[6.7.2] Bernardino Telesio’s Theory of Knowledge

According to Telesio, the “conservatio sui is the foundation from which all sensitive and cognitive functions arise. Defending an empirical approach in epistemology, Telesio tried to annul the traditional distinction between sense perception and reason, and he denied that there exists something like a purely mental sphere and a corresponding intellect which Aristotle in De anima III had called nous

  • Sense perception and memory are historically depending on the brain
  • Sense perception and memory participate in understanding
  • Memory is not visual

The following OntoUML diagram shows Bernardino Telesio’s model of knowledge

Bernardino Telesio’s model of knowledge
Brain“Telesio combined the medical theory of spirit with a basically Stoic notion, that of the hegemonikon, according to which the spirit in the brain is responsible for all the states and operations traditionally ascribed to the tripartite soul: “the animal … is governed by one substance residing in the brain” (Quod animal universum ch. XXV; Var. lib. p. 254). Whereas in Quod animal universum he went on to explain the affects in terms of physiology, in De rerum natura he added a theory of sense perception and a theory of knowledge on physical grounds.”
Understanding“Understanding is a process which requires sense perception and memory. 
According to Telesio, our memory is not visual.
What we remember are movements which our spirit has experienced and given out when being in contact with external forces. If now the spirit undergoes a similar experience, for example the pain of getting burned, it will ascribe this perception to a similar or identical cause and call it ‘fire’ (DRN book VIII, ch. 1; vol. III, p. 160). The ability of making rational conclusions (ratiocinari) consists in comparing new expierences to old ones and in supplementing hidden or unknown aspects when refering them to former experiences”
SensePerceptionUnderstanding is a process which requires sense perceptionhistoricalDependence on Brain; participation Understanding
Memory“Understanding is a process which requires memory. According to Telesio, our memory is not visual.”historicalDependence on Brain; participation Understanding
NotVisualAccording to Telesio, our memory is not visual.characterizes Memory


  • Boenke, Michaela, “Bernardino Telesio“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2018 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

First published: 01/12/2022

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