A History of Western Philosophy: 3

Renaissance Philosophy



Oxford New York




by Paul Oskar Kristeller

The philosophy of the Renaissance -- that is, of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries -- unlike the political and religious developments, the literature, and the art of the same period, and unlike the philosophy of classical antiquity, of the modern period after Bacon and Descartes, and even of the Middle Ages, has been the subject of serious historical study only for the last hundred years or so, and most of the detailed monographs and text editions have been published only since the end of the First World War. Recent contributions have been so numerous and so widely scattered that bibliographical control of the relevant monographs and editions, and especially of
the comprehensive or marginal studies pertinent to the subject, has become increasingly difficult. The recent publication of comprehensive handbooks in English is especially welcome, therefore, since they will serve as introductions and reference works for scholars and non-specialists, for teachers and students alike, keep the interest in the field alive, make the available information easily accessible, and also stimulate the further investigation of authors, problems, and their connections that have remained unexplored so far.

The books I have in mind are Arthur Rabil Renaissance Humanism, The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, edited by the late Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler, and Jill Kraye ( Cambridge University Press, 1988), and the present volume -- begun by Charles B. Schmitt and completed by Brian P. Copenhaver. These three works are all different in scope and content, and hence do not compete with but supplement each other. Rabil limits himself to Renaissance humanism, a movement which made important
direct and indirect contributions to Renaissance thought, and especially to its moral philosophy, but which constitutes only one sector of Renaissance philosophy and which, on the other



hand, comprises many subjects that fall outside the area of
philosophy, even when broadly understood, such as rhetoric
and historiography, poetry, and grammatical as well as classical
studies. The Cambridge History, on the other hand, covers all
areas of Renaissance philosophy, but is divided into chapters,
contributed by a number of scholars, that cover separately the
main philosophical disciplines such as logic and natural philo-
sophy, and includes a substantial introduction and a com-
prehensive bibliography. The present volume is conceived
differently and serves a different purpose. It will be useful for
those familiar with the Cambridge History but will also attract
additional readers. It is much shorter, and therefore more
suitable for continuous reading, although it may be used as a
reference book. It is written by just two authors and hence is
more uniform in its conception and content, and it is arranged
according to the major schools of Renaissance philosophy,
such as Aristotelianism, Platonism, Stoicism, Epicureanism,
Scepticism, and the Philosophy of Nature, and gives a concise
monographic treatment of all major thinkers of the period,
including Pomponazzi and Zabarella, Cusanus, Ficino, Pico
and Patrizi, Valla, Ramus, Montaigne and Lipsius, Cardano,
Telesio, Bruno and Campanella, More and Machiavelli. A
substantial introduction provides the ancient, medieval, and
Renaissance context and deals with humanism and also with
the political and religious background. The last chapter relates
Renaissance philosophy to modern and contemporary thought
and will be of special interest to students of philosophy, many
of whom ignore the history of philosophy or dismiss it as

I have found the volume most interesting, informative, and
reliable; I greatly appreciate it as a balanced, concise, and
well-written treatment of a difficult and complex subject; and I
hope that most readers will agree with me. I also wish to con-
gratulate Brian Copenhaver, who has carefully and successfully
carried out Charles Schmitt's intentions and also added many
valuable insights of his own.

Columbia University, New York
November 1990



Anyone who had the good fortune to know Charles Schmitt,
to study with him, or to read his many books and articles will
know how much better this history would have been had so
learned and creative a scholar lived to finish it. The present
volume (not counting notes and bibliography) runs to about
117,000 words. Charles left a draft of about 40,000 words, of
which perhaps a fifth dropped out in rewriting. The book's
framework was his conception -- six chapters corresponding
more or less to those that follow. The first two chapters con-
tain more of his writing, down to the sentence level, than the
last four, where his voice can be heard more in the larger
structure of the chapters than in their sentences. The whole of
the present text represents a considerable expansion of what
he left. The first chapter of his draft had no section on church
and state. In Chapter 2 the sections on Trapezuntius, Lefèvre,
Mair, and Vitoria are additions. Chapters 3, 4, and 5 are much
larger than the corresponding parts of the draft: Charles's
22,000 words in those three chapters grew to 66,000. Charles
left only a title, slightly different than the present wording, for
chapter six.

Charles's views on larger issues pertinent to this volume will
be well known to many readers, and I have tried to preserve
his opinions even in some cases where mine are different.
Aristotelian and sceptical thought are prominent because
Charles rightly believed that early modern philosophy owed
more to them than past interpretations have allowed. A num-
ber of topics and figures on which he was expert stand out in
this history: the importance of natural philosophy; the role of
university education; the development of the textbook tradi-
tion; the revival of the ancient Peripatetic commentators and
the continuation of Averroist influence; the place of Cicero
among ancient authorities or of the younger Pico among Re-
naissance thinkers. These and many other points of fact and



interpretation were his special contributions to the history of
philosophy, and they are visible in what follows. However,
because he was prevented by his untimely death in April 1986
from completing this volume, it doubtless includes some things
that he would have excluded and may omit others that he
would have added. Few mistakes that remain would have sur-
vived his scrutiny. Given my own interests, the book probably
contains more about language, logic, Platonism, and occultism
than it might have, perhaps less about natural philosophy.

Charles's draft included little about contemporary historio-
graphy; he may have left it for the last chapter, for which he
supplied only a title. 1 The current text says a good deal about
early modern history of philosophy as the foundation of the
contemporary canonical picture, but beyond mentioning a few
founders of Renaissance studies -- Burckhardt, Cassirer,
Warburg, Kristeller -- it contains little about twentieth-century
scholarship. Twentieth-century philosophy comes up in the
concluding chapter, which offers a few suggestions about links
with the early modern period that may interest contemporary
students of philosophy. The bibliography is not a comprehen-
sive or even a representative collection of literature on Renais-
sance philosophy; it lists works that were crucial to the writing
of the book, but it also provides a general bibliographical
orientation on the more important thinkers and issues. No
effort has been made to catalogue the multitude of specialist.
studies on Renaissance philosophy. Although much of the best
writing about the period continues to appear in Continental
languages, the bibliography emphasizes English works access-
ible to a broad readership when these are available. A relatively
recent bibliography for more specialized use appears in The
Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, published in
1988 under the general editorship of Charles Schmitt with
Quentin Skinner, Eckhard Kessler, and Jill Kraye. Notes pro-
vide references for direct citations of primary sources and a
few quotations from secondary studies; they also refer more
broadly not only to secondary literature upon which the text is



Schmitt ( 1989: ch. 15).


based but also to a wider range of sources that the reader may
find useful: i.e., the combination of notes and bibliography
may serve as a starting-point for the reader who wishes to
learn more about the major figures and movements discussed
in the text. Obviously, the scope of the book and the format of
the series preclude extensive and systematic annotation of the
huge secondary literature that stands behind any such effort.
Some sections digest interpretations of individual contemporary
scholars -- Monfasani on Trapezuntius, Watts on Cusanus,
Noreña and Pagden on Vives and Vitoria, and so forth -- but
most debts are more diffuse, obligations to a larger republic of
letters of which Charles was so eminent a citizen. In the first
two chapters that follow Charles's draft most closely, apologies
to scholars whose work may go unrecognized are especially in
order. Charles left no notes with his draft, and he doubtless
intended acknowledgements that I have missed.

Renaissance philosophers wrote mainly in Latin; Greek texts
that they translated into Latin were major sources of philo-
sophical inspiration. The role of Latin and Greek became
especially complex and problematic when early modern think-
ers philosophized about language and logic, so that ancient
languages, Latin especially, became prime objects of philo-
sophical analysis, often inseparable from grammatical and
rhetorical investigations. In two or three cases where the ori-
ginal wording is critical, I have reproduced as well as trans-
lated Latin texts. Otherwise, passages originally written in
foreign languages appear in translations, which are mine ex-
cept as indicated in the notes. Greek words are transliterated,
with u standing for upsilon, ê for eta, and ô for omega. As-
suming a broad readership, I have not used the standard ab-
breviations for classical texts, whose full titles appear translated
in. the notes. Because important Renaissance works are often
known by their Latin titles, I have usually provided the original
within a few lines of its translation or some other indication of
meaning. When technical issues arise -- in dealing with syl-
logisms and other logical issues, for example -- I have tried to
provide the minimal background as close as possible to the
passage in question, but where reference to another part of the


book is particularly important, the words 'see below' in the
text will lead to the required material by way of the subsequent
note. Dates of historical persons will be found in the index.
Most of the book is arranged by subject rather than chrono-
logy; however, each chapter except the first and last moves
roughly in historical order, although the reader will notice
some inversions ( Cusanus and Pico, Valla and Vives, More
and Machiavelli) and interruptions ( Bruno) where theme rather
than personality becomes the dominant organizational principle.

A number of people have read or heard the typescript in
whole or in part at one stage or another of its gestation, and I
owe them a large debt of thanks: Michael Allen, Rebecca
Copenhaver, Carl Cranor, David Glidden, Edward Gosselin,
Russell Jacoby, Pierre Keller, Jill Kraye, Paul Kristeller, John
Monfasani, Richard Popkin, Alex Rosenberg, Nancy, Siraisi.
Catherine Clarke handled the book for Oxford with great
expertise. My children, Gregory and Rebecca, and especially
my wife, Kathleen, have always supported my research and
writing with great patience and understanding, and I can only
hope that they may find the result in some way an adequate
outcome of their indispensable participation in the work.


University of California, Riverside
25 August 1990




1 The Historical Context of Renaissance Philosophy



The philosophical heritage of antiquity and
the Middle. Ages



Philosophy in a Renaissance context






Church and state



The Renaissance transformation of philosophy



2 Aristotelianism



Renaissance Aristotelianisms



Unity and diversity in the Aristotelian tradition



Eight Renaissance Aristotelians



3 Platonism



From Aristotle to Plato



Marsilio Ficino



Giovanni Pico and Nicholas of Cusa



Pious, perennial, and Platonic philosophies:
Francesco Patrizi



4 Stoics, Sceptics, Epicureans, and Other Innovators



Humanism, authority, and uncertainty



Lorenzo Valla: language against logic



The simple method of Peter Ramus and
its forerunners



The crisis of doubt



Justus Lipsius on a new moral code



Politics and moral disorder: Erasmus, More, and





5 Nature against Authority: Breaking Away
from the Classics



Books of learning and nature



Giordano Bruno's philosophical passions



New philosophies of nature



6 Renaissance Philosophy and Modern Memory










The Historical Context of Renaissance Philosophy

The philosophical heritage of antiquity and the Middle Ages

During the Renaissance, people taught and learned philosophy
with a reverence for authority that the modern reader may find
misplaced or alien, but not because philosophers simply aped
their predecessors or put no premium at all on original thought
or novel solutions to old problems. Ancient authority some-
times bestowed a paradoxical licence for innovation on thinkers
accustomed to hide their creativity behind antiquity and pre-
cedent. A new thought reflecting a pattern hallowed by custom
might seem safer, even if its deference to the past was super-
ficial. A distinctive trait of philosophical discussion in the
Renaissance, in any event, was that it usually began with
reference to some distant authority, some sage of ancient
Athens or master of medieval Paris -- a Plato or an Aristotle, a
Thomas Aquinas or a Duns Scotus. Moreover, many people
assumed not only that God had given a single unified truth to
humanity in the distant past but also that the remains of Greek
philosophy, especially the works of Plato and Aristotle, had
preserved part of this original deposit of divine wisdom. Hence
it was no surprise and no scandal if an ancient answer to some
questions was the right one. In the beginning of his Lives of
the Philosophers
-- the closest thing to a comprehensive history
of philosophy to have survived from antiquity and an important
find of fifteenth-century humanism -- Diogenes Laertius pro-
vided historical evidence for the ultimate unity of dogma,
implying that truth is one because many peoples found differ-
ent paths to the same wisdom in a primeval past. This ancient


idea was also widespread among Renaissance philosophers,
whether Platonist or Aristotelian. 1

Diogenes also taught that philosophy -- both the word and
the concept -- was a Greek invention. Renaissance thinkers
agreed, and so did their medieval predecessors. Even medieval
philosophers whose faith convinced them that philosophy was
Queen Theology's handmaiden acknowledged philosophy's
Greek pedigree, despite doubts among the Church Fathers
about the propriety of philosophy and about claims for Hellenic
priority. In the thirteenth century the sainted Aquinas gave
due credit to the heathen Greeks, for example, and the world-
lier Jacopo Zabarella did the same three centuries later. It
goes without saying that the coming of Christ, the founding of
the Christian church and the accumulation of a vast Christian
literature profoundly influenced Western religion and culture.
Yet it was in the literary remains of pre-Christian Greece that
one looked for the first evidences of philosophy, conceived as
a quest for the special kind of truth wherein reason and the
interests of this world might be distinguished from faith and
hopes for the next. Christian philosophers of all ages took the
Greeks as their starting-point because the Greeks had forged
the tools of reason and analysis that shaped those parts of
knowledge not fixed in God's revelation.

