While historians continue to debate when the Renaissance began or whether it began at all, there is no doubt that the style of philosophy was rather different in 1600 than it had been in the middle of the 14th century. There is no single philosopher of this time who compares in importance to Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas, or Descartes, Hume, and Kant; yet the period is significant as the time of transition when the medieval world ceased to be and the modern secular world began. The word secular is important. The leading thinkers of the Renaissance were for the most part believing, practicing Christians; nevertheless, they contributed to the development of a way of thinking not opposed to theology but no longer in the service of theology. Their problems were still the traditional problems of the Christian tradition: God, man's immortality, morals, predestination, and free choice; but their treatment indicated a difference of style that was no longer medieval, yet not quite modern. While they must be studied as individuals, it can be conceded that, if they have anything in common, it is their humanism.
As P. O. Kristeller has often noted, the term "humanism" has been used in a wide, not too discriminating sense, whereby every appreciation of any human value has been stamped humanistic. Actually the word "humanism" is derived from the phrase studia humanitatis, which refers to the study of the humanities; and in the slang of the 15th century a student of the humanities was a humanista. Five subjects especially composed the educational curriculum of the humanista: grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy. Such a course of study was not entirely unlike that of the cathedral schools of the Middle Ages, but there were differences. The humanista was less concerned with the logic, natural science, and metaphysics of the scholastic curriculum; and with the passing of time, increasing attention was paid to the classical authors of Greece and Rome, whose works served both as models of expression and as objects of analysis. In this respect Francesco Petrarch is considered a leading figure of the Italian Renaissance.
Petrarch. Although he knew little Greek, petrarch was aware of Rome's debt to Greek learning. He was an enthusiastic manuscript hunter, and he integrated his love of classical learning with his own hunger for fame. Still he was religious, and in his reflections in his Ascent of Mont Ventoux he reprimanded himself in Augustinian fashion for his weakness and vanities. As a transitional figure from the medieval to the Renaissance world, he forecasts the shape of trends to be developed by others.
Valla. If Petrarch may be considered the most outstanding humanist of the 14th century, Lorenzo valla would be a strong contender for that title in the 15th. Valla's wide-ranging contributions to history, philology, and rhetoric mark him as a Renaissance man of many abilities: he wrote De elegantia linguae latinae (1444), exposed the so-called donation of constantine as a fake, translated Herodotus and Thucydides, and applied some of the newer philological techniques to the study of Scripture. In addition he made worthwhile contributions to philosophy with his dialogues On Pleasure (1431), in which the Christian position wins out but the Epicurean view is treated with sympathy; Dialectical Disputations (1439), in which his rejection of the current Aristotelian school is apparent; and On Free Will (1435–43), in which the key problem of God's fore-knowledge, human freedom, and predestination is explored. Later, in their disputes on the same topic, Erasmus and Luther were to refer to Valla's treatment of the question. Valla held that God's foreknowledge and man's freedom were not incompatible, but when pressed that God's knowledge expressed His predestination, he retreated from the question as an unresolvable mystery.
Cusa. Cardinal nicholas of cusa combined in his life work the activity of a papal diplomat busy with the problems of Church councils and the contemplation of a mystic philosopher. His thought on God and the universe reflects the Neoplatonic tradition previously expressed by john scotus erigena and Meister eckhart, which Cusa integrated with a mathematical imagery that dwells on the paradoxes of the infinite. The title of his main work, De docta ignorantia (1440), indicates the combining of opposites that is his key to understanding reality. Just as a straight line can be regarded as the circumference of a circle of infinite radius, so God is the maximum and minimum of all things. Cusa presents something more than the medieval negative theology; he breaks with the Aristotelian categories, which judged the universe to be a closed sphere with the earth at the center. For him the universe is an infinite sphere whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. While he made no scientific discovery himself, his high ecclesiastical rank and his emancipation from the categories of contemporary scholasticism encouraged his readers in the next century, e.g., Copernicus, to express themselves in ways that did lead to scientific breakthroughs. Though he wrote many treatises, Cusa is most famous for his expression of learned ignorance.
