Philosophy Phridays – Nicolaus Taurellus

Philosophy Phridays is a series where each Friday, I go to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, click on “random entry,” and then write about whatever comes up. This week’s random entry is about Nicolaus Taurellus.

Nicolaus Taurellus was a sixteenth century German philosopher in the Lutheran tradition. He is also proof that I’m doing random entries, as he is not someone I would ever pick to read and write about. Not that there’s anything wrong with him. It’s just that reformation theology isn’t really my cup of tea, and there’s nothing that strikes me as distinctive enough about his thought to make me interested. The thing that came closest was the fact that, like Lady Anne Conway, Taurellus was an influence on Leibniz.

The core of his thought is the idea that the basic components of reality are immaterial, kind of like the Platonic idea of Forms. These Form-like components combine together to form the world that we experience. He believed that only the Form-like entities were substantial. Everything made out of them was accidental and insubstantial. Basically, substantial means that something is capable of existing on its own, whereas insubstantial requires other entities. That means that humans are among the accidental and insubstantial things, which caused controversy for bringing into doubt the traditional ideas of personhood.

Taurellus also believed that matter is the “nothing” from which God created the world. This seems a bit confusing, but what he’s saying is that matter, by itself, is completely undetermined. It is nothing until it is made into something, until it is given form. It was important to him that God be separate from his creation. That meant going against the emanation theories that were popular at the time. Taurellus believed that once something was created, it could continue on its own. It didn’t need the continued presence of God.

One thing that always strikes me when I read about this period of philosophy is how catty the world was back then. Taurellus makes a point of taking down people who disagreed with him, and he was likewise attacked by fellow Lutherans. He was even accused of being an atheist, which is funny since his goal was, “providing a unified account of philosophical and theological truth.”

I think that was a typical goal of the period, and I don’t believe it can be done. And I think that helps explain the cattiness. God is the ultimate mystery. There is no logically consistent way to give him every attribute that is supposed to be part of him (not that God has parts, but you get what I’m saying). The philosophers tried lots of ingenious ways to do it, but none of them are logically sound. So, they attacked the others. It was a way of lifting their own theory up by bringing the other theories down. I’m not an expert, that’s just my impression.

Taurellus was simultaneously novel and typical. The details of his thought were unique, but so were the details of the dozens of others thinkers at the time. I’m not sorry I got to know a little bit about him, but I don’t think he will influence my own thinking. That’s OK, though.

Blank, Andreas, “Nicolaus Taurellus”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

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