Vives, Juan Luis (1492–1540)

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VIVES, JUAN LUIS (14921540)

VIVES, JUAN LUIS (14921540), sixteenth-century Spanish humanist. Juan Luis Vives spent most of his life outside Spain. Born in Valencia to a family of Jewish converts to Christianity, Vives began his studies in his native city but eventually chose to move to Paris in 1509, possibly fearing the Inquisition, whose severity would eventually take a toll on his family. In Paris he studied in the colleges of Beauvais and Montaigu along with other Spanish scholars like himself. In 1512 Vives left Paris and settled in Bruges, which he would call his home for the rest of his life. In 1516 the scholar from Valencia met Erasmus of Rotterdam, an encounter that initiated a decades-long association between the two and helped bring Vives into the circle of humanist thought.

In 1519 Vives was teaching at the University of Louvain, where, under Erasmus's influence, he undertook one of his most important works, a commentary on St. Augustine's City of God, published in Basel in 1522 and dedicated to Henry VII of England. It seems Vives's fame was extensive, for that same year he was offered a chair at Spain's prestigious University of Alcalá, recently vacant due to the death of the godfather of Spanish humanists, Antonio de Nebrija. He refused the honor and instead found himself one year later in England, teaching at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was named tutor to the princess Mary and reader to the queen, Catherine of Aragon, by Henry VIII. In 1523 he dedicated his De Institutione Feminae Christianae (On the education of a Christian woman) to the queen. His relationship with the royal family would become complicated, however, when he sided with Catherine in the dispute over Henry VIII's wish to divorce her for Anne Boleyn. Although he did not lose his life, as did his friend Sir Thomas More, Vives was eventually banished from England by the king. By then a married man, Vives returned to Bruges in 1528, where he would remain until the end of his life, resuming his post as professor at Louvain.

A prolific writer, Vives focused his formidable intelligence on a wide range of subjects. He had specific ideas about education, to which he devoted a number of works, railing against the utilitarian concept of knowledge as information as well as the idea of studying in order to obtain fame. In De Institutione Feminae Christianae, he defended the education of women, but it would be an exaggeration to label him a proto-feminist. Perhaps one of the best-known traits of Vives's thought is his criticism of a type of Scholasticism that had degenerated into a fixation on dialectics and syllogisms. In his monumental encyclopedia De Disciplines Libri XX (1531; Twenty books on the disciplines) Vives insisted that dialectics be subordinated to the other branches of philosophy such as morals and metaphysics. He also leveled frequent criticisms at his contemporaries' slavish reliance on ancient philosophical authorities to the detriment of the exercise of human reason, though he always did so with a genuine respect for Aristotle and his commentator Thomas Aquinas.

Vives's treatise De Anima et Vita (1538; On the soul and life) is recognized as a foundational text in the study of the inner life of the human being. In Vives's view, in order to know the soul, one must study its operations and functions, a study that is founded on a thorough knowledge of earthly life in its different forms. The third book of De Anima et Vita, an examination of the passions, takes much of its inspiration from the Scholasticism of Thomas Aquinas, but it has also gained Vives a place among the precursors of modern psychology, thanks to its employment of introspection and self-observation.

Thoroughly interested in the affairs of his times, Vives was an avid letter writer and corresponded with kings, cardinals, and emperors. Later dubbed a pacifist because of his desire for peace among peoples and his special concern for ending the fratricidal wars afflicting Europe, Vives also pointed out the threat to Christendom posed by Turkish expansion in the Mediterranean in works such as De Conditione Vitae Christianorum sub Turca (On the conditions of Christians under the Turks).

Though an educator by vocation, Vives was also a commercially successful author, and some of his most popular works were dedicated to the subject of Christian apologetics and devotion. His last book, which he was working on at the time of his death in 1540, was entitled De Veritate Fidei Christianae (On the truth of the Christian faith).

See also Erasmus, Desiderius ; Henry VIII (England) ; Humanists and Humanism ; More, Thomas ; Scholasticism


Primary Sources

Vives, Juan Luis. Declamationes Sullanae. Edited and translated by Edward V. George. Leiden, Netherlands, 1989.

. The Education of a Christian Woman: A Sixteenth-Century Manual. Translated by Charles Fantazzi. Chicago, 2000.