Ficino. Renaissance platonism centers around Florence and the gentle figure of Marsilio ficino. Trained in the humanities, philosophy, and medicine, Ficino was encouraged in his research on Plato by Cosimo de' Medici, who donated a villa at Careggi for the "Platonic Academy." After translating from Greek to Latin the writings of Hermes Trismegistus (1463), Ficino began the translation of Plato's Dialogues, which he completed before 1469, the year he wrote his commentary on the Symposium. He later translated some writings of Porphyry and Proclus, as well as of Pseudo-Dionysius and Plotinus. In addition to the tremendous contribution Ficino made to Western learning by making so much Platonic thought
available in Latin, he presented his own philosophy, a blend of Christian wisdom and Platonism, in his Theologia Platonica, which he wrote between 1469 and 1474. Ficino attempted an elaborate description of a hierarchical universe ranging from God to primary matter and focusing on man at the center. Preoccupied with man's immortality, Ficino stressed that man's happiness comes when he is freed from his mortal body and attains God. He recognized that the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body will return the soul to a temperate immortal body far different from the one in which it now dwells. This argument for immortality made a profound impression on some of the 16th-century philosophers and is thought to have been influential in leading to the pronouncement of personal immortality as a dogma by the Lateran Council in 1513. Ficino's theory of friendship, his doctrine of Platonic love, was influential, especially in Renaissance literature. Friends should be united in a mutual respect that has its binding element in their common love of God. The true lover loves the other for the sake of God. Here is reflected the Christian Platonism of Ficino, who was honored with a monument in the cathedral of Florence after his death.
Pico della Mirandola. Although associated with Ficino's Platonic Academy, Count Giovanni pico della
mirandola was more interested in discovering the truth that underlay or was common to Platonism, Aristotelianism, arabian philosophy, and the Jewish cabala. Pico believed that different systems expressed different parts of the truth. By studying mystical Jewish writings and attempting to show their harmony with Christian thought, he prepared the way for the studies of J. reuchlin. In his famous Oration, prepared for delivery on what was to be a debate on some 900 theses he had proposed, Pico began by a special affirmation of the dignity of man and went on to stress the harmony among his philosophical predecessors. Whereas Ficino was more committed to Platonism, Pico appreciated Aristotle as well and defended his scholastic interpreters. Though Pico did not achieve his ideal of the intellectual reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle, later generations have honored him for his work in philosophy and Scripture commentary, the Heptaplus, an analysis of Genesis.
Pomponazzi. Just as contemporary philosophy resists characterization by a word or by one movement, so too Renaissance philosophy is a strand composed of many threads. While Platonism was enjoying a revival through the work of Ficino, the universities remained the stronghold of a secular aristotelianism concentrated on its natural and biological aspects. Various schools of interpretation flourished side by side: averroism, tho mism, scotism, and Alexandrianism. In such a milieu Pietro pomponazzi prided himself on his attempt to express the real Aristotle. Thus, while accepting the Church's teaching on personal immortality, he argued in On Immortality (1516) that such a doctrine could not be established on philosophical, i.e., Aristotelian, principles. The intellectual soul's need for phantasms precluded it from ever functioning as a separated soul after death. To the objection that mortality required immortality, Pomponazzi replied, like the Stoics, that virtue was its own reward and evil its own punishment. Pomponazzi was concerned also with predestination and free choice; he attempted to analyze these questions in a naturalistic fashion that led him to conclusions different from those of his professed faith. He took care, however, to accept as a matter of faith the teachings of the Church; but this did not prevent the condemnation of his work. Something of the vitality of Renaissance Aristotelianism is to be seen in the controversies in which such philosophers as Giovanni Crisostomo javelli, Tommaso de Vio cajetan, Gasparo contarini, Alexander Achillini (1463–1512), and Agostino nifo participated.
Telesio. While the Aristotelian tradition flourished in 16th-century Italy, it continued to engender reactions against itself. Such philosophers as Telesio, Patrizi, and Bruno repudiated the shortcomings they believed they saw in Aristotle and attempted to correct his mistakes with their own analyses. In De rerum natura (Naples 1565) Bernardino telesio rejected matter and form and tried to explain nature in terms of matter and force, hot and cold. He asserted that man has a material spirit that vivifies his body and, in addition, a soul created by God and infused into the body. He attempted to break with Aristotle and build another natural philosophy on an empirical basis.