After the fall of Rome, Western Europe's intellectual fabric
unravelled. By the tenth century the brilliant tapestry of the
ancient arts and sciences lay tattered and threadbare. Whole
fields of inquiry such as mathematics, astronomy, and medicine
declined catastrophically from the levels attained by the Greeks
and their Roman imitators. As the Latin empire of Western
Europe decayed, a more durable Greek culture thrived in
Byzantium and passed eventually to the new world of Islam,
which spread over much of the Mediterranean basin. Later,
beginning in the eleventh century, the forgotten learning of
antiquity re-entered Western Christendom. Thereafter, and for
many reasons in addition to this intellectual awakening, the for-



Diogenes Laertius. Lives and Opinions of Famous Philosophers 1. pro-
logue. 1-6; Kristeller ( 1972b: 43-63).


tunes of European civilization so much improved that the
same historians who apply Petrarch's term 'Dark Ages' to the
medieval period also speak of a Twelfth-Century Renaissance. 2
Scholars of that century reconnected the Judaeo-Christian West
with its Graeco-Roman heritage, effecting a reintegration that
still shapes the major contours of European civilization -- the
civilization to which Renaissance philosophers made such im-
portant contributions. Their Renaissance, the one that began
in the fourteenth century, was only a later stage of a process
started in the twelfth century, a rebirth that continued. Though
it is conventional and useful to distinguish medieval from Re-
naissance philosophy, history cut the two from the same cloth
which, if not seamless, was whole enough to make a unity of
the four centuries or so between Dante's birth and the death
of Descartes. This book focuses on the latter part of that
period, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

The customary divide between the Middle Ages and the
Renaissance is particularly artificial for intellectual history,
including the history of those ideas and thinkers called 'philo-
sophy' and 'philosophers'. Much of the most admired, most
discussed, and most characteristic philosophy of the Renais-
sance was indeed 'medieval' philosophy, which flourished in
the sixteenth century and whose weaker effects were felt still
later. One of the high points of medieval philosophy, for
example, was surely the progress made by logicians of the
fourteenth century, but this technical success lasted the course
of the fifteenth century, in Italy as elsewhere, just at the time
when the humanists were in their prime. The works of Thomas
Bradwardine and William of Heytesbur and the logical
writings of Paul of Venice were all printed, read, and dis-
cussed well into the sixteenth century. On a broader front, the
writings of Averroes (Ibn Rushd), whom medieval philosophers
called the commentator on Aristotle, remained central to many
different areas of philosophy until the end of the sixteenth
century. Editions of Aristotle running to many volumes and



Mommsen ( 1942); Ferguson ( 1948: 8, 26-8); Haskins ( 1957); Ker ( 1958);
Hay ( 1977: 90)-1); Cochrane ( 1981: 15-17).


accompanied by the commentaries of this twelfth-century
Moorish author were printed repeatedly in sixteenth-century
Italy, to be widely read and studied throughout Europe. Ramon
Lull, a Catalan whose highly original thought took shape at
the junction of Islam and Christianity in medieval Spain, suf-
fered no loss of authority in the Renaissance. When humanism
prospered in Florence and Paris, some French and Italian
thinkers of the first rank found Lull's works absorbing.

If there were nothing distinctive about the Renaissance, one
could not talk about it, and without important distinctions the
talk would be insignificant. But the differences that separated
the humanists from their forerunners of the twelfth century
should not obscure the continuities and transitions that linked
the Renaissance to the Middle Ages. 3 With this caution, and
recognizing the indispensable medieval contribution to sustain-
ing and enriching the learning 'rediscovered' by Petrarch and
his humanist heirs, one may identify the hallmark of Renais-
sance philosophy as an accelerated and enlarged interest,
stimulated by newly available texts, in primary sources of
Greek and Roman thought that were previously unknown or
partially known or little read. This great intellectual renewal
began dimly in the eleventh century as one of many trans-
formations whereby life became more urban, more secure, and
more secular, producing many of the new institutions -- in-
cluding universities -- now characteristic of Western Europe. In
this context philosophy also blossomed, beginning a season of
growth uninterrupted through our own time. Philosophy was
not unknown in the central Middle Ages, but it was a thin
remnant of what had been available to Augustine or Boethius.
Then, when new works from old Greece emerged in Latin ver-
sions, the writings of Euclid, Galen, and especially Aristotle
became accessible, rendered either directly from Greek or
indirectly from Arabic and Hebrew translations. The trans-
lators did their crucial work chiefly in two places: in Sicily and
Southern Italy, where ancient Greek culture had never entirely



On the relation between the Renaissance and the Middle Ages, see
Kristeller ( 1956: 553-83; 1961a: 92-119; 1972b: 110-55; 1974: 3-25); see also
Di Napoli ( 1973: 279-309).


vanished; and in Spain, where Muslim civilization had brought
with it an intellectual splendour reflecting Greek sources and
shining more brightly than indigenous Latin learning. This
critical initiative in the transmission of culture established the
foundations upon which medieval and Renaissance philosophy

Aristotle became the primary authority for philosophy -- ille
, he was called, 'the philosopher'. Although a
number of philosophical schools competed for primacy in anti-
quity, the range and internal coherence of his system put
Aristotle in a commanding position when ancient learning
passed to the Christian world east of Greece, then to the new
empire established by Mohammed's followers, and finally to
the West in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. 4 In the fourth
and fifth centuries CE, Nestorian Christians of Edessa in Syria
had put Aristotle and other Greek authors into Syriac, their
native language. When monophysite Syrians later moved to
Persia, they took these texts with them to form the basis for
more systematic Arabic translation of Greek literature after
the seventh century; in ninth-century Muslim Baghdad, Arabic
renderings of Aristotle, Plato, Peripatetic commentators, and
Neoplatonists rose to impressive levels. Muslim scholars wanted
Greek science as much as or more than philosophy, and in the
eleventh century at Monte Cassino Constantine the African
made seminal Latin translations of Arabic medical works. In
fact, secular uses of Muslim medicine and astronomy were
more attractive than speculative philosophy to early Western
students of Arab learning. Adelard of Bath, Peter the Vener-
able, and other Christian scholars took notice of Muslim
authors in the first half of the twelfth century, and after 1150
Latin translation of Arabic texts gathered speed, initially out
of scientific interest. In the south of Italy by the middle of the



For the transmission of Aristotle and other Greek, Muslim, and Jewish
authors to the Latin West, see: Copleston ( 1960-6: ii. 186-200, 205-11);
Kristeller ( 1956: 495-551; 1957; 1976b; 1977; 1980b; 1986b); Düring ( 1968);
Birkenmajer ( 1970); Minio-Paluello ( 1972); Weiss ( 1977: 3-133); Lindberg
( 1978b); Dod ( 1992); Lohr ( 1982); Grant ( 1978; 1982; 1984); Sirat ( 1985:
205-344; Siraisi ( 1987; 1990: 12-14, 57-8); Jolivet ( 1988); Jacquart ( 1988);
Maccagnolo ( 1988).


tenth century, a famous centre of medical practice had emerged in. Salerno, and by the mid-twelfth century Salernitan physicians were using Aristotle's logic and natural philosophy, making a marriage between medicine and Peripatetic naturalism fateful for European and especially Italian philosophy.
Until just before the year 1200, the school of Salerno increased its fame in anatomy, in pharmacy, in a new genre of medical 'questions', but chiefly for the celebrated Articella, a Latin collection of Hippocratic, Galenic, and other Greek medical works with Muslim commentary that formed a syllabus of set texts for notes and lectures by medical professors. A major piece of the Articella was the Introduction to Galen's Art by Johannitius, derived from an Arabic original and attracting Latin commentary that referred to Aristotle's physics and logic.

By the time Aristotle's libri naturales (books on natural philosophy) found a following in Salerno and in northern
France, the work of Latinizing the Stagirite and his commentators was well under way. Only two Aristotelian translations by Boethius, called the 'old logic', could be read at the start of the twelfth century, but after 1120 the other three Boethian versions joined new translations of parts of the Organon by James of Venice and Gerard of Cremona to form the syllabus of the 'new logic'. James, a North Italian Greek who travelled to Constantinople in 1136, was one of three major and five minor Latin translators who worked from Greek in the twelfth century. Another was Henry Aristippus of Catania, who also went to the Greek East in 1158; the third, probably a Sicilian
as well, was an obscure scholar named John. Translators from Greek in the next century were Robert Grosseteste of Oxford, Nicholas of Sicily, Bartholemew of Messina, Durandus of Alvernia, and, most important, William of Moerbeke. Strange to say, translations of a given text from Arabic sometimes followed its rendering from Greek, but many of the versions based on Arabic quickly fell out of use. In the twelfth century, John of Seville and Alfred of Sarashel worked from Arabic, but they produced less than Gerard of Cremona, who made Toledo his base. Michael Scot moved through Toledo, Bologna, and Sicily in the next century, finishing much of the enormous



body of Averroes' writings by 1230 or so. Averroes of Cordoba
died in 1198 and thus outlined Dominicus Gundissalinus; the
latter used Spanish drafts by Avendauth ( Ibn Daud, alias John
the Spaniard) to turn parts of the encyclopedic As-Sifa by
Avicenna (Ibn Sina), a Persian of the early eleventh century,
into the Latin Sufficientiae, a Neoplatonized summa of Peri-
patetic metaphysics, physics, logic, and other subjects available
to Western students by the latter half of the twelfth century.
Avicenna Canon of Medicine, influential in philosophy as
well as medicine, was also Latinized shortly afterward by
Gerard of Cremona. Algazel (al-Ghazali), Alfarabi (al-Farabi),
Alkindi (al-Kindi), Avicebron (Ibn Gabirol, Avencebrol),
Maimonides, and other Muslim and Jewish philosophical
authors were translated into Latin as well.

All these new versions of Aristotle, his commentators, and
other Greek, Arabic and Hebrew sources put extraordinary
strains on the slim lexicon of philosophical Latin. One estimate
suggests that medieval translators covered more than thirty
different Arabic terms with the Latin esse ('to be'), and Greek
brought its own set of challenges. 5 Translators responded early,
often, and ingeniously, devising a new philosophical dialect of
Latin unknown to Cicero or Virgil. For Renaissance humanists
Who strove to purify Latin, these inventions were a constant
irritant, as one illustration will show. When Aristotle needed
to distinguish the singular from the universal, he used an
artificial expression, rode ti (literally, 'this particular what'),
possible in Greek, if not beautiful. In similar contexts, Scotus
and other medieval thinkers wrote haecceitas, a less elegant
Latin neologism composed of the feminine singular (haec) of a
demonstrative pronominal adjective, plus an emphatic particle
(-ce), plus an ending (-itas) suggesting abstract quality. Un-
classical coinages of this type enraged Lorenzo Valla and other
humanists, who shamed later users of Latin into dropping
some, but not all, of them. The cumbersome Scotist haecceitas
died off, but in the same context identitas (idem, 'same', +
-itas, '-ness') went on to a lively philosophical career. Cicero



Jolivet ( 1988: 118-23).


himself had approved earlier neologisms such as qualitas, ans-
wering to the Greek poiotês, and all but the most recalcitrant
antiquarians had to permit some new terminology. 6 The need
for lexical growth became clearer as more and more of the
central Aristotelian texts filled the reading-lists.

