understood that the fear awakened by the French Revolution had dealt a lethal blow to the cause of the advancement of reason in Italy: ‘Now that we rightly consider that the dissemination of culture among the people sparked off the events in France, we regard the excess of thought, books, thinkers, advocates of all sorts of doctrines as highly suspicious and we cordially hate them all,’ he remarked in 1794, adding: ‘we live at a time when fierce ignorance is all the rage […]. Reason is losing ground everywhere in Europe.’ [7]

Alessandro_Verri

Alessandro Verri, by Pietro Beceni / Image Civica Raccolta delle Stampe Achille Bertarelli, Milan.

Alessandro agreed that the revolutionary crisis had been sparked off by the works of enlightened thinkers and he saw this as a vindication of the misgivings he had experienced during his visit to Parisian coteries in the winter of 1766. He was concerned about the way some of the propositions from d’Holbach’s Système de la nature were freely debated in Italy, and he accused the ‘assassin-philosophers’ of undermining the moral and religious principles underpinning civil society: ‘As long as this form of thinking is limited to a few silent men, human society won’t be affected: but as soon as alleged philosophers take their ideas to the streets and ramble freely, human passions will be unleashed, à la française.’ ‘The tyranny of the multitude, the emancipated mob is a monster that I dread much more than Tiberius,’ he added. [8]

By contrast, the strength in Pietro’s thinking – which was quite original in the intellectual landscape of late eighteenth-century Italy – was to distance himself from the anti-Jacobin zeal of the Lombard élite and to understand that the transition from ‘error’ to ‘enlightenment,’ from tyranny to liberty, could be effected by violent means. For Pietro Verri, the violence in France in 1792 and 1793 could be justified and productive as long as the people managed to put together a constitution. His views echoed those of Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments, a work to which Pietro had contributed years earlier: ‘Whoever reflects on the various histories of nations, which after a certain lapse of time come to resemble each other in their main outlines, will repeatedly find a whole generation sacrificed to the happiness of succeeding generations in the hard-fought but necessary transition from the shadows of ignorance to the light of philosophy and, as a corollary, in the passage from tyranny to freedom.’ [9]

– Pierre Musitelli, École normale supérieure, Paris

[1] Carteggio di Pietro e Alessandro Verri, 12 vol. (Milan, 1910-1942), vol.10 (1939), p. 237 (my translation).

[2] 2 March 1782.

[3] 17 April 1782; 10 April 1782.

[4] 20 April 1782; 4 May 1782; 22 May 1793.

[5] 13 May 1793.

[6] 5 March 1796.

[7] 1 March 1794; 29 march 1794.

[8] 25 August 1794; 15 December 1792.

[9] C. Beccaria, On Crimes and Punishments (Cambridge, 1995), p. 106-107.