Patrizi. Whereas Telesio's interests were physical and biological, the interests of Francesco Patrizi were literary and mathematical. He wrote treatises on history, Della historia (1560), and on poetics, Della poetica (1586), and lectured in Rome on Platonic philosophy. He translated Philoponus's commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics (1583), Proclus's Elements of Theology and Elementatio physica (1583), and various treatises attributed to Hermes Trismegistus. He edited in Latin the so-called Theology of Aristotle (1591), accepting as genuine this work judged by Thomas Aquinas to be Neoplatonic. In mathematics he wrote works on geometry and on physical space, Nova de universis philosophia (1591). In general, Patrizi preferred Plato to Aristotle, and his achievement in having a chair of Platonic philosophy in Rome went against the contemporary trend at the universities.
Bruno. The tragic and dramatic circumstances surrounding the death of Giordano bruno, executed for heresy after a long investigation by the Inquisition, have made him a martyr to the cause of free thought. "One of the leading and most influential thinkers of the Renaissance" (Copleston), he combined Cusa's Neoplatonism and the Hermetic tradition with the implications of the new astronomy of Copernicus into a philosophy that approached pantheism but never bluntly asserted it. For Bruno there was an infinite number of solar systems giving one infinite universe in which God vivified the matter as the soul principle vivifies the body. Bruno anticipated Spinoza by making God immanent in the material substance of the universe yet somehow transcendent as its cause. In this system man loses his substantiality, except in the sense that he is a particular manifestation of the infinity of God. In his reaction against Aristotle, Bruno anticipated developments in modern philosophy and science, but it is doubtful that he caused them.
Agricola. What Petrarch was to Italian humanism, Rodolphus Agricola was to German humanism. More of a rhetorician than a philosopher, Agricola preferred Cicero to Aristotle; in De inventione dialectica (1479) he stressed discovery rather than judging. Along with his contributions to educational reform, he concerned himself with history and translations. Sacred Scripture was his interest when he died at age 41, a religious person faithful to his Church and unaffected by events on the eve of the Reformation.
Reuchlin. Johann Reuchlin, called Capnion by his associates, is regarded as the seed from which the strong tradition of Hebrew studies in Germany grew. A thorough humanist, Reuchlin became intrigued with the magic symbolism of the Jewish cabala while studying in Italy. Like Pico, he sought to use this tradition in support of Christianity, combining number wisdom with the strong Neoplatonic tendencies he inherited from Nicholas of Cusa. When overly zealous Christians proposed destroying Hebrew books in order to promote the conversion of the Jews, Reuchlin bravely defended the value of Hebrew knowledge in Angenspeigl (1511). Both Luther and Erasmus appreciated Reuchlin's learning; but when the crisis of the Lutheran break came toward the end of his life, he chose to remain Catholic rather than join the reformers.
Erasmus. Desiderius erasmus is rightly regarded as the greatest figure of the Northern Renaissance, but his
contribution to philosophy was slight. A tremendous worker at humanistic studies, he ardently applied his learning to the service of religion with an edition of the New Testament in Greek, editions of Church Fathers, such as St. Jerome, and a moral treatise, Enchiridion militis christiani (The Handbook of the Christian Soldier, 1501). His collection of classical proverbs, Adagia, was a best seller, and his Praise of Folly (1509) was both a tribute to his friend Thomas More and a satiric comment on the foibles and failings of the churchmen of his day. Because he had been caustic toward various religious practices that detracted from Christian piety as he envisioned it, many expected him to favor Martin Luther at the time of the latter's break with Rome. But Erasmus attacked Luther's denial of free choice in Diatribe de libero arbitrio (1524).