James of Venice prepared the first Latin Metaphysics from
Greek in the second quarter of the twelfth century, soon
revised and followed by two more from Greek and one from
Arabic. William of Moerbeke finished the last medieval Meta-
based on Greek before 1272, in time for Aquinas to use
it. Late in the twelfth century and early in the thirteenth, parts
of the Nicomachean Ethics went through two translations be-
fore Grosseteste's complete rendering of 1246-7. Grosseteste,
William of Moerbeke, Gerard of Cremona, and James of
Venice also made commentaries by Simplicius, Ammonius,
Themistius, Alexander, Philoponus, and Eustratius partially
accessible to a Western readership during the century-and-a-
half that saw almost all of Aristotle Latinized. By the end of
the thirteenth century, of all the Aristotelian works now usually
counted as genuine, only several books of the Eudemian Ethics
were still missing from the Corpus, though the Poetics in
William of Moerbeke's version seems to have found few read-
ers. Book 7 of the Eudemian Ethics joined a piece of the.
Magna Moralia between 1258 and 1266 in a compilation called
De bona fortuna. With the arrival of this treatise On Good
, Europe had almost as much of Aristotle as it has
now, but Peripatetic fortunes were not all good.

Having amassed a huge primary and secondary literature,
scholastic philosophers soon found conflicts and contradictions
within the Aristotelian tradition, not to speak of the dissent
that lay beyond. Tracts by Albert the Great On Fifteen Prob-
, by Aquinas On the Unity of the Intellect against Averroes,
and by Giles of Rome On the Errors of Philosophers showed
in their titles how a great deal of learning could be a danger-
ous thing. The University of Paris declared its allegiance to.
Aristotle in 1255, but in 1270 and again in 1277 the Bishop of



Cicero, Academica 1. 25; Copleston ( 1960-6: ii. 272-3, 491-4, 511-17).


Paris condemned naturalist teachings of Averroist Aristotelians
that seemed to put irreverent limits on God's power. Anxieties
about Aristotle had surfaced even before. In 1210 a committee
of Parisian clergy condemned the Notebooks of David of
Dinant, a translator who studied in Greece and wrote books
that threatened to spread the disease of natural philosophy.
The synod ruled that David Notebooks were to be burned
and that 'no lectures are to be held in Paris either publicly or
privately using Aristotle's books on natural philosophy or the
commentaries. . . . Anyone . . . in possession of Master David
Quaternuli. . . shall . . . be considered a heretic.' A papal
legate to Paris added Aristotle's metaphysics to the ban on
natural philosophy a few years later, decreeing also that no
parish priest

may learn the secular sciences. . . . And if anyone obtains permis-
sion to attend the schools, let him not learn anything that is not the
true letter of the law or holy writ. . . . If from his schools he brings
. . . the dregs of the secular sciences . . ., he shall be rejected like
one besotted and trampled underfoot by all people.

Within a decade or two, this first gush of ecclesiastical panic
proved too weak to quench the flames of curiosity lit by the
new Aristotle, whose influence survived the condemnations of
the 1270s and remained vigorous for the next three centuries
and more. 7 Although many of Aristotle's works perished in
antiquity, those that survived had re-entered a Western Europe
ready to greet them enthusiastically. Most readers of the Cor-
pus and its outliers still missed two works that were to become
quite important, however. The Poetics, extant only in a few
manuscripts and a paraphrase until revived around 1500, was
to surpass even the Ars poetica
of Horace in its influence on
literary criticism. The pseudo-Aristotelian Mechanics, the only
work of applied science remaining from the Lyceum, attracted
great attention through the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries



Translations from the condemnations by Jonathan Hunt in Maccagnolo
( 1988: 429-34); see also Copleston ( 1960-6: ii. 183-5, 435-41); Lohr ( 1982:
88-92); Grant ( 1982: 537-9); Mahoney ( 1982c); Kuksewicz ( 1982b); Schmitt
( 1984: ch. 7). The word 'oeconomics' is used throughout to distinguish the
content of Aristotle's work from the modern discipline of economics.



and interested even Galileo. When Galileo first saw the moons
of Jupiter in 1610, Aristotle was still the starting-point for
philosophical and scientific discourse in Western Europe, al-
though new humanist discoveries beginning in the fifteenth
century had supplemented and challenged the Peripatetic sys-
tem with Platonic and other Greek philosophies.

'System' is perhaps the key word in appreciating the scope
and structure of Aristotle's heritage. To enter that system, a
medieval or Renaissance student would begin with Aristotle's
logical works (the organon or 'tool') to find rules and tech-
niques for clear thinking, advice on constructing valid and per-
suasive arguments, and a method for reaching what we would
call 'scientific' conclusions demonstratively or deductively. Next
came the works known in Latin as the libri naturales and
including treatises with such titles as Physics, On the Heavens,
On Generation and Corruption, Meteorology, and On the Soul.
Less frequently would a student encounter the large group of
works on zoological subjects full of data from Aristotle's scru-
pulous observations of the animal life of 'the Eastern Mediter-
ranean, but, if he took philosophy more seriously than most,
he might spend time with the Metaphysics, a text that created
its own category and became the fountain-head of medieval
and Renaissance speculation on the subject that it names.
Aristotle dealt with moral philosophy in a series of works on
politics, ethics, and 'oeconomics' (household management),
and the Corpus also includes a number of treatises on other
topics. These writings were the most influential texts read by
philosophers during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Their
rate of survival in manuscript before the invention of printing
and their multiplication in printed editions after 1470 attests
to their great popularity and wide distribution. Throughout
Europe and into the seventeenth century the Aristotelian Cor-
pus was the basis of learning in general and of philosophy in
particular. Aristotle's influence was pervasive in the university
curriculum, paramount in those parts of it closest to philosophy,
in which subject he long remained the focus of instruction. 8



Kristeller ( 1961a: 24-47; 1990a: 111-18); Lohr ( 1967-74; 1974; 1975-
80); Flodr ( 1973); Schmitt ( 1981: ch. 6); Kenny and Pinborg ( 1982); Cranz and
Schmitt ( 1984).


If Aristotle's dominance of literate discourse unified the
medieval and Renaissance West, it was not his native Greek
but the Latin of his translators that gave Europe another kind
of coherence. A decisive factor in the intellectual explosion
sparked in the twelfth century was the Latinizing of Aristotle.
Especially in the sixteenth century, some Greek authors--
including a few philosophers--attracted vernacular translators,
but Latin remained the functional language of learning
throughout the whole period. Italian, French, Spanish,
German, English, and other modern languages became the
ordinary vehicles of serious philosophy only after the mid-
sixteenth century. Even Kant wrote most of his pre-critical
works in Latin, only later helping to fashion the modern
German philosophical vocabulary. Before Bruno, Montaigne,
Descartes, Hobbes, and Kant, philosophers wrote, read, and
often spoke Latin. The humanist movement of the fifteenth
century and later equipped more and more philosophers to
cope with Plato or Aristotle in Greek, but even the most
skilful Hellenists continued to express their own thoughts in
Latin. This common language of learning connected not only
Paris and Rome but also Aberdeen and Cracow, Stockholm and
Prague. Duns Scotus in Oxford, Marsilio Ficino in Florence,
and Francisco Suárez in Salamanca could rely on this linguistic
bond with colleagues in distant and alien lands, a useful con-
vention that broke down only after the Renaissance of philo-
sophical learning had done its work.

Another of Europe's unities was the educational system of
the medieval and early modern periods. Students and masters
had organized universities in Paris and Bologna by the end of
the twelfth century. In the thirteenth century, though not
without resistance, Aristotle became well-entrenched in the
universities and philosophy prospered, thus establishing the
institutional and curricular structures that dominated the dis-
cipline until well into the seventeenth century and beyond.
The new universities grew and spread on two models, the
Parisian in northern Europe and the Bolognese in Italy. Of the
many structural and organizational differences between the
two plans, it was of special importance for the history of
philosophy that Paris gave a preliminary arts degree before


students progressed to higher faculties of law, medicine, or
theology, while at Bologna arts and medicine were part of the
same degree course, leading to a qualification usually described
as a degree 'in arts and medicine'. In this context 'arts' meant
mostly philosophy, not painting or poetry or even the 'liberal
arts' of modern usage. The term embraced geometry, mathe-
matics, music, astronomy, grammar, and other subjects, but in
the main the arts course consisted of philosophical subjects as
defined by the works of Aristotle. At Paris and most northern
universities, philosophy and allied arts subjects were seen as
preliminaries to theology; this was the curriculum in which the
greatest medieval theologians learned and taught philosophy--
Bonaventura, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham. Italian practice
was quite different. Philosophical studies in Italy were pre-
paratory to the study of medicine or law. The logic and natural
philosophy in the Aristotelian Corpus served as a 'pre-medical'
curriculum meant to introduce the aspiring physician to those
technical subjects thought to support his profession. Because
of this focus on natural philosophy, there was little formal
study of theology in Italian universities until after the Council
of Trent. 9

Thus, in medieval and Renaissance universities, both north
and south, philosophy was part of a programme of 'general
education' meant in principle to prepare students for more
advanced subjects, medicine, law, and theology--though many
stopped with the arts curriculum and spent no time in these
higher faculties. It was not just professors and their students
who cared about philosophy, however. Whether in private or
in the developing academies or as part of the court culture,
philosophy also prospered in less scholastic surroundings, es-
pecially in the late fifteenth century, although the universities
remained responsible for systematic philosophical education
and most of the original philosophizing. Intellectual life in the
Renaissance continued to revolve around this central medieval
institution, in philosophy as in other fields. Universities and
professors altered their approaches to philosophy, but in the



Kristeller ( 1953); Kibre ( 1978); Kibre and Siraisi ( 1978); Schmitt ( 1975;
1984: chs. 14, 15; 1989: ch. 7); Siraisi ( 1990: 65-70).


texts they studied, in their methods of teaching, and in their
basic motivations they kept many of their medieval habits.

Almost as soon as Aristotle became widely known in West-
ern Europe, there followed a large body of interpretation and
commentary on the core Aristotelian texts read in universities.
Commentaries, compendia, disputed questions, and discussions
of difficult passages--some original, others translated from
Greek, Arabic, and Hebrew works--multiplied with the de-
cades. By the fourteenth century a vast Latin literature had
grown up which came to be called 'Peripatetic' by analogy with
Aristotle's ancient successors in the Lyceum. Particularly num-
erous were commentaries on one or more of the set university
texts by such medieval masters as Robert Grosseteste, Albert
the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Giles of Rome, and William of
Ockham, authors still consulted and widely quoted through
early modern times. Even more important and just as durable
were the extensive and provocative commentaries and exposi-
tions prepared by Averroes for nearly the whole Aristotelian
Corpus--another instance of a strong medieval current in the
philosophical waters of the Renaissance. Although the ancient
commentators on Aristotle left a much larger literature than
that surviving from Aristotle himself, only a few of their com-
mentaries were known to the medieval West. In the four
decades after 1490, the interpretations of Alexander, Themis-
tius, Ammonius, Philoponus, Simplicius, and other Greek
commentators were added to the familiar views of Averroes,
Albert, and Thomas, thus stimulating new solutions to Aris-
totelian problems.

The chief novelty in Renaissance philosophy was hugely
improved access to a great deal of previously unknown litera-
ture from ancient Greece and Rome. Though Greek, Arabic,
and Hebrew materials continued to enter the West after the
twelfth century, appearances of new classical philosophical
texts were fewer during the following two hundred years. Then,
with the turn of the fifteenth century, Greek texts previously
unknown in Western Europe poured in at an unprecedented
rate, largely through the efforts of Italian scholars who return-
ed to Italy from their Greek journeys laden with precious



manuscripts. Most of their work of 'rediscovery' was done
before the Turks overran Constantinople in 1453 to destroy
whatever remained there of living Byzantine culture. 10 Even
earlier, the generation of Petrarch had promoted a renewed.
interest in classical studies that stimulated the search for unread
Latin texts, some of them philosophical, and brought them
into wider circulation. Nearly all of Aristotle had been avail-
able to medieval readers, but other ancient philosophers were
less well represented in the great monastic and academic libra-
ries. Pre-Socratics, Platonists, Stoics, Epicureans, Sceptics, and
Neoplatonists were known mainly through indirect channels.
Ancient Scepticism, for example, could be studied in Augustine's
critique, Against the Academics, and Neoplatonism was
prominent in a number of Christian authors; but direct and
broad access to original Greek texts of non-Aristotelian philo-
sophers was an achievement of the Renaissance.

