Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2016
Basso the person remains an obscure figure to this day. He was most likely born between 1577 and 1583 in the Duchy of Lorraine, near Metz, but this is not certain, and the date and circumstances of his death remain unknown. We do know that he authored the Philosophiae Naturalis Adversus Aristotelem, an anti-Aristotelian textbook that aims to reinstate the physics of the ancients, first published in Geneva in 1621, and by Elzevier in 1649. Having become Calvinist, he completed it while teaching at a Huguenot academy in the French Alps, and remained in this position, which did not befit his qualifications as a physician and natural philosopher, until 1625 (see Calvinism). He was granted leave with pay after threatening to publish an atheist tract and subsequently disappeared from view as suddenly as he appeared (Lüthy 1997, 199, 24–29, 52).
Basso's treatise was recognized as an important, albeit flawed, work by Daniel Sennert and Marin Mersenne. Galileo owned a copy of the first edition, and Isaac Beeckman discusses it favorably in his journal. On October, 8, 1629, René Descartes writes to Mersenne: “As for rarefaction, I am in agreement with this physician and have now taken a position on all the foundations of philosophy; but perhaps I do not explain the ether as he does” (AT I 25). The physician in question, formerly thought to be Villiers, is Basso (AT I 665). Writing to Beeckman on October 17, 1630, Descartes lists Basso as one of the novatores who has nothing to teach him (AT I 158, CSMK 26–27).
Basso's physics is an amalgam of atomist, Neoplatonist, and Stoic principles. God creates microscopic atoms at the beginning of time (Basso 1621, 14). These simple, homogeneous bodies, each possessing a particular property, are indestructible, except by divine power (125–26). Their properties are inalienable and persist when an atom enters into a compound (73–74). There are four kinds of elementary atoms corresponding to the elements of fire, air, water, and earth. Basso adopts Plato's view that the elements have specific shapes without specifying these shapes, except for fire atoms, which all the ancients described as sharp and pointed (109).