Tommaso Campanella

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Tommaso Campanella (September 5, 1568 – May 21, 1639), baptized Giovanni Domenico Campanella, was an Italian philosopher, Counter-Reformation theologian, Renaissance magus, prophet, astrologer and poet. Campanella sought to arrange Renaissance humanism using Roman Catholic theology. Imprisoned for many years by the Inquisition for his libertinism (a philosophical movement in France and Italy during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which rejected Christian revelation and sought truth in reason and nature), he became a prolific writer. Campanella was a broad-minded thinker whose creative ideas sometimes alarmed his contemporaries, but he remained loyal to Roman Catholicism, if not always to the Catholic authorities.

He promoted pansensism, the idea that all things in nature are endowed with sense perception, and suggested that all knowledge of objects outside the self comes through sensual impressions. He also distinguished humans from other living things by endowing them with “mens,” a sort of divine mind or innate principle. Campanella condoned the ideal of a theocratic political organization which would unite the entire world.

From prison he publicly defended Galileo Galilei, not because he agreed with Galileo's theories, but because he believed in Galileo's freedom to conduct empirical research. He is best known for his utopian and socialistic work “La citta del sole(The City of the Sun).


Born in Stilo, in the province of Calabria in southern Italy, on September 5, 1568, Campanella was an infant prodigy. The son of a poor and illiterate cobbler, he entered the Dominican Order in 1583, taking the name of fra' Tommaso in honour of Thomas Aquinas. He studied theology and philosophy with several masters.

Early in his studies, he became disenchanted with Aristotelian orthodoxy and was attracted by the empiricism of Bernardino Telesio (1509 - 1588), who taught that knowledge is sensation and that all things in nature possess sensation. Bernardino Telesio developed a new philosophy of nature and wrote “De rerum natura iuxta propria principia(On the Nature of Things According to Their Own Principles). Campanella wanted to meet Bernardino Telesio, but Telesio died that same year.

In 1589, without permission from his order, Campanella went to Naples. There he was introduced to astrology; astrological speculations would become a constant feature in his writings. In Naples, Campanella wrote his first work, a defense of Telesio, Philosophia sensibus demonstrata ("Philosophy demonstrated by the senses"), published in 1591. In this book, Campanella emphasized the essentiality of human experience as a foundation for philosophy. In May of 1592, he was arrested, judged and temporarily imprisoned for heresy, then ordered to abandon the philosophy of Telesio and to return to Calabria.

Ignoring this order, he went to Padua where he was arrested and charged with sodomy in 1593. He enrolled at the University of Padua, where he was on friendly terms with several scholars, particularly Galileo Galilei. While at the University, Campanella wrote “De monarchia Christianorum(On Christian Monarchy). In 1594, having engaged a Jew in a debate about the problems of Christian faith, he was arrested and sent to Rome for trial.

Campanella's heterodox views, especially his opposition to the authority of Aristotle, brought him into conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. Denounced to the Inquisition and cited before the Holy Office in Rome, he was confined in a convent until 1597. During his suspension in Rome, Campanella wrote Dialogo politico contra Luterani, Calvinisti ed altri eretici (“Political Dialogue Against Lutherans, Calvinists, and Other Heretics”), in 1595.

After his liberation, Campanella returned to Stilo, his home town in the province of Calabria, where, moved by the miserable situation of the local people, he became the leader of a conspiracy against Spanish rule. Campanella's aim was to establish a society based on the common ownership of material goods, for on the basis of the prophecies of Joachim of Fiore and his own astrological observations, he foresaw the advent of the Age of the Spirit in the year 1600. Betrayed by two of his fellow conspirators, he was captured and incarcerated in Naples. Feigning insanity, he managed to escape the death penalty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

During his time in prison, he wrote his major works: The Monarchy in Spain (1600), Political Aphorisms (1601), Atheismus triumphatus (1605-1607), Quod reminiscetur (1606?), Metaphysica (1609-1623), Theologia (1613-1624). While in prison, Campanella reverted to Roman Catholic orthodoxy and wrote his most famous work “La Citta del Sole(The City of Sun), composed in 1602, but not published until 1623. This work has continued to receive attention until the present day. Campanella set forth ideas for a utopian commonwealth which was to be ruled by men who would use natural philosophy and scientific astrology to control and reconstruct the world.

From prison, Campanella intervened in the first trial against Galileo Galilei with his courageous Apology for Galileo (1616). He also composed a book of lyric poems, “Scelta” (1622; Selections). Campanella spent a total of twenty-seven years in prison. He was finally released in 1626, through Pope Urban VIII, who personally interceded on his behalf with Philip IV of Spain. Taken to Rome and held for a time by the Holy Office, Campanella was restored to full liberty in 1629. He lived for five years in Rome, where he acted as Urban's advisor in astrological matters.

In 1634, however, a new conspiracy in Calabria, led by one of his followers, threatened fresh danger. With the aid of Cardinal Barberini and the French Ambassador de Noailles, he fled to France, where he was received at the court of Louis XIII with marked favor. Protected by Cardinal Richelieu and granted a liberal pension by the king, he spent the rest of his days in the convent of Saint-Honoré in Paris. His last work was a poem celebrating the birth of the future Louis XIV (Ecloga in portentosam Delphini nativitatem).