Since the Renaissance, Plato has been considered at least
Aristotle's equal, often his better, as one of the patriarchs of
Western philosophy. Since the Romantic period, in fact, im-
portant philosophers and leading thinkers in other fields have
looked more often to Plato and his followers than to Aristotle
for inspiration. The thin state of direct knowledge of Plato
during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance may surprise
modern observers accustomed to Plato's celebrity. Of the sur-
viving dialogues and letters, only the Meno, the Phaedo, some
of the Timaeus, and a piece of the Parmenides were anywhere
available in Latin translation. 11 With the exception of the
Timaeus, a part of which at least could be read in most im-
portant libraries, even these few of Plato's works that were
Latinized were rarely seen, although Roger Bacon, Thomas



Voigt (1893); Nolhac ( 1907); Sandys ( 1908); Clark ( 1909); Sabbadini
( 1885; 1922; 1967); Cammelli ( 1941-54); Billanovich ( 1951; 1953; 1981);
Bolgar ( 1954); Ullman ( 1960; 1963); Ullman and Stadter ( 1972); Geanakoplos
( 1962; 1966; 1974; 1976; 1988; 1989); Pfeiffer ( 1968; 1976); Weiss ( 1969;
1977); Kristeller ( 1972b: 64-85); Rizzo ( 1973); Gordon ( 1974); Kenney ( 1974);
Buck ( 1976; 1981b); Buck and Heitmann ( 1983); Grafton ( 1983; 1988a; 1988b;
1990; 1991); Wilamowitz-Moellendorf ( 1982); Monfasani ( 1983b); Garin
( 1983b); Witt ( 1983); Reynolds ( 1986); Reynolds and Wilson ( 1991).


Below, Ch. 3, n. 7.


Aquinas, and a few others made use of them. Dialogues as im-
portant and (eventually) influential as the Republic, Theaetetus,
and Symposium were wholly unavailable until the fifteenth
century, when all of the extant Platonic Corpus became a
common property of the Latin-reading republic of letters.
Leonardo Bruni and others Latinized a few dialogues early in
the century, but the great accomplishment was Marsilio Ficino's,
who by 1469 had translated or retranslated all of Plato's works
and saw them printed for the first time in 1484. Through such
efforts as Ficino's, it gradually became possible to take a
broader view of philosophy than the traditional Peripatetic
framework permitted. In 1400 almost no one in the West could
have direct experience of Plato's dialogues, but within a cen-
tury all of Plato was in print, along with most of the extant
ancient literature interpreting him, all of which naturally led to
original speculation in the Platonic or Neoplatonic style.

After many centuries of analytical, historical, and philolo-
gical work, modern scholars have learned to discriminate
among the varieties of Platonic philosophy and to try to distin-
guish Plato's views from those of his master Socrates and also
from the teachings of his followers--Academics, Middle Platon-
ists, and Neoplatonists. 12 Disagreements on the interpretation
of so rich a tradition as Platonism still run hot and frequent,
but some distinctions have become generalized, as, for ex-
ample, that several centuries and much dogma stood between
Plato and Plotinus. The Renaissance, however, recognized no
deep divide between Plato's teachings and those of the Neo-
platonists. This blurring of categories was particularly momen-
tous for the fifteenth century when an immense Neoplatonic
literature--several times the size. of the Platonic Corpus--also.
became known. A primary task of translation for Ficino was
the Enneads of Plotinus, one of the subtlest and most penetra-
ting philosophical works of late antiquity and one that played a
major role in the destiny of Renaissance Platonism. Ficino also
translated treatises and commentaries by Porphyry, Iamblichus,



Merian ( 1970: 14-15, 53); Lloyd ( 1970: 272-82); Wallis ( 1972: 1-36);
Dillon ( 1977: 1-11, 22-3, 43-62); Long ( 1986: 75-6, 88-106); below, Ch. 3,
nn. 6-7.


Proclus, Synesius, and other Neoplatonists scarcely or not at
all known to the Middle Ages in the direct tradition. He and
other Renaissance thinkers associated these important texts
with a body of semi-philosophical religious material called the
Hermetic Corpus because of its false attribution to Hermes
Trismegistus, a Greek avatar of the Egyptian god Thoth. Be-
cause this Hermes was thought to have lived around the time
of Moses, his teachings were taken to be a source of ancient
theology, a prisca theologia supplementing the holier revela-
tion that Moses had received on Sinai and sanctifying the
gentile wisdom that culminated in Plato and Plotinus. This
misbegotten genealogy, certified by Lactantius, Augustine, and
other Church Fathers, was to have a profound effect on the
historiography of philosophical and other fields of learning
even after Isaac Casaubon proved it mistaken in the early
seventeenth century. Hymns thought to come from Orpheus,
various writings attributed to Pythagoras, the Chaldaean
associated with Zoroaster and the Magi, the Jewish
and Christian prophecies called the Sibylline Oracles, and other
pseudepigraphal literature spoke as forcefully to Renaissance
readers as texts now regarded as genuine works of Plato or the

Much more fragmentary, in the Renaissance as now, was
knowledge of other schools of ancient philosophy with intellec-
tual or institutional identities independent of the Platonic and
Peripatetic traditions. Even today, much of what we know
about Stoics, Epicureans, and Sceptics is second-hand infor-
mation transmitted by opponents or by careless compilers.
None the less, the humanists were naturally impressed that
Cicero had taken these schools seriously as rivals of the Aca-
demy and Lyceum, and even the incomplete information be-
queathed us by the Renaissance is a rich philosophical legacy.
However partial our knowledge, it was crucial to the later
evolution of Western philosophy that the Renaissance not only
assimilated these disparate and independent traditions but also
transformed them into new currents of speculation as powerful
as the Epicureanism that stimulated the scientific revolution or
the Stoicism that so deeply affected early modern moral philo-


sophy. A key event in this process was the recovery of Diogenes Laertius
' Lives of the Philosophers, a late ancient.
compilation poor in critical insight but, compared to anything
else available, packed with information and misinformation
about a number of ancient philosophies of interest to early
modern scholars. Diogenes' detailed account of ancient atomism
from Democritus and Leucippus to Epicurus enabled sixteenth-
and seventeenth-century thinkers dissatisfied with Aristotle's
physics to reshape this material into a coherent philosophy of
nature, advocated by such scientific revolutionaries as Pierre
Gassendi and Robert Boyle. 13 Diogenes' description of other
philosophies, including the various pre-Socratic formulations,
supplemented and sometimes contradicted the other chief
sources of such information, from Plato and Aristotle through
Simplicius. Likewise, Cicero and Seneca and other Latin
writers had given the Middle Ages some knowledge of the
ancient Stoics, but because these Romans had little to say
about certain aspects of Stoicism, especially physics and logic,
a more comprehensive approach to Stoic thought awaited the
recovery of Diogenes, Sextus Empiricus, and other Greek
texts of historical as well as philosophical value. 14

The revival of ancient philosophy was particularly dramatic
in the case of Scepticism. This critical and anti-dogmatic way
of thinking was quite important in antiquity, but in the Middle
Ages its influence faded. What little was known about Scep-
ticism attracted scant attention from medieval thinkers, most
of whom regarded philosophy as a medium of belief, not as its
solvent. In the fifteenth century, however, the two most pro-
minent Greek authorities on Scepticism to survive antiquity
disturbed Europe's conscience again. Neither was a thinker of
philosophical depth, but both provided new data, enabling
Renaissance thinkers to assemble fresh ideas into a useful and
novel way of philosophizing. Diogenes Laertius furnished
doxographic material on the Sceptical schools and left a sketch
of one of their founders in his life of Pyrrho. Sextus Empiricus



Below, Ch. 4, n.2.


Below, Ch. 4, n. 89.


who compiled information in late antiquity on the various
schools of ancient Scepticism, provided a much fuller account.
When the works of Sextus and Diogenes were recovered and
read alongside texts as familiar as Cicero Academica, a new
energy stirred in philosophy; by Montaigne's time, Scepticism
was powerful enough to become a major force in the Renais-
sance heritage prepared for Descartes and his successors. 15

The Renaissance resurrected not only whole texts but also
fragmentary material from a wide variety of sources which
allowed scholars of the time to sketch--albeit very incompletely
--outlines of philosophical opinion otherwise not well deline-
ated. Because no original Greek Stoic survived on a Platonic
or Aristotelian scale, for example, one had to go to Diogenes,
Galen, or Sextus to learn the logic of Chrysippus, or to Cicero,
Plutarch, and Seneca to discover the ethical teachings of Zeno.
For some of the most innovative and influential ancient philo-
sophers, not only Stoics but also pre-Socratics, Epicureans,
Sceptics, Neoplatonists and others, the process was the same.
Since the Renaissance had to discover or rediscover the tools
of philology and history needed for such detective work, the
pioneering labours of obscure humanist scholars--Gentian
Hervet, who translated Sextus, or Willem Canter, who first
published a Greek text of the Eclogae of Stobaeus--certainly
deserve our memory and admiration. It was they who first
edited, organized, translated, printed, and disseminated the
philosophical remains of antiquity that succeeding centuries
have come to take for granted. If Thales and his successors
were the fathers of Western philosophy, the humanist scholars
of the Renaissance were the midwives of its rebirth in a clas-
sical form.

Philosophy in a Renaissance context

What should the Renaissance mean to us? The French word
means rebirth, and when the Swiss art historian Jacob Burck-



Below, Ch. 4, nn. 56-9.



hardt applied it more than a century ago to the period of our
inquiry, he meant to suggest that the warm sun of Italian
culture had revived learning, statecraft, and the arts after a
dormant millennium in Europe's cold Gothic tomb. The geo-
graphical and chronological reference of the term has expanded
since Burckhardt's day, until now it extends to most of Europe
the early fourteenth to the early seventeenth century, but
its use is still strongly coloured by Burckhardt's original inter-
ests, which today we would call art history, intellectual history,
and cultural history. Even Burckhardt's memorable concep-
tion of the Renaissance city-state as 'a work of art' implies a
different sense of the political order from what is conveyed in
the great categories--mainly political categories--that distin-
guish ancient, medieval, and modern times. If the common
image of Western history is a panorama of states and wars, the
usual tableau of the Renaissance looks somewhat different:
the props include paintings, buildings, books, and, suffusing
the whole, the bright light of a less concrete mentality ex-
pressed in terms like "individualism" or 'the dignity of man'.
Machiavelli and Cesare Borgia fascinated Burckhardt as poli-
tical agents of solitary genius, but he was also dazzled by the
romances of Boccaccio, the paintings of Leonardo, and the
polymath brilliance of Leon Battista Alberti. It was in painters
and poets as much as in princes and diplomats that Burckhardt
detected the values that created the modern world and marked
the end of the Middle Ages. His Renaissance brought with it
not only secularism and individualism but also new expressions
of style and original patterns of thought, including philoso-
phical thought. Though he admitted some continuity between
medieval and modern times, he stressed what seemed him
most discontinuous with the proximate past, looking ahead to
the innovations. of modernity rather than backward to what
endured from the Middle Ages. Thus, he treated the indivi-
dualist morality of the Renaissance as a great novelty, a de-
fining feature of modernity, and undervalued the debt of
Renaissance thinkers to their ancient, early Christian, and
medieval predecessors. Burckhardt's conception of the Renais-
sance has been controversial but enormously influential, leading


other historians to replay his themes in an amazing array of
variations. 16

Philosophy as such had little to do with Burckhardt's con-
ception of the period. That he paid small attention to the
common practice of philosophers in the Renaissance is unsur-
prising, since what remained central for them was part of the
very thing against which he defined his new cultural ideal--the
lively tradition of philosophy invented in the medieval univer-
sities and sustained in early modern Europe in forms more
congenial to Abelard or Albertus than to Hobbes or Hume.
Inasmuch as Burckhardt set out to write a broad 'essay' on
intellectual and cultural history, what he says about so tech-
nical a subject as philosophy is meagre. Moreover, both in his
day and in the Renaissance, 'philosophy' meant something
different from what it does now. In the medieval and early
modern periods, philosophers were expected to master not
just logic, moral philosophy, and metaphysics but also a range
of subjects now considered disciplines of the natural sciences.
Close institutional and intellectual ties also kept the philo-
sopher in touch with medicine, theology, history, rhetoric,
grammar, and other fields. The compass of twentieth-century
philosophy, especially in the Anglo-American tradition, has
narrowed; even within the university, most people who read
philosophy in any depth are practitioners, and the broader
educational influence of the discipline is confined to a corner
of the curriculum. Philosophy no longer plays a large part in
the pedagogic formation of an educated public in the English-
speaking world, but things were very different in the Renais-
sance. To have a university education meant encountering
philosophy as a prominent part of the curriculum, which in
turn required reading a variety of ancient and medieval texts.
Even people without a systematic university education could
be well versed in philosophical subjects, sometimes as a matter



