Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Did Zabarella’s Aristotelianism Inspire Empiricism of David Hume?

In 1940, John Herman Randall published an essay, “Development of Scientific Method in the School of Padua,” in the Journal of the History of Ideas. (Subsequently the essay was published in the book The School of Padua and the Emergence of Modern Science.)

In his essay, Randall claims that modern philosophy and science arose out of the investigative method proposed by the Aristotelian thinker Jacopo Zabarella (1533-1589) at the University of Padua.

In his book The Aristotelian Tradition and the Rise of British Empiricism: Logic and Epistemology in the British Isles, Marco Sgarbi uses Randall’s thesis to rebut the traditional view that empiricism of Hume, Locke and Berkley has its roots in the revival of Platonism. Sgarbi argues that the Paduan Aristotelianism of Zabarella had a decisive impact on British Empiricism. He says that British writers inherited, embraced, and developed Zabarella’s ideas for more than a century and they eventually gave birth to what we know as British Empiricism.

“Put simply, without the legions of forgotten British Aristotelians, there would have been no Locke, no Berkeley, no Hume,” writes Sgarbi on page 234 of his book.

To makes his case, Sgarbi examines several British writers and comes to the conclusion that from 1570 to 1689, Zabarella’s Aristotelianism had a wide diffusion in British Isles and exercised significant influence on British philosophical writing, which were predominantly empiricist in nature. Eventually the skeptical empiricism of the British writers found maturity in the empiricism of Locke, Berkley and Hume. Sgarbi says that without Aristotelian tradition, British empiricism would never have been born.

John P. McCaskey has done a review of Sgarbi’s book in which he rebuts Sgarbi’s attempt to revive Randall’s thesis. Here’s an excerpt from McCaskey's review:

“Now maybe positions central to Jacopo Zabarella really do become important and characteristic in the skeptical doctrine of British empiricism. I suspect so. But Sgarbi makes no such case. He never discusses Locke or Berkeley or Hume, or how Zabarella’s positions imply the empiricists’. Sgarbi just shows that in the century before Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding many writers mentioned induction and many claimed that knowledge must rely somehow on sense experience.”

In another article, "Jacopo Zabarella’s Real Influence on Early Modern Science," McCaskey rejects Randall’s thesis on Zabarella’s influence on modern science and philosophy. “In 1940, John Herman Randall proposed that the Scientific Revolution resulted from adoption of the investigative method of regressus championed by Jacopo Zabarella at the University of Padua. By now the proposal should have been soundly rejected or firmly established in the canon. Alas, it has been neither. An impediment has been inaccessibility of texts.”

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