Probable Interplay: Reactions to Epicureanism and Probabilism in the Seventeenth Century


  • Rudolf Schuesser University of Bayreuth



Epicureanism, Probabilism, History of philosophy


Scholastic probabilism regulated the use of opinions in much of seventeenth-century Catholic moral theology. It should therefore not come as a surprise that it also affected the acceptance of philosophical doctrines like epicureanism in Catholic countries. The ups and downs in the careers of probabilism and epicureanism in Italy are in conspicuous synch as this paper will show, with special emphasis on the Jesuit Cardinal Francesco ‘Pietro’ Sforza Pallavicino. Pallavicino (1607–1667) was one of the leading probabilists of his time and sympathetically discussed epicurean positions in Del bene (1644). Probabilism’s license to favor the convenience and utility of agents in doubt about moral restrictions facilitated the adoption of epicurean attitudes, while opponents criticized probabilism for promoting the ‘prudence of the flesh’, a topos of longstanding anti-epicurean pedigree. The rising storm of opposition against probabilism in the second half of the seventeenth century thus contributed to a worsening of conditions for the spread of epicurean thought, with observable effects in Italy.