Garin ( 1938); Ferguson ( 1948: 179-204); Keller ( 1957); Kristeller ( 1972b:
24; 1981; 1982; 1985d; 1985e: 3-23; 1990a: 2-3, 20-4; 1990b); Trinkaus
( 1970; 1983: 343-403); Di Napoli ( 1973: 31-84); Burke ( 1974: 14, 20-6, 239,
2 75)-6); Sozzi ( 1982); Burckhardt ( 1990).


of amateur acquaintance, sometimes as a mark of real exper-
tise. If the term 'Renaissance philosophy' is to have any his-
torical meaning, one must admit such differences. It will not
do simply to extract issues from the past that may bear on
twentieth-century problems and then to treat a collection of
such topics as history. Presentism can only distort our sense of
the past, just as antiquarianism deprives the past of a living
voice. The point is to learn how philosophy worked in the
Renaissance as a period with a distinct historical identity, and
then, having met Renaissance philosophers on their own terms,
to appreciate their work as valuable in its own right before
trying to trace its influence or weigh its utility in our time.

Since Burckhardt published his great book, debate about
the meaning and value of the term 'Renaissance' has been
continuous and copious. Without rehearsing these controver-
sies, we will apply the word to European history from the
early fourteenth to the early seventeenth century, avoiding any
prior commitment to a stronger sense of the term than this
chronological use. At the start, we will try to carry little of the
usual baggage about 'the discovery of the world and of man'
and other broad conceptions familiar from textbook accounts
of the Renaissance -- even though some of them may be well
justified in the end. Our task, in other words, is to describe
and evaluate philosophy as practised and read in early modern
Europe, recognizing that the colouriess phrase 'early modern'
refers roughly to the same period imbued with much brighter
tones by the word 'Renaissance'. Whatever words we choose,
we must insist at all points on the historicity of the philosophy
of the period, its development in a particular context of intel-
lectual, social, economic, political, and other forces that shaped
its distinct historical identity.

Among the major events and movements of the early modern
period, a few stand out for their special relevance to the
history of philosophy, and some -- the religious and political
changes that shook church and state in Europe during the
same centuries when humanism transformed her culture -- are
important enough to require extensive treatment below. Here,


we may begin by noting the enormous impact of the invention
of printing in movable type. 17 The first book produced by this
revolutionary technology appeared about the middle of the
fifteenth century, and the first philosophical text was published
around 1470. From that time until our own day, the printing
press became Europe's chief instrument of learned commun-
ication. Within thirty years of 1470, for example, about seven
hundred books relating to Aristotle were printed, and during
the same period Marsilio Ficino brought a complete Latin
Plato into circulation, evidence of a quickening pace of pub-
lication that accelerated throughout the next century, when
thousands of editions. of philosophical books saw the light.
Manuscript production did not cease entirely; handwritten texts
of some philosophical books considered dangerous or suspect
continued to circulate, while dedication copies and lecture
notes remained in manuscript for different reasons. In general,
however, print became the dominant medium, making books
cheaper for all and speeding the circulation of new and old
ideas alike. Publishers were an industry of subversives when
they disseminated the tracts of Luther or the treatises of
Machiavelli, but they also increased the weight of ancient and
medieval tradition when they printed Aristotle or Aquinas in a
form more accessible, more convenient, and more accurate
than anything that literate people had ever before enjoyed.

As the world of learning expanded with the growing reach of
the printed word, the world of experience widened in broader
and bolder voyages of exploration, whose repercussions in the
philosopher's study were unexpectedly great. 18 Discoveries of
new lands and peoples shattered the space in which Plato and
Aristotle had lived and thought, breaking the narrower boun-
daries that they naturally took as a framework for natural and
moral philosophy. An especially urgent question was whether
the people of the New World were as human as Europeans or



Butler ( 1940); Golsdmidt ( 1943); Bühler ( 1960; 1973); Febvre and
Martin ( 1971); Ullman and Stadter ( 1972); Hirsch ( 1974; 1979; 1980); Gerulaitis
( 1976); Lowry ( 1979); Eisenstein ( 1980); Grendler ( 1984); Chartier
( 1987).


Parry ( 1966); below, pp. 112-16, 253-60, 274-8, 299-300.


perhaps some strange and lower kind. This question screamed
through sixteenth-century Spain, and it still echoed in philo-
sophical discussions of human equality and slavery after the
founders of the United States drafted their Constitution. The
new discoveries also raised questions about the scope of man's
ingenuity in exploring and then exploiting the human condition
as part of this novel experience of nature, another Renaissance
discovery whose effects are still with us, for better or for

Historians give the name 'Scientific Revolution' to another
series of discoveries on a different frontier; they occurred
mostly in the seventeenth century and hence largely outside
the scope of a book about the Renaissance. But some of the
new science had its roots in our earlier period. 19 The year 1543
saw the publication not only of the epochal work of Nicolaus Copernicus
On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres but
also of Vesalius' magnificent volume On the Structure of the
Human Body
, texts that transformed the sciences of astronomy
and anatomy. Less spectacular efforts of physicians, natural
historians, mathematicians, and others led to progress in zool-
ogy, botany, mechanics, mathematics, and various applica-
tions of what we now call 'science', and what the Renaissance
called 'natural philosophy'. The very terminology implies that
these new scientific achievements would have caught the atten-
tion of philosophers, when Vesalius, Copernicus and others
held the ancient macrocosms and microcosms of Plato and
Aristotle up to the mirror of contemporary speculation and
experience. Even though many Peripatetics wished to dismiss
or ignore such novelties as irrelevant and impertinent, pro-
ponents of Aristotelian physical science had eventually to con-
front the new claims, if only to refute them. Not many were as
fixed in their recalcitrance as Cesare Cremonini, remembered
as the man who refused to look through Galileo's telescope.
When he observed a new star in 1572, the more inquisitive
Tycho Brahe saw trouble in the changeless heavens of the Decaelo (On the Heavens)



For a review of current opinion on the Scientific Revolution, see Lindberg
and Westman ( 1990); see also Trinkaus ( 1983: 140-68).


caelo (On the Heavens) and set a strenuous empirical test for
Aristotelian physics and cosmology. At the same time, dis-
coveries in biology and medicine penetrated the standard treat-
ments of life, perception, and cognition which had accumulated
for centuries under the rubric of Aristotle De anima (On the
. By the end of the sixteenth century, major battles had
been fought in the war between Aristotelians and innovators --
Peripatetici against novatores -- and they continued through the
next hundred years. Galileo brought the conflict to a head in
1632 with his Dialogue on the Two Great World Systems,
Ptolemaic and Copernican
, but his ecclesiastical defeat and
moral victory by no means settled the struggle.


In his most provocative book even the adventurous Galileo
took an ancient text, Ptolemy Almagest, as his point of de-
parture; at least to this extent, the Florentine rebel showed
himself loyal to the humanist habits of Renaissance intellec-
tuals. So far as philosophy is concerned, humanism was the
key cultural phenomenon of early modern Europe. The word
'humanism' has been the subject of much learned controversy
in our time, both because it was a coinage of the nineteenth
century, not a term used by Renaissance people, and also
because in some contexts it connotes an aggressive anthropo-
centric secularism quite foreign to the Christian world of early
modern Europe. None the less, the word has proved useful,
perhaps indispensable, in describing central and distinctive
features of early modern culture. 20 No neat definition of



Current conceptions of Renaissance humanism derive mainly from the
work of P. O. Kristeller; see Kristeller ( 1956: 11-15, 261-78, 553-83; 1961a:
3-23, 92-119; 1964a: 147-65; 1972a; 1974: 3-25; 1985e: 111-27; 1988b;
1988c); 1990a: 1-88); see also Sabbadini ( 1922); Toffanin ( 1929; 1964);
Campana ( 1946); Weiss ( 1947; 1949; 1964; 1967); Garin ( 1965a; 1967a);
Bouwsma: ( 1973); Ullmann ( 1977); Witt ( 1982; 1988); Trinkaus ( 1983: 3-31,
52-139; 1988a); Perreiah ( 1982); Overfield ( 1984); Grafton and Jardine ( 1986).
Rabil ( 1988) is a 3-volume collection of current scholarship on humanism;
especially relevant to this volume are the contributions by D'Amico, Geana-
koplos, Grafton, Kristeller, Monfasani, Percival, Ruderman, Santoro, Trink-
aus, and Witt. See also above, n. 10.


humanism will be meaningful, especially as applied over
several centuries of intellectual development, but its ancestry
can be traced to classical times. Cicero and other ancient
authors used such expressions as studia humanitatis and litterae
to describe a liberal education centred on authori-
tative texts in Greek and Latin that taught grammar, rhetoric,
poetry, history, and moral philosophy. In Italy of the four-
teenth and fifteenth centuries, when the urge quickened to
revive ancient culture as a model for contemporary life, the
first people to be called 'humanists' studied and taught Latin
and eventually Greek texts in those subjects. Cicero, Horace,
Livy, Ovid, Priscian, Quintilian, Seneca, and Virgil were pro-
minent among the ancient authors who first interested the
humanists. As knowledge of Greek became more common,
they turned their attention to Homer, Pindar, Sophocles, Thu-
cydides, Demosthenes, Isocrates, and other Greek authorities.
A curriculum grounded in such writers naturally had more to
do with linguistic, literary, and historical issues than with
philosophical problems, least of all with those questions that
fell outside the province of moral philosophy. 21

As a distinctive feature of medieval Latin culture, humanism
first emerged in the (by medieval standards) increasingly secu-
lar world of Northern Italy; in particular, lay notaries who rose
in the ranks of town and chancery and law teachers who
organized new universities were important advocates of early
humanism. In eleventh-century Pavia and twelfth-century
Bologna, new interest in Roman law stimulated curiosity about
the ancient world, and the rise of an urban economy helped
liberate the classics from the old grammar curriculum of the
cathedral schools and the sole dominion of the church. The ars
dictaminis, which crafted letters by applying Cicero's rhetoric
to written rather than spoken language, began in the great
Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino in the late eleventh



Cicero, For Archias the Poet 1. 1-4; On the Orator 1.4. 13; Familiar
Letters 11
. 27. 6; On the Republic 1. 17. 28; Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13. 17,
19. 14. 1-5; Marrou ( 1956: 98-9, 217-26); Kristeller ( 1961a: 8-11; 1990a: 3-
5). On humanism and history, see Garin ( 1954: 192-210); Buck ( 1957); Burke
( 1970); Huppert ( 1970); Kelley ( 1970a; 1970b; 1984; 1988); Struever ( 1970);
Hay ( 1977); Cochrane ( 1981); Fryde ( 1983).


century. By the early twelfth century, this new type of prose
had narrowed its educational scope as its centre moved to the
more practical precincts of Bologna, whence it spread to other
parts of Europe. Another medieval form, the ars arengandi,
imitated the pseudo-Ciceronian Rhetorica ad Herennium. It
developed in Italy as a guide for secular oratory, while the ars
praedicandi first arose in northern Europe as a genre of man-
uals for the preparation of sermons. From the mid-twelfth
century, Italy sent her scholars to France for theology, dialec-
tic, and grammar, but French students who wanted Roman or
canon law travelled to Italy, where the pragmatic needs of
notaries and lawyers discouraged the cruder classicism of the
medieval grammar curriculum. But after the mid-thirteenth
century, Italian dictatores began to read manuals of poetry and
grammar written in France and to decorate the previously
spare style of their dictamen with classical allusion. Meanwhile,
Bolognese professors who had been deaf to Ciceronian oratory
were lecturing on the Ad Herennium, thus planting the rhe-
torical temptations that would eventually seduce humanists
from their earliest loyalties to grammar and poetry. 22

One of the most effective heralds of the new classicism was
Lovato Lovati, a judge in Padua who lived until 1309. Lovati
searched the abbey library of Pomposa for forgotten classical
authors, poets especially, whom he advertised to his circle of
legal friends. Foreshadowing the Renaissance obsession with
the physical remains of antiquity, he thought he had identified
the bones of Antenor, a Homeric hero, unearthed in a con-
struction project. Lovati's most important associate was
Albertino Mussato, a Paduan notary, who made himself an
expert on Senecan tragedy and even wrote his own Latin play,
the Ecerinis, a work of dramatic propaganda on the tyrant
Ezzelino da Romano that showed how ancient literary forms
could address current affairs. Mussato's play won him the
laurel crown in Padua in 1315, the first such poetic coronation
recorded in more than a millennium. 23 From the beginning,



Witt ( 1982; 1988); Murphy ( 1974: 135-6, 191-212, 253-9, 266-8, 300-
18, 343-55); Grendler ( 1989: 111-17); Kristeller ( 1990a: 228-46).


