00961 - History of Philosophy

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

Learning outcomes

Students learn to become familiar with currents of thought, issues, main authors of philosophical thought, and to orient themselves in each of their historical interpretations. They are trained in a critical reading of the texts that takes into account the reference traditions, and to evaluate argumentative and rhetorical strategies in the context of the cultural conditioning (institutional, religious, ideological and scientific).

Course contents

Course title: Truth and law. 'Languages of words' and 'history of nature' in Bruno, Galilei, Spinoza

After the crisis opened by the Reformation, in the 17th century the Catholic Church managed to regain its strong institutional identity, and consequently had to deal with the rise of Protestantism on the one hand, and on the other reaffirm the supremacy it had enjoyed since the Middle Ages over the secular community. In reaffirming and upholding orthodoxy, the Church also had to tackle issues of a philosophical and scientific nature that were distinctly alien to its spiritual teachings, and which it considered dangerously subversive because they used expressions inconsistent with the formulations of the Bible, theological norms and scholastic precepts. The instruments that it developed on the battlefield of religious heresy - the List of Prohibited Books and the Court of the Inquisition - were thus aimed at exerting widespread control and imposing strict standardisation on the forms of cultural dissent, as illustrated by the condemnation of Giordano Bruno and Galileo Galilei. The views of Bruno and Galilei coincided with regard to the new, post-Aristotelian, natural philosophy of Copernicus, in that it could only arise from rejection of the principle of authority and theological interference. However, they argued their positions on the relationship between the ‘field of law’ and the ‘field of truth’ in different and original ways, based on the exercise of natural reason alone (Bruno’s way was also subject to mutations in his viewpoint, marked by a progressive radicalisation). Spinoza’s perspective was different again, with regard to his debate on Calvinist orthodoxy and the various entities of the Reformation, and the theoretical reasoning that inspired his extraordinary attempt to unravel the secular knot that connected faith to philosophy, propounding the autonomy and freedom of each in their respective domains. The originality and relevance of his Tractatus theologico-politicus, however, was not confined to his ultimate goal but also to the path that led to this goal. In fact, the practice that Spinoza proposed was not circumscribed (as were Bruno’s and Galilei’s) but guided by detailed biblical hermeneutics aimed at ‘naturalising’ the Bible, its origins, the strategies for reading it and the truth contained in it.

Based on these considerations, the course offers a study of the three thinkers, highlighting the salient passages of their reflections on this complex knot of theories.

Classes will focus in particular on these topics: the issue of the relationship between the disciplines of philosophy and theology in general, from the Middle Ages to the early modern period (2 lessons); the relationships of the three thinkers with the process of establishing modernity (2 lessons); the criteria and positioning of biblical hermeneutics between Humanism and Reformation (2 lessons); the cosmological, epistemological and anthropological significance of the change to heliocentric thinking (3 lessons); the interpretations of Copernicus by Bruno and Galilei (5 lessons); reflections on the relationship between ‘words’ and ‘meaning’ common to all three thinkers and the level of validity inherent to each language (2 lessons); the link between law, religion and associated life (4 lessons); the trials of Bruno and Galilei and the reasons for their condemnation (2 lessons); the religious and political philosophy of Spinoza (2 lessons). In addition to analysing the texts listed in the bibliography, we will also read a number of passages documenting the trials of Bruni and Galilei; extracts from Vita di Galilei by Bertolt Brecht; passages taken from the epistolary of Spinoza (3 lessons).


1. During the classes will be read the following texts (or any part):

G. Bruno, Cena de le Ceneri (Proemiale Epistola e Dialoghi I, III e IV) in Id., Dialoghi filosofici italiani, a cura e con un saggio introduttivo di M. Ciliberto, Milano, Mondadori, 2000, pp. 9-39 e 61-107 (N.B.: Reading the Dialogo II is optional);

G. Bruno, Spaccio de la bestia trionfante (il solo Dialogo III), in Id, Dialoghi filosofici italiani, sopra cit., pp. 595-668;

G. Galilei, Scienza e religione. Scritti copernicani, a cura di M. Bucciantini e M. Camerota, Roma, Donzelli, 2009 pp. XI-XLVI, 3-84, 249-262 (Introduzione; Lettere a Benedetto Castelli, Piero Dini, Cristina di Lorena; Dossier sulle vicende 1615-16);

B. Spinoza, Trattato teologico-politico, in Id., Opere, a cura di F. Mignini e O. Proietti, Milano, Mondadori, 2007 [paperback 2015], pp. 427-569, 622-659 [Prefazione, capp. I-VII e XII-XV].