Philosophy and Major Works

Campanella himself listed eighty-eight works which he had written, including philosophical works such as Philosophia sensibus demonstrata (1591), De sensu rerum (1620), Atheismus triumphatus (1631), and Philosophia universalis seu metaphysica (1637). His political ideal was a universal monarchy under the spiritual leadership of the pope and the political leadership of the Spanish monarchy; he later transferred this responsibility to the French monarchy. He believed that God intended all mankind to live as a universal brotherhood, under the guidance of a leader who understood God’s wisdom and love.

New Aspects of Nature

In medieval thought, there were two ways of coming to a knowledge of God. The first was by studying, with the aid of the senses, the manifestation of God in Nature; the second was through study of the Bible. St. Bonaventura crafted a doctrine of the material world as the vestigium or umbra Dei (shadow, or image of God). However the Renaissance thinkers, especially the Dominicans, did not search for mystical analogies in Nature, as St. Bonaventure did, but rather emphasized the real and actual observation of Nature through the perceptions of the senses.

Campanella was influenced by the theory of Bernardino Telesio (1509-88), one of the Renaissance philosophers who proposed new ideas about Nature. In his book, “De rerum natura iuxta propria principia(On the Nature of Things According to Their Own Principles), Telesio approached nature empirically, and proposed that the study of nature was a separate sphere of research from that of theology and metaphysics. Campanella also emphasized the direct investigation of Nature; however his ideas on Nature developed differently from Telesio’s. Telesio believed that all beings in Nature were animate, and that the whole universe was affected by two general principles of heat and cold. Although Telesio stood firm against Aristotle’s division between the corruptible earth and the eternal heavens, Telesio’s philosophy owed much to Aristotle and was actually an attempt to modify his theory. Campanella, on the other hand, opposed Aristotle. He repudiated the Aristotle’s basic principle of hylomorphism, the perception of all physical substance in terms of form and matter. Campanella developed Telesio’s theory of pansensism, the idea that all things in nature are endowed with sense perception. He saw all Nature, however, as a manifestation and a “mirror” of God, and viewed the study of Nature as a means of understanding God.

Campanella emphasized “feeling” as “knowing;” “feeling” meaning to take notice of the sensitive modifications of the subject in response to an object. It was necessary to discern the difference between sensus inditus (innate knowledge) and sensus additus (inferred knowledge). Priority was given to knowledge of oneself as a subject. On this point Campanella reaffirmed Augustine’s “Si fallor, sum,” and foresaw Descartes’ “Cogito, ergo sum.” Sensus additus is knowledge of objects distinct from the subject. Campanella did not see a need to regard the various senses separately; he saw them all as attributes of a “spiritus” which was seated in the brain and had multiple faculties. The “spiritus” of man was more refined than that of animals, allowing humans to form more complex thoughts. In addition, humans were endowed with an immaterial mind of divine origin, which Campanella termed “mens,” which allowed them to go beyond the natural world towards an understanding of the divine and infinite. According to Campanella “mens” was superior to reason and intellect, and allowed man to free himself from the exigencies of physical life and make choices in favor of a higher purpose and long-term good. Some later scholars explained “mens” as mind which is immaterial and of divine origin; others interpreted “mens” as the divine principle within us. It resembles the “illumination” of Augustine.

Campanella also suggested that humans recognize the primary attributes of being by reflecting on their own nature and attributes. Since man discerns the attributes of power (the ability to act), wisdom (the ability to know), and love (desire) in himself, he ascribes these same attributes to God and sees them, to a lesser degree, in the physical world.

City of the Sun

In 1602 he composed La Citta del Sole (The City of the Sun) which seemed to follow the Republic of Plato or Thomas More’s Utopia. Campanella described a utopian society where, in contrast to the infernal real world, the investigation of Nature as an expression of God’s art and wisdom would benefit mankind.

In his scheme for an ideal society, Aristotle excluded artisans and peasants. In Campanella’s model society, all occupations were equal and each person was to spend a mere four hours per day working. Material goods, food, education, leisure activities and even women and children were to be held in common. Campanella was an outspoken critic of Machiavelli, but at the same time he was a disguised master of Machiavelli’s doctrines. Campanella thought that Machiavelli’s theories were based on philosophical points which made his political theories limited and fragile. He also disagreed with Machiavelli’s view of the role of religion as a political tool. Campanella regarded religion as the mightiest bond of political unity, the source of morality and ethics, and the standard of goodness. It is not clear whether Campanella intended La Citta del Sole as a serious work or simply an exercise to stimulate thought and discussion.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Campanella, Tommaso. The New Atlantis and The City of the Sun: Two Classic Utopias. Dover Publications, 2003.
  • ———. The City of the Sun. Kessinger Publishing, 2004.
  • ———. The defense of Galileo of Thomas Campanella. Mass., Department of history of Smith College, 1937.
  • Headley, J. M. Tommaso Campanella and the Transformation of the World. Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1997.
  • Thomas, Sir, Saint More. Ideal Commonwealths: Comprising, More's Utopia, Bacon's New Atlantis, Campanella's City of the Sun and Harrinton's Oceana. Dedalus, Ltd. 1989.

External links

All links retrieved April 30, 2023.

General Philosophy Sources


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