Weiss ( 1947; 1949; 1964: 14-22; 1969: 16-29).


the movement inaugurated by Lovati, Mussato, and their
friends attracted people who for professional or personal rea-
sons were more interested in grammar, rhetoric, and poetry as
literary studies than in dialectic or in the technical disciplines
of the medieval quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy,
and music). As their ambitions reached from poetry into prose,
humanists invaded the territory of logicians and natural philo-
sophers who controlled the arts faculties of the universities. By
the turn of the fourteenth century, this contest was already
under way in Padua, which was a centre for the philosophy
and medicine taught by Pietro d' Abano as well as the human-
istic studies pursued by Mussato and Lovati.

Thus, Francesco Petrarca -- or Petrarch, as he is usually called
in English -- was not the first restorer of antiquity, but he was
the earliest figure of European eminence to cultivate the litterae
as the Renaissance conceived them. 24 While re-
maining a devout Christian, Petrarch wished to revive certain
values that had died with antiquity because he disliked some
features of the medieval world in which he was born, and
other early humanists agreed with him that the Middle Ages
were barbarous and uncultivated. Petrarch was particularly
hostile to medieval philosophy as he came to know it in the
Italy of the mid-fourteenth century. He found its language
ugly, contrived, and cumbersome, falling far short of the clas-
sical norms that he esteemed in Cicero; the content was also
distasteful, too dependent on infidel sources followed blindly
by medieval imitators. Averroes, Islam's most esteemed scien-
tific and philosophical thinker, was his blête noire; Petrarch
called him a 'mad dog' (canis rabidus) at one point. 25 If reli-
gious and racial prejudice of this sort was one of Petrarch's
instincts -- a common failing of his time that survives in our



For an English life and works, see Wilkins ( 1961); Mann ( 1984) provides
an even briefer treatment. See also Nolhac ( 1907); Mommsen ( 1942); Billanovich
( 1947; 1951; 1953; 1981); Kristeller ( 1955b; 1964a: 1-18; 1983c); Wilkins
( 1955; 1958; 1959; 1960; 1978); Baron ( 1968b: 6-50; 1985); Bosco ( 1968);
Kessler ( 1978); Trinkaus ( 1979); Foster ( 1984). The Latin works are in Petrarch
( 1965) and ( 1975) with English translations of selected pieces in ( 1971) and in
Cassirer, Kristeller, and Randall ( 1948).


Petrarch ( 1965: ii. 812); Cassirer, Kristeller, and Randall ( 1948: 143).


own -- we may also credit him and other humanist with estab-
fishing trends in philosophy that continued for centuries. Be-
cause medieval logic and natural philosophy seemed so unlike
the admired classics, ugly in their technical language and re-
mote from human concerns, the humanists despised just those
parts of fourteenth-century philosophy that seem most 'pro-
gressive' from some twentieth-century perspectives. Petrarch,
like many of the humanists who came after him, thought that
moral philosophy was useful to people as a guide for right
living, but that logic and natural philosophy, the parts of
philosophy most prominent in university curricula, were of
little value. While knowing little about the Greek context, he
took a position like the one expressed long before by Socrates
and the Sophists. Until the end of the sixteenth century,
humanists stressed moral philosophy as the branch of philo-
sophical studies that best met their needs. They subordinated
philosophy as a whole to moral interests because only through
moral inquiry could they discover how all the various uses of
reason ought to be integrated within some larger scheme of
value and action. 26

Humanists were not professors of philosophy; they were
neither producers nor even large consumers of philosophy as
that discipline was practised in late medieval and early modern
universities. They cared most about poetry, rhetoric, grammar,
and history, but also about ethics, politics, and oeconomics.
Their model was Cicero, the ancient Latin master of the philo-
sophical as well as the literary studia humanitatis. Cicero wrote
in a forceful, elegant style that the humanists preferred to the
living but unlovely Latin of the scholastics, and his writings-
covered many of the topics that they found most necessary for
an active life in the contemporary world. Besides stylish letters
to friends and relatives, finely crafted revisions of his speeches
in the courts, and theoretical dialogues on the rhetoric of
Roman lawyers, Cicero also left treatises on moral philosophy
such as On Duties and the Tusculan Disputations. The curri-



Kristeller ( 1990a: 20-68); on the term 'dialectic' below, see MichaudQuantin
( 1969).


culum sanctified by Cicero's example stirred the hearts of
humanists unmoved by the logic and natural philosophy that
dominated the Italian universities of the period.

From Petrarch's time onward, when professional humanists
took any interest at all in philosophy, they nearly always con-
cerned themselves with ethical questions. 27 If they worried
about logic, it was usually to demand reform of scholastic
techniques taught in universities. In the arts faculties, especially
in Italy, the primary role of logical instruction was to equip the
student with tools of thought needed for natural philosophy
and medicine, but the humanists wanted a logic more closely
allied to rhetoric and better suited to practical persuasion than
to scientific demonstration. In the middle of the fifteenth cen-
tury, this was the core of Lorenzo Valla's critique of the
scholastic logic fathered by Boethius and still paramount in the
classrooms of later medieval Europe. Like many other human-
ists, Valla had studied law, and he saw logic -- dialectic, in his
terminology -- as an adjunct to pleading in the law courts,
arguing in the political arena, or preaching and persuading in
daily moral and religious life. Throughout the fifteenth and
early sixteenth centuries, condemnation of scholastic university
education was the ceaseless hue and cry of the humanists. In
this regard, although he encouraged Aristotelian studies within
certain limits, Leonardo Bruni was a true disciple of Petrarch,
scornful of the late medieval logic developed primarily at
Oxford and Paris but imported into Italy in its full vigour
during Petrarch's lifetime. After the humanist movement had
become international in scope, three of the most eminent
humanists of the early sixteenth century echoed the same
themes: Thomas More, a pious Englishman, Desiderius
Erasmus, a cosmopolitan Netherlander, and Juan Luis Vives,
a widely travelled Spaniard of Converso descent, were unani-
mous in their contempt for university logic. They saw logic
as barbaric, inelegant, hypertechnical, and ultimately devoid
of any truly human purpose. When they saw logicians using



Garin ( 1961a: 60-72); Schmitt ( 1984: ch. 7); Kristeller ( 1988); Kraye
( 1988).


words, phrases, and constructions not Certified in classical
usage, they became hostile to the precise technical language
found in the widely read works of Peter of Spain and his

Whether as critics or contributors, the professional human-
ists who took a lively interest in philosophy -- Petrarch, Bruni,
Valla, Vives, and others -- were the exceptions. Most of their
colleagues were educators or classical scholars. Their ideo-
logical goal was to revive standards and values of classical
antiquity for which the evidence was more philological than
philosophical, even though the humanist ideology had great
implications for philosophy. Humanists often earned their keep
as teachers or tutors, charged with educating the young in
growing cities or in rich princely households. In the first quarter
of the fifteenth century, Gasparino Barzizza, Vittorino da
Feltre, and. Guarino Guarini founded schools in Padua,
Mantua, Venice, Verona, and Ferrara that preached the new
classicizing ideal and eventually drew students from all over
Europe. Meanwhile, around 1402, Pier Paolo Vergerio issued
the first humanist educational manifesto, On Gentle Behaviour
and Liberal Studies for Youth
, followed by many other pro-
clamations of the studia humanitatis from Leonardo Bruni,
Eneo Silvio Piccolomini, Maffeo Vegio, Battista Guarini, and
their imitators in the sixteenth and later centuries. Humanists
taught their charges to master the best Latin and to acquire
some Greek along with the literary trappings of the two lan-
guages. Rhetoric and prose, including history and moral philo-
sophy, became more fashionable than poetry and grammar.
Grammar and style were to be learned not through logical
prescription but by imitating the ancients, most of all Cicero --
not so much his philosophical writings as his letters and
speeches. Humanists abandoned most textbooks commonly
used in medieval classrooms, and they prepared simple teaching
editions of the classics. Their aims were vocational inasmuch
as they prepared students for civil and ecclesiastical careers that
depended on the new oratorical literacy. Similar schools grew
up outside Italy, and by 1500 or so humanist education had
become fashionable for the wealthier families of Europe, ini-


tiating a tradition that still survives, as in St Paul's School in
London, founded by John Colet in 1509. Even in the distant
north, the wealthy and powerful found humanism prestigious:
Thomas Linacre, an English humanist and physician who died
in 1524, was given the task of educating Prince Arthur, the son
and heir of Henry VII who died in 1502. Colet, Linacre, and
their predecessors taught not only the elements of Latin and
Greek but also the values of the Roman and Hellenic literature
from which they drew their examples and made their assign-
ments. Like the French governess of more recent times, the
humanist pedagogue was proof of status as well as a channel of
culture. The education that he purveyed was a class and gender
privilege, but in strictly academic terms it was a rich curricu-
lum. As scholars, diplomats, politicians, professors, clergy,
lawyers, physicians, or managers, some beneficiaries of human-
ist education went on to make cultural contributions of their
own -- like Angelo Poliziano, who translated Homer while still
a teenager, entered the Medici household in Florence as tutor
to the children of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and became the
greatest philologist of the later fifteenth century and a major
poet in Latin and Italian. 28

After the religious split provoked by Luther, Catholic and
Protestant education diverged somewhat, though both remained
heavily committed to their common heritage of scholasticism
and humanism. Humanist pedagogy served philosophical and
theological interests in all the major confessions. The Lutheran
curriculum established by Philip Melanchthon and Johann
Sturm stressed classical languages and literature while pro-
pagating the Peripatetic tradition, but now students were ex-
pected to read Greek well enough to cope with Aristotle
Nicomachean Ethics and the New Testament in the original.
Education in the new Jesuit schools of the sixteenth century



On humanist education, see esp. Grendler ( 1989: 117-271); also Woodward
( 1906; 1963); Bush ( 1939: 63-77); Garin ( 1957a); McConica ( 1965: 24-
5, 42-54); Weiss ( 1967: 84-127); Caspari ( 1968: 28-40); Grafton and Jardine
( 1986: 1-28); Grafton ( 1988a); Gleason ( 1989). On Poliziano, see also Micheli
( 1917); Scaglione ( 1961); Maier ( 1965; 1966); Bigi ( 1967); Garin ( 1967a: 131-
62); Tateo ( 1972); Branca ( 1983); Kraye ( 1983); Grafton ( 1991: 47-75).
Poliziano ( 1971) is a reprint of the 1553 Opera.


was likewise exacting and efficient. Codified in the famous
Ratio studiorum (plan of studies) of 1586, the Jesuit curriculum
shaped the education of powerful Catholic populations in
Europe until Clement XIV suppressed the Society of Jesus in
1773. The Jesuits promoted a sound humanist curriculum based
on Cicero, Vergil, and other classical texts as the foundation
for a rigorous introduction to the philosophy of late scholas-
ticism. When Descartes went to La Flèche in the early seven-
teenth century, scholastic manuals summarized the philosophy
that he eventually rejected and humanist Jesuits taught the
classical erudition that he finally abandoned.

