Agostino Nifo

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Agostino Nifo (c. 1473 - 1538 or 1545) Latin Augustinus Niphus, or Niphus Suessanus, Niphus also spelled Nyphus, was an Italian philosopher and commentator. A professor of philosophy at the University of Padua and a lecturer at Naples, Rome, Pisa, and Salerno, he studied many different traditions of Latin, Arab and Greek commentary on Aristotle. Early in his career, while at the University of Padua (around 1490), Nifo studied the Averroist Aristotelianism of Nicoletto Vernia and Siger of Brabant, and wrote De intellectu et daemonibus (1492, “On the Intellect and Demons”), expounding on the Averroist concept of immortality as the union of the educated soul with a universal intellect. He later made a critical edition of Averroës' commentaries on Aristotle with conclusions more compatible with Roman Catholic orthodoxy, similar to the teachings of Siger of Brabant.

In 1518, at the request of Leo X, Nifo wrote a refutation of Pomponazzi's view that the human soul is essentially a material organism dissolving at death, Tractatus de immortalitate animae contra Pomponatium (Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul Against Pomponazzi), for which, in 1520 he was made Count Palatine, with the right to call himself by the name Medici. Nifo’s commentaries on Aristotle, and on Plato and the thought of other philosophers, were widely read in European universities throughout the sixteenth century.

Contents

Life

Agostino Nifo was born around 1473 at Sessa Aurunca or Japoli in Calabria, near Naples, Italy. He settled for a time at Sezza before proceeding to Padua to study philosophy and medicine. While at the University of Padua (around 1490), Nifo studied the Aristotelianism of Nicoletto Vernia and Siger of Brabant, who interpreted Aristotle according to the principles of the twelfth-century Arab philosopher and physician, Averroës. Averroism emphasized the eternity of the world and the concept of immortality through union with a universal intellect subsuming the souls of all individuals at death. Nifo expounded on these ideas in De intellectu et daemonibus (1492, “On the Intellect and Demons”), but he later made a critical edition of Averroës' commentaries on Aristotle with conclusions more open to Christian doctrine, similar to the teachings of Siger of Brabant.

Nifo succeeded the strict Averroist Pietro Pomponazzi to the chair of philosophy at Padua in 1496, but resigned when Pomponazzi returned. He then lectured successively at Naples, Rome, Pisa and Salerno. Influenced by the Neoplatonism of the Florentine school, he adapted his Aristotelianism to conform with the thirteenth-century Christian synthesis of Thomas Aquinas.

Nifo was so highly esteemed as a professor that he was asked by Leo X to defend the Catholic doctrine of immortality against the attack of Pomponazzi and the Alexandrists. In 1518, he wrote Tractatus de immortalitate animae contra Pomponatium (“Treatise on the Immortality of the Soul Against Pomponazzi”), refuting Pomponazzi's view that the human soul is essentially a material organism dissolving at death. Nifo’s arguments amounted almost to a personal attack on Pomponazzi, declaring that he had neglected the intrinsic relationship between the nonmaterial mental idea and the intellectual power which made it possible to communicate ideas. Nifo presented this relationship as proof that the soul is something more than a bodily organism, and that it continues to exist after the death of the physical body. The work was successful, and in return for his efforts, in 1520 Nifo was made Count Palatine, with the right to call himself by the name Medici.

After he was made a professor at the University of Pisa, in 1523, Nifo published a plagiarized version of Niccolò Machiavelli's treatise on the ethics of ruling, Il principe (1513, “The Prince”), under the title De regnandi peritia (“On Skill in Governing”). Some historians have interpreted this to indicate that Nifo had by this time given up his intellectual independence and become subservient to the court. Nifo died in 1538 or 1545, according to different sources.

Thought and Works

Agostino Nifo was a prolific writer, producing numerous commentaries on Aristotle’s logic, natural philosophy, and metaphysics, as well as original works on a variety of subjects, including politics and morality, and a romantic essay, De Pulchro et Amore (“On Beauty and Love”).

His principal philosophical works were

  • De immortalitate animi (1518 and 1524)
  • De intellectu et daemonibus
  • De infinitate primi motoris quaestio, and
  • Opuscula moralia et politica.

His numerous commentaries on Aristotle were widely read and frequently reprinted, the best-known edition being one printed at Paris in 1654 in 14 volumes (including the Opuscula). Other works were De Auguriis (Bologna, 1531) and a commentary on Ptolemy.

Nifo studied many different traditions of commentary on Aristotle, including the medieval Latin commentators, especially Thomas Aquinas; Arab commentators and their followers, including John of Jandun; and above all the Greek commentators. Renaissance interest in classical Greece and Rome had made original Greek texts available to European scholars. When Nifo himself learned Greek, he realized that Averroes had not interpreted Aristotle accurately. Nifo also studied Plato and Platonism, particularly as it was developed by Marsilio Ficino and the members of his Academy in Florence. Nifo’s careful examinations of other peoples’ thought were popular in European universities during the sixteenth century.

Theology

In his early work, De intellectu et daemonibus (1492, On the Intellect and Demons), Nifo elaborated on Averroes’ doctrine that human immortality consisted of the union of the educated soul with a universal, divine intelligence at death. He did not accept Averroes’ doctrine as true, but concluded that it was an accurate interpretation of Aristotle’s ideas on immortality. In 1495 he produced an edition of the works of Averroes, with a commentary compatible with Roman Catholic orthodoxy. In the controversy with the Alexandrists, he opposed the theory of Pomponazzi, that the rational soul is inseparably bound up with the material part of the individual, and hence that the death of the body carries with it the death of the soul. He insisted that the individual soul, since it has a relationship with an absolute intellect beyond itself, is indestructible, and on the death of the body is merged in the eternal unity.

References

  • Mahoney, Edward P. 2000. Two Aristotelians of the Italian Renaissance: Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo. Aldershot, Hampshire, Great Britain: Ashgate/Variorum. ISBN 0860788288 ISBN 9780860788287 ISBN 9780860788287 ISBN 0860788288
  • Mahoney, Edward P. 1983. The early psychology of Agostino Nifo. New York: Columbia University.
  • Nifo, Agostino, and Francisco Socas. 1990. Sobre la belleza y el amor. Sevilla: Secretariado de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Sevilla. ISBN 8474055229 ISBN 9788474055221 ISBN 9788474055221 ISBN 8474055229
  • Mahoney, Edward P. 1997. Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola and Elia Del Medigo, Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo. Leo S. Olschki ASIN: B000I65ZBU
  • Tuozzi, Pasquale. 1904. Agostino Nifo e le sue opere.

External links

General philosophy sources

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  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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