Friday, October 23, 2009

On the early history of the perennial philosophy

An old but excellent article on the early history of the perennial philosophy of which I have just become aware is Charles B. Schmitt, "Perrenial Philosophy: From Agostino Steuco to Leibniz," Journal of the History of Ideas 27 (1966), pp. 505-532.

Schmitt traces uses and development of the term from Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463-94) to Agostino Steuco (1497-1548), and finally to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), passing along the way Symphorien Champier (c. 1472-c. 1539), Francesco Giorgio (1460-1540), Nicholas of Cusa (1401-64), and Guillaume Postel (1510-81). Among the moderns, he mentions briefly Jacques Maritain, Erwin J. Auweiler, Paolo Rotta, Aldous Huxley, Roberto Ardigo, Cornelius Kruse, Otto Willmann, Maurice de Wulf, and S. Radhakrishnan.

On Leibniz, he concludes:
Although it is more fashionable today to see Leibniz as a "precursor of modern logic and mathematics" or as a brilliant metaphysician, his affinity to the tradition of perennial philosophy as envisioned by Steuco is most clear. Leibniz's whole philosophy of harmony is very similar to that expressed by Steuco and the others we have discussed, although in Leibniz the metaphysical foundations of such a Harmonistik are much more carefully worked out, recalling in some ways Cusanus' attempt to give a metaphysical basis to a "philosophy of concord" . . . In a sense, Leibniz is the most eminent defender of the tradition called by Steuco philosophia perennis. Moreover, Leibniz's attempts to bring about religious unity-in a century not reputed for its ecumenical spirit-hark back to Cusanus, as well as to Ficino and Pico.
For more on Leibniz and the perennial philosophy, see
  • H. J. De Vleeschauwer, “Perennis quaedam Philosophia,” Studia Leibnitiana supplementa I (1968), pp. 102-22.
  • R Meyer, “Leibniz und die Philosophia perennis,“ in Tradition und Kritik, Festschrift für Rudolf Zocher zum 80. Geburtstag (Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, 1967) pp. 223-54.
These suggestions are from Renato Cristin, Heidegger and Leibniz: Reason and the Path (Dordrecht: Kluwer), 1998, p. 83.

My thanks to Anders Klostergaard Petersen for bringing the Leibniz connection to my attention in the first place.


Anonymous said...

Not exactly pertinent to this thread but I will ask anyhow:
Greetings again!
I am assuming that with your investment and interest in Guenon and the traditionalist school that maybe you can enlighten me on the following inquiry:
From my impression the leader of the group in Teheran before the revolution was Corbin {or maybe officially Nasr} and the group of scholars that I know of being, Nasr, W.Chittick, Murata, James W. Morris, T.Izutsu{who was probably a leader and not a pupil} and their editor Peter Lamborn Wilson. This group has produced an impressive body of translations and original writings and in one way or another, before or after the revolution, had some connection with Frithjof Schuon{except maybe Izutsu and PLW}.
Can you give me any info on this group, how they were chosen, if there are/were others that I am not aware of, was there a specific agenda and the connection to Schuon and more interesting the re-vamping of World Wisdom books post mortem Schuon?
I remember reading in somewhere in PLW that before Corbin would give a lecture he would say "all heretics gather".
Any info would be appreciated.
Best regards,

Mark Sedgwick said...

In reply to Richard,

See the second part of chapter 7 in my Against the Modern World. If this does not answer your question, feel free to email me at