He was born at Sessa Aurunca near Naples. He proceeded to Padua, where he studied philosophy. He lectured at Padua, Naples, Rome, and Pisa, and won so high a reputation that he was deputed by Leo X to defend the Catholic doctrine of immortality against the attack of Pomponazzi and the Alexandrists. In return for this he was made Count Palatine, with the right to call himself by the name Medici.
In his early thought he followed Averroes, but afterwards modified his views so far as to make himself acceptable to the orthodox Catholics. In 1495 he produced an edition of the works of Averroes; with a commentary compatible with his acquired orthodoxy.
In the great controversy with the Alexandrists he opposed the theory of Pietro Pomponazzi, that the rational soul is inseparably bound up with the material part of the individual, and hence that the death of the body carries with it the death of the soul. He insisted that the individual soul, as part of absolute intellect, is indestructible, and on the death of the body is merged in the eternal unity.
His principal philosophical works are:
- Liber de intellectu (1503).
- De immortalitate animae libellus (1518).
- Dialectica ludicra (1521).
- De regnandi peritia (1523).
- Quaestio de infinitate primi motoris (1526, written in 1504).
- Prima pars opusculorum (1535) reprinted by Gabriel Naudè with the title Opuscula moralia et politica (1645).
The famous phrase, to 'think with the learned, and speak with the vulgar' is attributed to Nifo.
- Leen Spruit (ed.), Agostino Nifo De intellectu, Leiden: Brill, 2011 (Brill's Studies in Intellectual History).
- E. J. Ashworth, "Agostino Nifo's Reinterpretation of Medieval Logic," Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, 31, 1976, pp. 354–374.
- Lisa Jardine, "Dialectic or dialectical rhetoric. Agostino Nifo’s criticism of Lorenzo Valla", Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, 36, 1981, pp. 253–270.
- E. P. Mahoney, Two Aristotelians of the Italian Renaissance. Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo, Aldershot: Ashgate 2000.
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