. On Assistance to the Poor. Translated by Alice Tobriner. Toronto, 1999.

. The Passions of the Soul: The Third Book of De Anima et Vita. Translated by Carlos G. Noreña. Lewiston, N.Y., 1990.

. Somnium et Vigilia in Somnium Scipionis. The Library of Renaissance Humanism, Vol. 2. Edited by Edward V. George. Greenwood, S.C., 1989.

Secondary Sources

Abellán, José Luis. Historia crítica del pensamiento español. Vol. 2, La edad de oro. Madrid, 1979. An in-depth reference work on the major figures in Spanish philosophy.

Bataillon, Marcel. Erasmo y España. Mexico City, 1997. A classic text on Spanish humanism.

Copenhaver, Brian P., and Charles B. Schmitt. Renaissance Philosophy. Oxford, 1992.

Fraile, Guillermo. Historia de la filosofía española. Madrid, 1971. A concise historical introduction to Spanish philosophy.

Noreña, Carlos G. Juan Luis Vives and the Emotions. Carbondale, Ill. 1989.

. A Vives Bibliography. Studies in Renaissance Literature, vol. 5. Lewiston, N.Y., 1990.

Schmitt, C. B., ed. The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K. 1991.

Damian Bacich

Vives, Juan Luis

views updated May 29 2018


(b. Valencia, Spain, 6 March 1492; d. Bruges, Netherlands [now Belgium], 6 May 1540), education, philosophy, psychology.

Probably born to Jewish parents who adopted Catholicism in the oppressive religious atmosphere of fifteenth-century Spain,1 Vives became one of the greatest Catholic humanists of sixteenth-century Europe. After early schooling in liberal Valencia, he left Spain in 1510 (never to return) and entered the University of Paris, where Spanish masters and students flourished. There, under Gaspar Lax and Jean Dullaert of Ghent, Vives received a Scholastic education that emphasized Aristotelian terminist logic, dialectic, and disputation, a program against which his developing humanist inclinations soon rebelled.

In 1512 Vives was attracted to the Low Countries, especially Bruges, where in 1514 he took up permanent residence (he married Margaret Valdaura of Bruges in 1524), and Louvain, where he attended lectures at the university in 1514 and qualified as lecturer in 1520.

Over the years Vives left Bruges intermittently. Especially significant is the period between 1523 and 1528, when he lectured at Oxford University (Corpus Christi College) and met, or continued earlier friendships with, Thomas More, John Fisher, and Thomas Linacre, and was highly regarded by Henry VIII and his queen, Catherine of Aragon. When Henry sought to divorce Catherine and relations between Henry and Spain soured. Vives fell under a cloud. His lectureship at Oxford was terminated in 1527 and he was banished from England in 1528. Frequently ill and plagued with debt, Vives produced many of his most important works during the last decade of his life.

On intimate terms with the greatest humanists of his day, including Erasmus and Budé. Vives was not only a master of classical Latin literature (he apparently cared much less for the Greek classics) but also wrote on religion, education, rhetoric, philosophy, methodology, science, and politics. Science and philosophy were not of interest for their own sakes, but only insofar as they could prove of practical use in subduing human passions and improving morality. Vives believed that original sin had weakened human reason to the extent that it could not determine nature’s primary, necessary principles and was, therefore, incapable of arriving at scientific demonstration in the strict Aristotelian sense. Human knowledge was dependent on experience derived from the five fallible senses. Since the true essences of things transcended experience, knowledge of them lay beyond human reason. Man’s knowledge of things was therefore based upon probability, conjecture, and approximation, which were, however, adequate because, despite original sin, God had generously allowed man sufficient reason to master nature, as evidenced by human control over the sublunar region.2 By assuming that God guaranteed the reliability of human knowledge to whatever extent was necessary, Vives avoided falling into total skepticism. The basic empiricism described here formed the foundation of his theories of education, which emphasized observation, simple experiments, and direct experience.

Vives has been justly hailed as a major figure in the history of psychology. He held that the essence of the soul—mind—was indescribable.3It could be known only by its actions, as observed by the internal and external senses. Before Descartes and Francis Bacon, Vives developed an empirical psychology in which he advocated the study of mental activity introspectively and in others. He formulated a theory of association of ideas from an elaborate analysis of memory. If two ideas are implanted in the mind simultaneously, or within a short interval of time, the occurrence of one would cause the recall of the other.4

In commemorating the fourth centenary of Vives’ death, the Bibliothèque Nationale exhibited over five hundred editions of his works.5 They bear witness to his great influence on his own and subsequent centuries.