Reflecting somewhat the position of St. Thomas Aquinas on free choice, Erasmus went beyond that and argued that, since man really cannot settle these matters of freedom and foreknowledge, he must assume freedom, because the consequences of assuming determinism would be disastrous. The general public, never too well behaved in the first place, would abandon all moral restraint if it no longer feared being held responsible for its actions. Erasmus then struggled with difficult scriptural passages that seemed to indicate that God "hardened the hearts" of some and caused others to repent. This work provoked Luther to reply with his polemical De servo arbitrio (1525). Erasmus is not to be measured in terms of his philosophical ability but by the scholarship he accomplished.
Paracelsus. One of the thinkers most difficult to classify in 16th-century thought is the strange Swiss physician-philosopher who called himself Philippus Aureolus Paracelsus. He was born Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim and was trained by his father in medicine, alchemy, and astrology. His bombastic writings challenged accepted medical knowledge but mixed magic and the occult with an appreciation of differences in chemical compounds and elements and their effect upon health. He is thought to have served as one of the models for Faust.
Böhme. Jakob bÖhme, German mystic and philosophical theologian, attempted through his devotional writings to resolve the problem of good and evil in reality. He was remarkably productive, writing books on religious devotion (The Way to Christ ) and works of speculative philosophy that sought to understand how the multiplicity of the world arose out of the unity of God (On the Three Principles, 1619). Later philosophers, as diverse as A. Schopenhauer, M. Heidegger, and N. A. Berdi[symbol omitted]ev, acknowledge his influence; and such church groups as the Quakers are part of his legacy in religious practice.
Machiavelli. Though scholars vary in their estimates of the political morality of Niccolò machiavelli, they agree on his significance as a political thinker. When a change of political power in Florence forced Machiavelli into early retirement, the world of humanistic learning gained a reporter, historian, and shrewd analyzer of political power. In his commentary on Livy's History, Discorsi sopra la prima deca di Tito Livio (1515–19?), Machiavelli combined a sense of the appropriate historical anecdote with an ability to delineate the political troubles of contemporary Italy. He longed for his country to achieve the national unity that was growing in France, England, and Spain, but he grieved over the impossibility of this task so long as the Church ruled the central section of Italy. His social comments were caustic and cynical, but his patriotism is unquestioned. In Il Principe (written 1513, first published 1532) Machiavelli provided future rulers with a handbook that described the technique of grasping and retaining power in predatory society. While the book is in the tradition of the medieval treatises On the Governance of Rulers, it is unlike them in its frankly amoral character. J. Maritain argues that the techniques of Il Principe can promise only short-term success and its ruthless pragmatism cannot be the basis of promoting a stable society, for Machiavelli's virtù is an aggressive daring, a talent for opportunism, not a form of justice.
In all his writings, the political treatises, the Art of War, and Florentine Histories, Machiavelli regards human nature as brutal, avaricious, power hungry, and collectively cowardly. He appears to be echoing in the political sphere the corrupted man of the Reformers.
Bodin. While Machiavelli is associated with amorality in political thinking, the French political philosopher Jean Bodin is associated with the reapplication of natural law to political questions. Living and writing in the context of civil wars arising out of the post-Reformation religious disputes, Bodin strongly emphasized the need of a sovereign power as the ultimate source of authority in society, but for him the sovereign remained subject to moral law. In Six livres de la République (1576) Bodin maintained that the family is the foundation of society and that certain fundamental rights of liberty and property belong to the subject. Bodin reflected also on the nature of history in Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem (1566). This attention to the nature of historical writing and study is a mark of the emerging modern mind in contrast to the medieval chronicler, who was not so time conscious. Another modern note was the element of biblical criticism Bodin displayed in the colloquy Heptaplomeres (written toward the end of his life but not published until 1841), wherein a Catholic, a Calvinist, a Lutheran, a Muslim, a Jew, a Deist, and an Epicurean discuss religious questions, seeking some common denominator. Their agreement lies in rejecting atheism; tolerance of religious differences is implied to be the solution to the divisions plaguing the sixteenth century.
Vives. Juan Luis vives was the Spanish contemporary of Erasmus and, like him, was concerned with education and man. He is famous for a functionalist approach to psychology. In De anima et vita libri tres (Basel 1538), he sought to study man's actions rather than to follow the classical writers who explained man's nature. His analysis of memory and forgetfulness represents a contribution to Renaissance psychology. Like Erasmus, Vives employed his humanistic gifts in the service of Christian learning, for example, in De veritate fidei Christiane (1543).
