Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo | Former PAS Chancellor

Commemoration of Prof. Enrico Berti

Enrico Berti’s training was essentially philosophical and for this reason, perhaps, he said that he “did not feel worthy to belong to this famous Academy, composed mainly of renowned scientists”. He studied philosophy at the University of Padua, which was a famous center for the dissemination of Aristotelianism during the Renaissance, and has preserved some traces of this tradition to this day. He was professor of philosophy at the universities of Perugia, Geneva and Brussels, as well as professor of philosophy in Padua, where he directed a Centre for the history of the Aristotelian tradition. As a renowned philosopher he was elected member of the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (Rome), which participates with our Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the heritage of the ancient Accademia dei Lincei, the Academy of the Lynxes, the leader of which was Galileo Galilei. As a philosopher, Berti was elected member of the Institut International de Philosophie (Paris). As President of the International Programme Committee, he organised the 21st World Congress of Philosophy on behalf of the FISP (Fédération Internationale des Sociétés de Philosophie).

If someone generously proposed his name for this Academy, there must be a reason and I suppose it has to do with the main field of his vast philosophical interests, and that is the philosophy of Aristotle. He devoted many years of his life to this philosopher and to the history of his influence on European culture, with the result that he is known essentially as a scholar of Aristotle. The study of Aristotelian philosophy obviously gave him the basis to develop some important reflections in most fields of philosophical thought: logic, philosophy of language, philosophy of nature, metaphysics, ethics, politics, cosmology, etc. Moreover, as Aristotle was not only a great philosopher, but also a great scientist, especially in the fields of biology, psychology, anthropology and human sciences, the study of his works necessarily implied for Berti an interest in ancient and modern science as a whole. And since Aristotle’s thought influenced the history of science throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages, not only in Christian countries but also in Muslim countries, the reconstruction of the Aristotelian tradition obliged him to study the sciences of late antiquity and the Middle Ages in their entirety.

In modern times, as is well known, Aristotle’s thought was abandoned and rejected by the development of some sciences such as astronomy, mechanics and chemistry, and this rejection led to some extent to the birth of modern science. But Aristotle’s teaching still has a fundamental role in the development of other sciences, such as biology, medicine and human sciences (psychology, linguistics, rhetoric). And even where Aristotle’s influence was rejected and opposed, his logic and method remained a model for modern science.

In his studies on the presence of Aristotelian philosophy in the 19th, 20th and early 21st centuries, Berti showed that this influence was decisive not only on philosophers such as Hegel, Trendelenburg, Brentano, Moore, Heidegger, Gadamer, Austin, Ryle and others, but also on scientists such as Darwin, Jacob, Delbrück, Mayr, Prigogyne, Thom and others. The French mathematician Réné Thom, for example, experienced a real rediscovery of Aristotelian physics in his last years. For these reasons, Berti thought that it was impossible to adequately study Aristotle’s philosophy and its connections with the contemporary philosophical debate without knowing the state of the discussion in the main fields of contemporary science. His important contributions to the PAS had compelled him to become involved in some of them, not as a philosopher of science, nor as a logician analysing the methods of science, but as a philosopher deeply interested in the contents of contemporary sciences in order to understand the universe, the planet and the condition of the human being in a cognitive world where science predominates. It can be said, therefore, that his work has contributed to some extent, quite decisively, to the new vision of the world that has shaped the Academy in this quarter of a century.