Even though humanism often clashed with the philosophical
culture of the arts faculties, the universities, especially in Italy,
felt its influence from early on. Since students and professors
read, wrote, and spoke a late form of Latin, it was inevitable
that new standards for the classical languages would cause
profound transformations in the intellectual life of the univer-
sities -- not least in philosophy, which had long depended on its
own Latin patois not only as a medium of technical discourse
but also, in some applications, as a kind of metalanguage. In
Paris around the turn of the sixteenth century, for example,
Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples transformed habits of learned com-
munication in northern Europe by reissuing and revising
humanist translations of Aristotle and other authors meant to
replace medieval vulgate versions that were often philosophi-
cally unreliable and always, in the eyes of the humanists,
philologically and aesthetically inadequate. Since Paris was the
Athens of medieval thought, it was fitting that by the middle
of the sixteenth century students and professors of her univer-
sity could read Aristotle in Greek, thanks to the promotion of
Greek in humanist education as well as the propagation of the
humanist principle that an ancient text could be read properly
only in its own language. Paris was relatively advanced, though
not unique, in raising philosophy's philological and historical
consciousness. Inasmuch as the medieval vulgate texts
that the humanists wished to eradicate had been deeply em-
bedded for centuries in the practice of philosophy -- the best-
known commentaries, for example, being keyed to old Latin


translations -- it is difficult to exaggerate the impact of the new
philology on the development of early modern philosophy.

Prerequisite to the reform of philology was the recovery of
ancient texts, including the ancient philosophical works that
humanists made newly available to Europe. Without the
labours of the humanists, we and our Renaissance ancestors
would know much less of such towering figures as Homer,
Pindar, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Plato, Ptolemy, Archimedes,
Galen, Quintilian, Cicero, and Lucretius; in other words, much
of classical literature as we came to have it was a humanist re-
creation, hard won in searches of monastic libraries that had
lain fallow for centuries or in risky voyages to the lands of the
Greek East. But rediscovery was only part of the story. From
the time of Petrarch's pioneering studies of Livy and Cicero,
humanists worked hard to refine their understanding of what
they found: comparing, correcting, editing, translating, anno-
tating, interpreting, and, in an excess of enthusiasm for their
new storehouse of wisdom, sometimes even forging the texts
that they venerated. 29 They modernized the study of classical
manuscripts by improving their knowledge not only of ancient
languages but also of the history and institutions of the people
who had spoken them. Renaissance philology, in other words,
was a historical enterprise, a point worth bearing in mind
when one examines the philologized philosophy of that age.
Philology and philosophy were married most creatively in the
person of Lorenzo Valla, who made himself notorious in 1440
by showing that the so called 'Donation of Constantine' (a
priceless document that traced papal power and property in
the West to an imperial gift) was a forgery. 30 Valla also applied
his awesome critical powers to the terminology and taxonomy
of school philosophy, but his challenge to prevailing modes of
discourse was too radical to be effective in the pre-Cartesian
period, though other critics followed his philological example
by questioning the authenticity of works attributed to Dionysius
the Areopagite or Hermes Trismegistus. The Middle Ages
attributed nearly a hundred titles now regarded as spurious



Grafton ( 1990; 1991: 76-103).


Below, Ch. 4, n. 18.


even to the staid Aristotle, but Renaissance scholars helped
pare the Corpus down to the forty or so works in which one
can hope to discern a genuine Aristotelian position. 31 Since a
number of ancient philosophers were familiar to the Middle
Ages through false attributions or distorted secondary ac-
counts, the work of the humanist critics was cut out for them.
Some questions of attribution could be answered satisfactorily
neither by the humanists nor even by modern philology, with
all its advanced armament of critical judgement, so that
scholars still dispute the authenticity of a work as central as
Aristotle Categories.

From the time when Plato first wrote his dialogues until the
invention of printing in the middle of the fifteenth century, the
transmission and survival of written works of philosophy de-
pended entirely upon their being copied and recopied again
and again by hand. Without the technology of print, philoso-
phical literacy could be disseminated only as far as the labor-
ious process of manuscript production could reach; books of
any length remained scarce goods as long as each copy con-
sumed many hours of tedious effort. The accurate and complete
preservation of texts was as problematic as their distribution,
which is why whole periods and schools of ancient philosophy
are represented only by fragments. Even in texts that survived
in complete copies, scribal errors piled up over the centuries,
leaving the humanists with more work than they could handle
as they pioneered the field of textual criticism. Poliziano and
others collated copies of the same work to locate the differ-
ences that make errors conspicuous; they dated manuscripts in
order to decide which was the more authoritative; and they
analysed the language, style, and cultural milieu of ancient
authors as aids to establishing their texts. The result was a
more precise and a more profound understanding of philo-
sophy through philology, so that by the time printing became a
common medium, new scholarly techniques were at hand to
produce more accurate texts which, once in print, would enjoy



Schmitt and Ryan ( 1983); Schmitt and Knox ( 1985); Kraye, Ryan, and
Schmitt ( 1986); Schmitt ( 1989: ch. 1).


much improved conditions of stability and dissemination. Thus,
the invention of printing greatly amplified the impact of
humanist scholarship, whose textual products would otherwise
have been subject to the same chronic degradation that plagued
the medieval scriptoria. Aldo Manuzio printed the first Greek
Aristotle in Venice between 1495 and 1498, the first Greek
Plato in 1514, inaugurating a unique age in the history of high
culture during which the humanists edited the first philoso-
phical texts -- ancient, medieval, and contemporary -- to be
widely distributed and reproduced in a relatively precise man-
ner. Aristotle's collected works were often printed in Greek
during the sixteenth century, individual works even more fre-
quently, in a process that encouraged improvement of the text
through cumulative editorial experience and increased philo-
logical expertise. A Greek Diogenes Laertius first appeared in
1533, Plotinus in 1580, Sextus Empiricus only in 1621; during
the same period many other works of antiquity saw the light. 32

Greek became increasingly widespread in Europe from the
early fifteenth century, but even for those who studied Greek
philosophers, mastery of the language was never a universal
attainment. For every sixteenth-century Greek printing of an
Aristotelian work there were five or ten in Latin. Latin trans-
lations of Greek texts remained the chief medium of ancient
philosophy, and it was Leonardo Bruni and his many humanist
successors who prepared the first Latin versions or revisions of
Greek works answering to the new philological and aesthetic
norms. Better understanding of ancient language and culture
made the humanist renderings more accurate and, from a
classicist point of view, more readable; in fact, because the
humanists meant to educate and persuade their readers, a
pleasurable text was normally their conscious aim, creating a
concern for eloquence and elegance seldom evident in the
philosophical books read in the medieval schools. But because
professional philosophers, especially as students of Aristotle,
had depended for so long on translations of an altogether
different kind and had constructed their lessons and commen-



Grafton ( 1988b).


taries to fit these earlier versions, some professors of the dis-
cipline felt uncomfortable with the modish classicism and
wished to keep their Aristotle in scholastic Latin. After Rome
fell and Byzantium lost touch with the West, where the
Romance and Germanic vernaculars were developing, Latin
had also evolved away from Cicero's usage. The language of
philosophers in particular acquired a syntax and a lexicon that
fell heavy on the humanist ear, but by the fifteenth century
much of this novelty had become indispensable to philosophical
discourse, though critics like Valla and Vives would never
admit the necessity. Erasmus, like Cicero, was more flexible
and pragmatic, admitting that 'there is no human art to which
we do not grant the right of using its own terminology'. 33

As time went on and co-operation grew, humanism and phi-
losophy interacted more closely. Many philosophical authori-
ties of the period were well trained by humanist standards:
Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico, and Francesco Patrizi among
the Platonists, for example, or Leonardo Bruni, Ermolao
Barbaro, Lefèvre d'Étaples, and Giulio Pace among the
Aristotelians. By the same token, Valla was a philologist of
great philosophical gifts. Humanism was not a field of learning
in its own right but a method, a style, and a curriculum that
various disciplines found useful. There were medical, legal,
and mathematical humanists as well as philosophical humanists.
At the same time, the anti-philosophical impulse that had
motivated the movement since Petrarch's time continued to
operate, especially in the ancient contest between the orator's
wish to charm and persuade and the philosopher's need to
speak clearly and say the truth. 34 Some humanists pursued
philology of a quite narrow kind, poring over the old texts in



Erasmus ( 1965b: 148); Weiss ( 1977); Grafton and Jardine ( 1986: 99-
121); Copenhaver ( 1988b).


On rhetoric, grammar, and poetics, see Spingarn ( 1908); Cantimori
( 1937); Garin ( 1954: 124-49); Marrou ( 1956: 48-59, 79-91, 211, 220); Weinberg
( 1961); Seigel ( 1968); Sonnino ( 1968); Vickers ( 1968; 1970; 1988a; 1988b);
Patterson ( 1970); Jardine ( 1974a; 1981); Percival ( 1975; 1982; 1983; 1988);
Padley ( 1976); Grassi ( 1980); G. A. Kennedy ( 1980); Murphy ( 1974;. 1978;
1983); Trinkaus ( 1983: 437-49); Vasoli ( 1968a;. 1984b); Monfasani ( 1983b;
1987a; 1988).


an incessant hunt for the odd word or the strange turn of
syntax; scholars of this type, who were disinclined to treat the
classical tongues as means to an end, had little sympathy for
the technical requirements of the philosopher. Such conflicts
were never resolved, but when all is said and done, one must
conclude that humanism's influence on philosophy was pro-
found and beneficial.

Church and state

In their various spheres the scholar Erasmus, the astronomer
Copernicus, the explorer Columbus, and contemporaries of
like genius worked immense alterations on Europe, but the
most turbulent upheaval of the period was the Reformation
sparked by Martin Luther, a brilliant theologian and disquieted
monk whose defiance of Rome after 1517 changed the world,
transforming not only its religious but also its political order. 35
Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their followers split a Europe
previously united by a single faith into credal fragments, each
with its own educational practice and intellectual vision.
Naturally, the impact on philosophy of so vast a change was
considerable, though perhaps not so cataclysmic as one might
think. Especially within the framework of higher education, all
the major churches of post-Reformation Europe, Protestant
and Catholic alike, drew on the same philosophical traditions
that had been institutionalized in the Middle Ages and reinte-
grated with their ancient origins in the Renaissance. Catholic,
Lutheran, and Reformed philosophers gradually acquired their
separate identities, but by and large they all depended on
Latin versions or interpretations of Greek materials adapted to
a pedagogical context that remained scholastic, while making
some concessions to the classicizing fashions of the age and
yielding on other points to confessional needs. Like the word
'Renaissance', the term 'Reformation' is a convention meant
to set certain events and processes within a more or less
distinct framework of time; however, if we note the chrono-



Kristeller ( 1961a: 70-91); Rupp ( 1964); Dickens ( 1976); Ozment ( 1980);
Oberman ( 1981; 1983; 1989); McGrath ( 1987; 1990).


logical overlap between Renaissance and Reformation, recog-
nition of their coincidence may dissuade us from assuming that
a philosopher who lived in the century after 1517 would have
felt himself, on any given occasion, bound more to the one
movement than to the other -- or bound to either of them, for
that matter. Without the Reformation, the philosophical ca-
reers of Bacon, Bodin, Bruno, Campanella, Charron, Justus
Lipsius, Montaigne, Patrizi, Sanches, Suárez, and many others
would have been very different, but for all of them the debt to
the Renaissance was just as great. A simpler way to put it is to
say that they all took part in the great movements that reform-
ed the. European spirit, reordered its polity, and restructured
its culture in the early modern period.

