Naples:life,death &
                Miracle contact: Jeff Matthews

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               History Portal

This page contains the index (directly below) of entries in
Naples: Life, Death & Miracles
dealing with the history of the
of Naples (i.e. since the 1100s).
For earlier, see Ancient World portal.

Below this index is #1 in a series of miscellaneous historical articles.
#1. Bernardino Telesio
      What's this? Click image.

      Items marked 'post-un' have to do with the period after the unification of Italy in 1861
14-part chronological history of Naples

Kings & Queens:

Garibaldi (U.S. reaction to)
Gladstone's pamphlet on Naples
The Golden Age (1600s)
The Grand Tour
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Hamilton, William (Sir)
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Historical units of measure & currency
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Lombard Kingdom of Italy
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Sant'Elmo fortress
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Siege of Naples - 1528, the

Swiss in Naples
Sybarites, the
Terra di Lavoro
Tosca & Queen Caroline
Two Sicilies, the (Why Two?)
Venezia (Palazzo)
Vico Foundation
Vikings in the South
WWII entries at 'W' in index post-un
WWII Bombing in Naples post-un
Zeppelin Attack on Naples! post-un

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    Miscellaneous historical article #1.     added November 10, 2019

Portrait of Telesio                           
by Raffaello Sanzio Morghen (1758–1833)

Bernardino Telesio (1509–1588) was an Italian philosopher and natural scientist. His emphasis on observation made him the "first of the moderns," a forerunner of those who eventually developed what is called the scientific (or experimental) method; that is, he preceded and influenced the likes of Campanella, Bruno, Bacon, Descartes, and Galileo.

Telesio was born in Cosenza, a city in Calabria in southern Italy. He was educated in Milan by his uncle and studied the obligatory wide range of classics, science and philosophy, a typical curriculum of the Renaissance. He has been hailed as the scholar who first raised the banner against the established orthodoxy of medieval Aristotelianism by insisting that our knowledge of the world around us should be based not on abstract reasoning or what has been handed down to us, but on what we observe with our senses. That is, he anticipated what today we call empiricism, a theory that, by definition, says that knowledge comes from sensory experience.

At this point (since I am writing this for myself, so that I understand it, I ask myself, What's wrong with Aristotle? I offer two quotes: the first by Bertrand Russell, who in his witty damn-with-faint-praise way said (in History of Western Philosophy): "Aristotle's present-day influence is so inimical to clear thinking that it is hard to remember how great an advance he made upon all his predecessors"; the second quote is from Rudolf Carnap in Introduction to the Philosophy of Science:


   The Experimental Method

One of the great distinguishing features of modern science, as compared to the science of previous periods, is its emphasis on what is called the "experimental method". As we have seen, all empirical knowledge rests, finally, on observations, but these observations can be obtained in two essentially different ways. In the non-experimental way, we play a passive role. We simply look at the stars or at some flowers, note similarities and differences, and try to discover regularities that can be expressed as laws. In the experimental way, we take an active role. Instead of being onlookers, we do something that will produce better observational results than those we find by simply looking at nature. Instead of waiting until nature provides situations for us to observe, we try to create such situations. In brief, we do experiments. The experimental method has been enormously fruitful. The great progress physics has made in the last two hundred years, especially in the last two decades, would have been impossible without the experimental method.

Wait, one more from someone we all trust, Albert Einstein The original quote is from 1934:

All knowledge of reality starts from experience and ends in it. Propositions arrived at by purely logical means are completely empty as regards reality. Because Galileo saw this, and particularly because he drummed it into the scientific world, he is the father of modern physics — indeed, of modern science altogether.

But still, I ask, didn't Aristotle make observations? Didn't he try "to discover regularities that can be expressed as laws"? He wrote about everything he saw plants, animals, humans everything. He discovered that an octopus can change color! He noticed that elephants can use their trunks as snorkels so they can breathe underwater! Come on! OK, those last two are pretty good, so chalk up two for Aristotle, but at least in the modern sense he was less of a scientist than he was a collector of observations, often with unwarranted and speculative leaps, etc. In Aristotle to Zoos, A Philosopical Dictionary of Biology, P.B. Medawar and J.S. Medawar point out that "A scientist is no more a collector and classifier of facts than a historian is a man who compiles and classifies a chronology of the dates of great battles, major discoveries, and so on."

What about the "unwarranted leaps and speculative leaps"? That is important. Again from the Medawars, Aristotle put "rumors and gossip" forward as easily as he did the facts. Yes, birds have wings and other creatures have feet, but the partridge is "lecherous", some animals are "treacherous", and others are "noble". Attributing human intent, emotions, and motivations to animals may be poetic, but it isn't science. On the whole, say the Medawars, "The biological works of Aristotle are a strange and rather tiresome farrago of hearsay, imperfect observation, wishful thinking, and credulity amounting to downright gullibility." In a kinder, almost sympathetic, passage Peter Medawar*2 says elsewhere that "Aristotle's conception of poetic truth was one in which correspondence with reality played little part, and his biology gave an account of what he thought ought to be true in light of his deep conception of the true purposes of nature." Indeed, if you already know what the "true purposes of nature" are before you start, you might as well not even start. You are working with a heavy bias to the a priori (from before — the truth is that which you already know "from before"). The move in modern science has for some centuries been a posteriori (from afterwards — make your observations and then figure it out).

Aristotle wrote about the soul, too. But his word, anima, which still exists in many languages, has much to do with our cognate verb to animate and nothing to do with our religious meaning of the soul as a spiritual, intangible entity that dwells within us and survives physical death to pass into immortality in the presence of God. Aristotle meant "soul" (anima) as the set of mental faculties, including the intellect, that makes you the individual you are. From that point of view, all living things (even trees) have some kind of soul — our intellect sets us apart.

                 the monument to Telesio in Cosenza

In his magnum opus, (partially published in 1565 and compete by 1586) De Rerum Natura Iuxta Propria Principia (On the Nature of Things according to their Own Principles), Telesio never really talks about God or the soul or Why we exist. That was beyond his purpose. He was quite content to say that God exists (the beautiful order of the universe proved that, he said); there was nothing about our quite different concept of soul, none of that. His purpose was to learn about the world by observation.

In 1553 he married and settled in Cosenza, becoming the founder of the Cosentian Academy, which eventually became the "Telesian" Academy. He died in Cosenza in 1588, famous among scholars and his students, but opposed by the Church for his resistance to established doctrine, to Aristotelianism. A short time after Telesio's death Pope Clement VIII put Telesio's works on the Index of prohibited books.

note: I have conveniently chosen to ignore the topic of Post-Modernism and what has been called the "Science Wars".
That is, there is a relatively recent movement represented by such as Thomas Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific
Revolutions) and Paul Feyerabend (Against Method) who think that this "Experimental Method" stuff is not all it's cracked up to be. Sorry, I had to stop somewhere.


  • Carnap, Rudolf. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Dover Publications, New York. 1995; (an anthology, edited by Martin Gardner, of Carnap essays). It is a reprint of Theoretical Foundations of Modern Physics: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Basic Books, New York. 1966
  • Einstein, Albert. "On the Method of Theoretical Physics" in Essays in Science, Dover Publications, New York. 2009.
  • Medawar, P.B. and J.S. Medawar. Aristotle to Zoos: A Philosophical Dictionary of Biology.  Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1983.
  • Medawar, Peter.*2 "Scientific Fraud", in The Threat and the Glory: Reflections on Science and Scientists, Harper Collins, New York. 1983.
  • Russell, Bertrand. History of Western Philosophy. Simon and Schuster, New York. 1945.

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