Ramus. Pierre de la Ramée, or Peter ramus, is noted for his opposition to Aristotle and his criticism of scholasticism. His thesis at the College of Navarre was "Everything Aristotle Taught Is False" (1536), and in Aristotelicae animadversiones (1543) and Dialecticae partitiones (1543) he revised the approach to the teaching of logic. Ramus emphasized logic as part of the arts of expression; and while it is said that his dialectic cannot be taken seriously by any competent logician, his influence on the teaching of rhetoric and dialectic in the late 16th and the 17th century, in Europe and then in America, was tremendous. Hundreds of editions of his Dialecticae were published, and it is through his influence as a textbook author that he is significant rather than from any intrinsic merit in his system. Appointed by Francis I in 1551 to be regius professor of eloquence and philosophy (a title he designed himself), he enjoyed the life of controversy he engendered. However, becoming a Protestant sometime after 1562, he suffered disqualification from his official position. He was murdered in the rioting of the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
Lipsius. While Pomponazzi and Montaigne used Stoic themes in their philosophy, Justus lipsius (or Joest Lips, as this Flemish humanist and philologist was also called) is considered the most thoroughgoing student and expositor of stoicism in the Renaissance. Born a Catholic, Lipsius accepted Lutheranism and Calvinism at times when the conditions of his employment as a teacher required it. He returned to Catholicism during his later years as a professor at Louvain, but some of his contemporaries found it difficult to forgive what they regarded as religious inconstancy. The truth seems to be that Lipsius was not theologically minded; rather, he concentrated on the exposition of Stoic thought integrated with the Christianity he had inherited.
In De Constantia (1584), Politicorum (1589), Manuductio ad stoicam philosophiam (1604), and Physiologia stoicorum (1604), Lipsius showed his growth in the understanding of Stoic belief, which, as J. Saunders has shown, he reconciled with Christianity: "Living according to Nature came to mean living according to Right Reason, or according to Virtue, and hence to mean seeking after God, who himself becomes the all important Object or End." In situations where Stoic practice tended to conflict with Christianity, for example, in accepting suicide, Lipsius preferred the Christian position. In his revival of Stoicism, Lipsius greatly influenced Montaigne, P. charron, and Francis bacon.
Montaigne. Michel Eyquem de montaigne is almost a distillation of Renaissance philosophy. While only in his late thirties, he retired to his estate in Bordeaux to study himself. He published his reflections, observations, and his conversations about his reading and experience under the title Essais (3 v. 1582–88); these thoughts represent the reaction of a learned and cultivated man to the confusion and suffering brought on by the Reformation and the wars of religion that followed it. Montaigne expressed the Renaissance's preoccupation with man; "I study myself more than any other subject; that's my metaphysics; that's my physics." In his relaxed musings, he expressed the humanistic learning he had acquired from his boyhood by calling on a wide range of classical authors as witnesses in support of his insights. But the controversies of the time made him skeptical of the conflicting philosophies, and he rejected their dogmatism. His motto Que scay-je? (What do I know?) states his philosophy; in The Apology for Raymond Sebond he brought to bear his most critical comments to show the poverty of human reason and the uncertainty resulting from the conflict of authorities about the fundamental problems of life. Montaigne was no revolutionary: "Wherefore it will become you better to confine yourself to the accustomed routine, whatever it is, than to fly headlong into this unbridled license"—given man's inability to know what is better, he should conserve what he has. As Gilson remarked, Montaigne's humility is the wisdom of the acceptance of oneself. This is an indication also of his Stoicism, and the tranquillity it promises is the Pyrrhonian ataraxia.
The essential characteristics of Renaissance philosophy consist in its being a period of transition. By the time the thinkers surveyed in this article had exerted their influence, medieval thought had come to its end and the setting was provided for the beginning of modern philosophy.
See Also: philosophy, history of, 4; aristotelianism; platonism.
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[d. j. fitzgerald]