1. Carlos G. Noreña, “Juan Luis Vives,” 18-22.

2.De prima philosophia, bk, I, in Opera omnia, III, 188.

3.De anima et vita (Bruges, 1538), in Opera omnia, III, 332.

4.Ibid., 349-350.

5. Noreña, op. cit. 1. For the catalog of the exhibition, see J. Estelrich, Vivès, exposition organisée à la Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, janvier-mars, 1941 (Paris, 1942).


I. Original Works. Vives’ Opera ominia was first published at Basel in 1555. Relying heavily on the Basel ed., Gregorio Mayans y Síscar published the only other ed. of the collected works: Joannis Ludovici Vivis valentini Opera omnia, 8 vols. (Valencia, 1782-1790; repr. London, 1964). Although incomplete (as in the earlier Basel ed., it lacks the Commentaries on Saint Augustine and perhaps a few other minor works; see Noreña, “Juan luis Vives,” 4), it does include the works relevant to science and philosophy, which appear in vols. III and VI. In addition to a number of brief treatises vol III contains De Aristotelis operibus censura, De instrumento probabilitatis liber unus, De syllogismo, De prima philosophia, sive De intimo naturae opificio (in three books), and De anima et vita (a lengthy treatise in three books, which treats many of the traditional topics in Aristotle’s De anima; a photocopy repr. of the Basel ed. [1538] of this work was issued by Mario Sancipriano [Turin, 1959]); vol. VI contains the De disciplinis, composed of two parts, De causis corruptarum artium in seven bks., depicting the low state of the arts in Vives’ day (especially relevant are book 3, which treats logic, and book 5, which denounces natural philosophy, medicine, and mathematics), and De tradendis disciplinis, in five bks., devoted to the reformation and revitalization of the fallen arts.

For a chronological list of Vives’ works, see Carlos G. Noreñ, Juan Luis Vives, which is vol. 34 in International Archives of the History of Ideas (The Hague, 1970), app. 2, 307-308; app. 1, 300-306, is “Editions of Vives’ Main Works From 1520-1650” (also see Sancipriano’s bibliography of eds., pp. x-xiv of his repr. ed of De anima et vita, cited above). For the translations into Spanish and English, see Noreña, op. cit., 310-311; and, despite the title, for English translations of Vives’ Latin works, see Remigio Ugo Pane, English Translations From the Spanish 1484-1943; A Bibliography (New Brunswick, N.J., 1944), 201-202.

II. Secondary Literature. Extensive bibliographies of secondary literature appear in Noreña (see above), 311-321; and Sancipriano’s ed. of De anima et vita (see above), xiv-xviii. Noreña also includes a useful survey of the history of research on Vives in ch. 1: “The Vicissitudes of Vives’ Fame,” 1-14.

The standard biography and evaluation of Vives’ work is Adolfo Bonilla y San Martín, Luis Vives y la filosofia del renacimiento, 3 vols. (Madrid, 1903). A briefer, but still substantial account of Vives’ life is Lorenzo Riber’s intro. to his Spanish trans. of Vives’ Opera omnia, in Juan Luis Vives Obras completas, 2 vols. (Madrid. 1947-1948), 13-225. Critical of previous biographical accounts, especially on the question of Vives’ Jewish parentage, is Noreña (see above), pt. 1. “The Life of Juan Luis Vives,” 1-6, 1-120; a briefer biographical sketch appears in Vives; “Introduction to Wisdom,” a Renaissance Textbook, edited, with an introduction, by Marian Leona Tobriner, S.N.J.M., which is no. 35 in the series Classics in Education (New York, 1968), 9-36.

