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Encyclopedia Of Renaissance Philosophy

Gives accurate and reliable summaries of the current state of research. It includes entries on philosophers, problems, terms, historical periods, subjects and the cultural context of Renaissance Philosophy. Furthermore, it covers Latin, Arabic, Jewish, Byzantine and vernacular philosophy, and includ...

Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy


Natural philosophy, as distinguished from metaphysics andmathematics, is traditionally understood to encompass a wide range ofsubjects which Aristotle included in the physical sciences. Accordingto this classification, natural philosophy is the science of thosebeings which undergo change and are independent of human beings. Thisvast field of inquiry was described in Aristotelian treatises suchas Physics, On the Heavens, On Generation and Corruption,Meteorology, History of Animals, On the Parts of Animals, On theGeneration of Animals, On the Soul (whose Renaissance receptionis not discussed in the present entry); the so-called parvanaturalia (other minor writings); and some apocrypha(e.g., the Problemata), which were taught in the universitiesin the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance. During the Renaissance,despite the enduring centrality of the Aristotelian paradigm for thediscipline, natural philosophy was enriched and expanded by a numberof further approaches. By the end of the sixteenth century naturalphilosophy was no longer purely identified with the Aristoteliansystem or a standard university curriculum. At the same time, theproliferation of new contexts and ways of learning did notautomatically eliminate older ones, and this fusion contributed to thebirth of modern science in a period of religious and politicalupheaval.

The principal tenets of the Aristotelian natural philosophy were:the doctrine of form and matter, the four causes, the rigidseparation of the world into opposed spheres, and the finite nature ofthe universe. During the Renaissance, these precepts were bothdefended and revised by Aristotelian professors, or challenged byothers who sought to dismantle traditional philosophy. While these newphilosophers could rely on new evidence, methods, and observations todefine the nature of the universe, in other cases the rejection ofAristotelian doctrines and their substitution with new paradigms wasmainly based on speculative arguments.

Medieval scholastic uses of probability evolved into the significantlydifferent probability discourses of early modern scholasticism andhumanism, which both were finally eclipsed by modern quantitativenotions of probability in the eighteenth century. Much is stillunknown concerning these processes, but a fuller understanding canonly be approached by accounting for their medieval origins. Thisbackground is also important for charting the shifting borders ofcertainty and uncertainty, or knowledge and opinion, in Europeanphilosophy.

Ockham offers some remarkable comments in Summa logicaeIII.1.1 concerning probability in the dialectical syllogism.[32] Like many others, Ockham assumes that the dialectical syllogismstarts from merely probable propositions (probabilia), whichhe characterizes as endoxa. Yet he then claims that probablepropositions are true and necessary, even though they are not per seor derivatively known to be true with certainty (probabilia suntilla, quae cum sint vera et necesseria, non tamen per se nota, nec exper se notis syllogizabilia, nec etiam per experientiam evidenternota, nec ex talibus sequentia). Probability, thus, hinges on anepistemically deficient state of an observer. However, a dialecticalsyllogism need not produce uncertainty in an observer since it neednot produce fear of error but can instead engender firm conviction inits conclusion.[33] Ockham deviates here from some familiar scholastic assumptionsconcerning probability. His probabilia cannot be probableopinions in the third sense of Grosseteste (see above), which are bydefinition contingent. The conclusion of a dialectical syllogism isalso not necessarily a probable opinion because then it would beaccompanied by fear of error. This cluster of sentences isnevertheless all Ockham has to say about probability in the Summalogicae (and Burley, Buridan, and others say even less in theirlogical works). No deeper analysis concerning the role ofprobabilia in his philosophy or theology ensues, and hisuncommon remarks apparently did not spark any discussion by others.[34] Elsewhere in his work, Ockham judges specific philosophical theses tobe probable or more probable in the same way as other scholasticauthors did. If his short comments on probabilia in theSumma logicae offer a glimpse of the deeper modal andontological ramifications of probability, they also document thatthese ramifications were hardly pursued by medieval scholastics.[35]

Humanism was a term invented in the 19th century to describe the Renaissance idea that directly studying the works of antiquity was an important part of a rounded education (but not the only part). From this position came the idea that the study of humanity should be a priority as opposed to religious matters (which need not be neglected or contradicted by humanist studies). Important classical ideals which interested humanists included the importance of public and private virtue, Latin grammar, techniques of rhetoric, history, conventions in literature and poetry, and moral philosophy. This education did not create an all-encompassing philosophy or worldview in its adherents. Someone who had a humanist education might be a Catholic or a Protestant, for example, and many students went on to study very different branches of thought such as theology, law, or medicine.

Humanists emphasised the importance of an education which covered the liberal arts of rhetoric, moral philosophy, grammar, history, and poetry. Physical exercise, just like in ancient Greece, was also considered an essential part of a rounded education that resulted in young people being able to realise their potential and become good citizens. In addition, a humanist education continued for life, and it was never too late to learn its benefits, especially so for rulers.

Perhaps inevitably, though, humanist scholars and thinkers began to divide into groups as they specialised into different areas of what was already a hopelessly broad area of human endeavour. There were realists against moralists, those who wanted to forget all about religion and those who did not, and those who were republicans and those who were royalists. There were humanists who thought the study of language an end itself while others thought it only a means to understand ideas. Some preferred a life of contemplation in contrast to those who still stuck to the idea of putting humanism into political practice. As science, the arts, history, philosophy, and theology all split away from each other, so Renaissance humanism came to an end, broken apart as scholarly specialisation won the battle against earning a comprehensive overview of the human condition.

Despite the breaking up of the humanist movement into its component parts, the essential idea that humans were worthy of serious study is one that has never gone away, of course. If anything, this idea has only widened and deepened. The subjects that were considered important to study in classical sources such as philosophy, history, and literature came to be collectively known as the humanities, and today, of course, they form major faculties in colleges and universities worldwide.

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.

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 041b061a72

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