2. In addition of the in-depth knowledge of the texts referred to in paragraph 1, students must read two essays, to be chosen from the following list:

M. Bucciantini, Galileo e Keplero. Filosofia, cosmologia e teologia nell'età della Controriforma, Torino, Einaudi, 2003;

M. Bucciantini, M. Camerota, F. Giudice, Il telescopio di Galileo. Una storia europea, Torino, Einaudi, 2012;

Il caso Galileo. Una rilettura storica, filosofica, teologica, a cura di M. Bucciantini, M. Camerota e F. Giudice, Firenze, Olschki, 2011;

M. Ciliberto, La ruota del tempo. Interpretazione di Giordano Bruno, Roma, Editori Riuniti, 2000;

Thomas Kuhn, La rivoluzione copernicana. L'astronomia planetaria nello sviluppo del pensiero occidentale, Torino, Einaudi, 2000;

S. Landucci, La doppia verità. Conflitti di ragione e fede tra Medioevo e prima modernità, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2006;

S. Nadler, Un libro forgiato all'Inferno. Lo scandaloso Trattato di Spinoza e la nascita del secolarismo, Torino, Einaudi, 2013;

S. Ricci, Davanti al S. Uffizio. Filosofi sotto processo, Viterbo, Sette città, 2011;

S. Ricci, Inquisitori, censori, filosofi sullo scenario della Controriforma, Roma, Salerno, 2008;

P. Secchi, «Del mar più che del ciel amante». Bruno e Cusano, Roma, Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2006;

L. Strauss, La critica della religione in Spinoza. I presupposti della sua esegesi biblica, a cura di R. Caporali, Roma-Bari, Laterza, 2003;

L. Strauss, Scrittura e persecuzione, Venezia, Marsilio, 1990;

L. Vinciguerra, Spinoza, Roma, Carocci, 2015.

3. For a general knowledge of the history of philosophy from 15th to 17th century is recommended a selective access to one of the following manuals:

G. Belgioioso, Storia della filosofia moderna, Milano, Mondadori-Le Monnier, 2018;

F. Cioffi et al., Il testo filosofico. Storia della filosofia: autori, opere, problemi, vol. 2: L'età moderna, B. Mondadori, Milano, 1992 (or following editions);

L. Fonnesu, M. Vegetti et al., Le ragioni della filosofia, 2: Filosofia moderna, Firenze, Le Monnier, 2008 (or following editions);

Storia della filosofia occidentale, a cura di G. Cambiano, L. Fonnesu e M. Mori, vol. 2: Medioevo e Rinascimento; vol. 3: Dalla rivoluzione scientifica all'Illuminismo, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2014.

N.B.: The course program is the same, as for attending and not attending students. Anyway, students who cannot attend classes or who don't know Italian may contact the teacher (in office hours, and not by email) to decide upon any additional or alternative readings.

Teaching methods

The course, consisting of 30 lectures, will be mostly devoted to reading, text analysis and commentary. Students are therefore required to provide the texts at the start of the course.

The illustration of themes and concepts will be accompanied by the reconstruction of the cultural contexts and sources - both classical and modern - that have fuelled and enriched the reflection of the philosophers covered by this course.

Class attendance and direct participation of the students (either through discussion or the presentation of in-depth reports on particular topics) are strongly encouraged.

The course will be held in the first semester and will start on September 23rd, 2019.


- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Room C, Via Centotrecento (during the I period);

- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Room A, Via Zamboni 34 (during the II period).

Office hours: Prof. Scapparone office hours take place on Thursday, h. 16-17 p.m. (Department of Philosophy and Communication, Via Zamboni 38, 3rd Floor, Office 3.08).

During the first semester of lessons (October-December 2019), office hours are anticipated to Wednesday, keeping the same timetable.

Assessment methods

Final oral examination, according to the timetable set by the teacher.

Assessment criteria

The goal of the exam is to measure the achievement of the following learning objectives:

1. Ability to navigate with confidence regarding the overall problem of the discipline and to comment analytically on the philosophical texts discussed during the lessons;

2. Knowledge of secondary literature works listed in the bibliography, combined with the ability to learn how to reference them in autonomous and critical forms;

3. Basic knowledge of the history of modern philosophy, from Humanism to the 17th century.

The student's ability to learn how to operate with confidence and autonomy within the sources and the secondary literature and the possession of a language and forms of expression appropriate to the discipline will be assessed in a particular manner.

Assessment thresholds

30 cum laude: Excellent as to knowledge, terminology and critical expression.

30: Excellent: knowledge is complete, well articulated and correctly expressed, although with some slight faults.

29-27: Good: knowledge comprehensive and satisfactory, essentially correct expression.

26-24: Fairly good: knowledge present in significant points, but not complete and not always expressed with correctness.

23-21: Sufficient: knowledge is sometimes superficial, but the guiding general thread is included. Expression and articulation incomplete and often not appropriate.

20-18: Almost sufficient: but knowledge presents only on the surface. The guiding principle is not included with continuity. The expression and articulation of the speech show important gaps.

< 18: Not sufficient: knowledge absent or very incomplete, lack of guidance in discipline, expression seriously deficient. Exam failed.

Teaching tools

Slides and photocopies (limited to hard to find texts);

Advanced seminars;

Any individualized works.

Office hours

See the website of Elisabetta Scapparone