Vives’ attitudes toward Scholastic philosophy and science and his own views of science appear to have received little attention. Pierre Duhem, Études sur Léonard de Vinci, 3 vols. (Paris, 1906-1913), describes Vives’ scornful and vivid denunciation of Scholastic education in medicine, logic, and natural philosophy at the University of Paris (III, 168-172, 180-181, 488, 490). Of substantive scientific ideas, Duhem mentions (III, 144-146) only Vives’ acceptance of the much debated Scholastic “moment of rest” (quies media) alleged to occur between the upward violent motion of a projectile and its subsequent downward motion. A sense of Vives’ attitude to Scholastic philosophy and science can be gleaned from Noreña (see above), pt. 2, “Vives’ Thought,” 131-299. For Vives’ role as an educational reformer. See William Harrison Woodward, “Juan Luis Vives, 1492-1540,” in Studies in Education During the Age of the Renaissance 1400-1600 (New York, 1965; original publication, 1906), 180-210, and Foster Watson, “Vives On Education,” in Vives: On Education A Translation of the De tradendis disciplinis of Juan Luis Vives, with an introduction by Foster Watson and a foreword by Francesco Cordasco (Totowa, N. J., 1971; original publication, 1913), ci-clvii. Contributions by Vives to education and psychology are briefly summarized by Walter. A. Daly, The Educational Psychology of Juan Luis Vives (Ph.D. diss., Catholic University of America, 1924); and Foster Watson, “The Father of Modern Psychology,” in Psychological Review, 22 , no. 5 (Sept. 1915), 333-353.

Edward Grant

Vives, Juan Luis

views updated Jun 08 2018


VIVES, JUAN LUIS (1492–1540), Spanish humanist. A recent study by Pinta y Llorente and Palacio, Procesos Inquisitoriales contra la familia judía de Luis Vives (1964), established that his mother became a Christian only in 1491, that she was said to have continued Jewish practices after her baptism, that she was condemned by the Inquisition 24 years after her death, and that her remains were burned and her property confiscated. Vives' father was delivered in 1524 "to the secular arm" by the Inquisition, which usually meant death. This evidence indicates that Vives was of Jewish origin and that he must have been fully aware of this through the fate of his parents.

Vives studied Latin and Greek at Valencia and then, in 1509, went to the University of Paris. He found the scholasticism taught there sterile, and later bitterly attacked his studies and teachers. He said the university was like "an eighty-year-old lady, sick, senile, and in imminent danger of death." Vives' first major work, Adversus pseudodialecticos (1520), was a strong attack upon the school. In 1512 he moved to Bruges where he studied and taught children of influential families. In 1517 he began teaching at the new University of Louvain and became a close friend of Erasmus, whom he had long admired. The religious struggles in the Low Countries, Erasmus' departure for Basle, and the condition of the university led Vives to go to England, where he was immediately received by the humanists and by the court. Vives was offered a post at Alcalá, but refused to return to Spain. Instead he became a professor at Oxford. Political problems involving Henry viii and Catherine of Aragon finally led to Vives' dismissal. He returned a bitter and poor man to Bruges, where he wrote his major works in isolation and discontent.

Vives' writings include criticisms of scholasticism, reform of education, the classics, social problems, philosophy, and religion. His most famous works, extremely popular in the 16th century, were his commentaries on Saint Augustine (1522); De Anima et Vita (1538); Dialogi: Exercitatio Lingae Latinae (1538; trans. W.H.D. Rouse, Scenes of School and College Life, 1931); De Institutione feminae Christianae (1524; trans. R. Hyrde, The Instruction of a Christen Woman, 1541); lntroductio ad Sapientiam (1524; trans. R. Morison, An Introduction to Wysedome, 1540); and De Veritate Fidei (posthumous, 1543). Vives was the first advocate of secular education and state, rather than Church, social welfare. His philosophical concern was not to find ultimate truth (since he believed that metaphysics could only yield conjectures), but rather a basis for human conduct. He was the first modern to investigate human psychology empirically, and developed an early form of naturalism. Though many of his writings deal with Christian religious subjects (including a criticism, mild for the time, of Judaism in De Veritate Fidei), he was not concerned with doctrinal or institutional elements of Christianity, but mainly with morality. Like Erasmus, he advocated a nontheological religion as a way of life. Vives' philosophical-ethical religion may represent a Marrano compromise with Christianity, interpreting it as an ethic rather than as a set of dogmas.


C.G. Norena, Juan Luis Vives: A Humanistic Conception of Philosophical Knowledge (Thesis, San Diego, 1967), incl. bibl.

[Richard H. Popkin]

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