Philosophy was part of the Reformation both as cause and
as consequence. 36 Theological quarrels about the action of
grace in the soul and philosophical arguments about the for-
mation of ideas in the mind stoked the furnaces of religious
dissent that blazed forth all over Europe two years after Luther
and other Wittenberg theologians started their local academic
dispute in 1517. The philosopher who supplied most fuel for
these fires was William of Ockham, although other scholastics
of the later medieval period -- especially Gregory of Rimini
and Gabriel Biel -- also played major parts in these controver-
sies, many of which had troubled Christians since the time of
Augustine. Defining a doctrine of justification required the
Christian church to settle the relative roles of human effort
and divine power in the drama of salvation; this task was one
of Augustine's great accomplishments, recorded at length in
his works against the Pelagians. Augustine, who saw fallen
humanity as powerless to save itself, argued that the grace
needed for salvation was God's free and unearned gift, but
Aquinas, influenced by Aristotelian notions of acquired virtue
and other considerations, believed that God would save those
people whose moral effort co-operated with an original infu-



Ozment ( 1980: 290-317); McGrath ( 1987: 1-8, 32-68, 175-203); Skinner
( 1988: 442-52); Lohr ( 1988: 621-38); D'Amico ( 1983; 1988a); Trinkaus ( 1983:
195-339; 1988a). On Renaissance and Reformation, see also Burdach ( 1963);
Headley ( 1903; 1987); Spitz ( 1963); Dickens and Tonkin ( 1985).


sion of divine grace. Because the major variations on the
scholastic theology of grace left some place for human effort,
Luther rejected them all in his doctrine of justification, de-
claring in his Appeal to the Nobility of the German Nation of
1520 that 'any potter has more knowledge of nature than . . .
these books [of Aristotle, which] . . . I can only believe . . . the
devil has introduced. . . . His book on Ethics is the worst of all
books. It flatly opposes divine grace and all Christian virtues.'
Earlier, in his 1517 Disputation against Scholastic Philosophy,
he had spoken just as boldly against Ockham, Scotus, and
Biel. 37 Worse than the Thomists, the followers of the via
moderna associated with Biel and Pierre d'Ailly introduced
human effort into the soteriological equation at two points: the
person who wants to be saved first earns an original injection of
grace, then works to sustain the co-operation with grace whose
reward is heaven. Luther's best known attacks on the efficacy
of works (i.e. human moral effort) appeared in polemics that
he exchanged with Erasmus, and these Renaissance extensions
of medieval controversy reached into the seventeenth century
and beyond, in Socinian and Arminian critiques of Reformed
theology and Jesuit rebuttals of Jansenism.

Luther objected to Ockham's theology in so for as it pre-
served a false moral freedom, but Ockham and his followers
insisted even more strongly that God's will is free, thus impart-
ing a voluntarist cast to late medieval theology. In principle,
only the logical limit of non-contradiction constrains God's
'absolute power', so that any physical or metaphysical disposi-
tion apart from God must be contingent upon his having willed
it. At the same time, God can be trusted not to undo the
particulars of creation actually established by his 'ordained
power', the potentia ordinata that chose this world from the
numberless possibilities available to his potentia absoluta. But
if God's will is absolute, though only in principle, the human
condition and, indeed, all creation rest uneasy in some de-
gree. Various consequences of man's utter dependency on
God's pleasure emerged in the epistemology and metaphysics



Luther ( 1958-: xliv. 200-2 [ Jacobs and Atkinson trans.], xxxi. 9-16);
Ozment ( 1980: 231-9); McGrath ( 1987: 118-21); Oberman ( 1989: 113-23).


of the via moderna, whose roots also reached back to the early
Christian centuries and beyond. Influenced by Plato and the
Neoplatonists, Augustine had taught that the forms reside in
God's mind, but that when Christ lights up the darkness of the
human intellect, humans can know the universal forms of
which individual things are shadows. For ordinary knowledge.
Aquinas saw no need of this divine illumination, ruling in a
well-known phrase that 'there is nothing in the intellect which
was not previously in the senses'. 38 Like Muslim students of
Aristotle, Thomas posited an active intellect to abstract uni-
versals from particulars apprehended by the senses; God's
mind contains the universals in their perfection, but the human
sensory apparatus can also discover them from individuals
without divine enlightenment. Although Aristotelian Thomists
trusted the senses more than Augustinian Platonists, Aquinas
agreed with Augustine in denying the mind any direct knowl-
edge of sense objects. Thomists required an elaborate psycho-
logical apparatus to process sense data and produce an entity
intermediate between the sensory and the ideal, called a species
in Latin, which required further processing before the highest
mental faculties could derive from it their knowledge of the
universal. Ockham dispensed with such species, and the via
taught direct knowledge of individuals as such or of.
statements about individuals, wielding Ockham's razor to trim
away the need for real universals. Knowledge arises in experi-
ence of particulars, and universals have no reality outside
mind and language. They exist only as we think of them or
talk about them in words, in names or' nomina -- hence the
opposition between the Thomist and Augustinian realism of
the early and high Middle Ages and the nominalism that was
widespread in later medieval scholasticism, not only in the via
but also in the schola Augustiniana moderna, a dis-
tinct tradition propagated by the Augustinian friars.

The 'modern way' and the 'modern school of Augustine'
agreed in rejecting the epistemological realism of the via anti-
qua, the 'old way' whose greatest days were in the thirteenth



Aquinas, De veritate 2. 3. 19; Copleston ( 1960-6: ii. 388-97); Cranefield
( 1970); Mahoney ( 1982c: 605-11).


century. The two newer movements differed from one another
not in their theories of knowledge but in certain aspects of
their soteriologies, or theories of salvation. The new Augustin-
ians preached a pessimist anthropology and a determinist,
theocentric scheme of justification that derived, via Gregory of
Rimini, from the anti-Pelagian crusade of their patron. But
even the soteriology of the Augustinian 'school' followed
Gabriel Biel and the via moderna in some respects. Most
important, both groups used the distinction between God's
absolute and ordained powers to eliminate grace as a created
entity within the soul and separate from God's saving choice;
grace is simply an aspect of God's will toward the person
saved. Theologians and philosophers were still disputing these
points when Luther came to teach moral philosophy at Witten-
berg in 1508, perhaps as part of a shift toward the via moderna
in that small, new outpost of learning. Through the year 1515,
Luther continued to follow the gentler soteriology of Gabriel
Biel, profiting especially from its non-Augustinian emphasis on
the pactum or divine covenant in justification. By 1517 he had
turned against his own exposition of the widespread theology
of the via moderna, but he seems not to have reacted to the
new schola Augustiniana before 1519.

In sustaining any dialogue at all with these late scholastic
sects, Luther and his Wittenberg colleagues behaved like good
professors, intent on academic taxonomies of small interest
outside the universities. When Phillip Melanchthon defended
Luther against the doctors of the Sorbonne in 1521, that learn-
ed Parisian company named no fewer than eight theological
positions relevant to their complaints against the German re-
formers, not only Thomists, Scotists, and Albertists but also
Gregoriistae, the disciples of Gregory of Rimini, and Egidistae,
admirers of Giles of Rome, and other groups as well. The
Swiss and French reformers led by Ulrich Zwingli and John
Calvin yielded nothing to the Lutherans in their dislike of
scholasticism; in fact, their contempt for the schools was great-
er, in that they rejected scholasticism globally without bother-
ing to dignify its latest products with refutation. Soteriology
was a key issue for Luther, and he owed its prominence to the


robust theologizing. and doctrinal pluralism of the later Middle
Ages, but Zwingli and Calvin launched their movements with
no special concern for medieval theologies of justification,
whether of the via moderna or of the schola Augustiniana.
Scholasticism interested the Reformed churches only in the
last half of the sixteenth century, around the time when the
post-Tridentine Roman church reaffirmed its own commitment
to Aristotle. Theodore Beza codified Calvin's thought in a
deductive system of speculative theology that put the doctrine
of predestination at the head of its logical structure and took
its methodological bearings from the Aristotelian tradition.
Beza signalled his accommodation with Aristotle when he for-
bade the teaching of anti-Aristotelian Ramist logic in the
Genevan Academy, where Aristotle's syllogisms were to rule
despite Protestant acclaim for Ramus. French and English
Protestants welcomed Ramism, however, while Arminius re-
jected Beza's whole project of a Reformed rational theology
along scholastic lines. Ironically, the efflorescent scholasticism
ignored by the first Reformed theologians became useful to
their successors only when reshaped by the fusion with human-
ism apparent in the works of Jacopo Zabarella and his
contemporaries. 39

Before the church permitted or had to permit the theological
diversity and uncertainty of the later medieval period, Thomas
Aquinas had triumphed by proposing a synthesis of theology
and metaphysics. Thomas asserted a rich complex of clearly
known relations between uncreated and created being, secure
relations that William of Ockham reduced to contingencies
dependent on a divine will unhindered by inviolable metaphy-
sical arrangements. God evidently willed the state of affairs
that we call the world and obliged himself to preserve it, but
the world is none the less conventional in the literal sense, the
bottom line of a contract which it pleased God to make but
which he might not have made. Thus, Ockham's universe was
less a rational than a volitional construct; God made a covenant
and will not break it, yet this promise leaves the world a more



McGrath ( 1987: 69-85, 94-104, 191-6).


anxious and ambiguous place than Thomas had known. When
the faculty of arts at Paris tried to repress the theological ex-
uberance of the 'modern way' in the middle of the fourteenth
century, admirers 'of the 'old way' faced challengers who loved
to speculate on such puzzles of future contingency as God's
ability to unravel the past and to spin out such ludicrous extra-
polations of the theory of divine persons as God's freedom to
have embodied himself as an insect, a vegetable, or a chunk of
wood. The via moderna tightened the reins on theology as an
assured product of logic, but by stressing the frailty of human
knowing it also loosened the church's grip on speculation.
Every conclusion of theology, even if correct, is an artefact of
the divine covenant, a worrisome thought for the church
steward of divine science. Ecclesiastical structures themselves
are contingent; Christ said that his church was built upon a
rock, but later medieval theology seemed to expose it as a
scaffold of possibilities, a shakier edifice than the metaphy-
sically secure monument anchored in the timeless celestial
hierarchies described by Dionysius the Areopagite. Naturally,
many bishops and abbots who ruled the ecclesiastical establish-
ment preferred the firmer foundations of realism and the via
antiqua, while in some respects the via moderna better suited
the mystical theologies that subverted priestly office and ambi-
tious theologizing. Jean Gerson was a critic of Ockham, a
chancellor of the University of Paris, and author of a work On
Mystical Theology
that turned the force of scholastic argument
against scholasticism itself. He and his student, Nicolas de
Clémanges, wanted to replace the subtleties of Scotus and
Ockham with a simpler belief, less fixed on understanding an
abstract deity than on loving the saviour who instituted the
sacraments and died on the cross. By Gerson's time, scholas-
ticism had lost the confidence of its thirteenth-century Aristo-
telian masters in reason's fitness to plumb the depths of faith.
Later medieval Aristotelians unwittingly prepared the way for
Luther's declaration that 'the whole of Aristotle is to theology
as darkness to light'. 40



Luther ( 1958- : xxxi. 60 [ Grimm trans.]); Ozment ( 1980: 73-80, 164-
72, 236-9); McGrath ( 1987: 19-28).


One view of the Aristotelian Aquinas praises him for forging
the grand scholastic synthesis of faith and reason, but a differ-
ent analysis points out the Thomist basis of the bull Unam
sanctam, issued by Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. Two years
after the Jubilee of 1300 and only seven years before the
papacy began its sojourn in Avignon, Boniface declared all lay
and temporal authority subordinate to his own, but this re-
statement of the church's desire for a submissive laity only
provoked anti-clerical and anti-ecclesiastical hatreds that still
smouldered when Luther rekindled them more than two hun-
dred years later. For more than a century after Philip IV of
France humbled the theocratic Boniface, the popes lived some
of their darkest and most clamorous days. While the papacy
prospered in its worldly fortunes for seven decades in Avignon,
Petrarch and other Italians viewed the period as ruinous exile,
and nearly forty years of multiple claims to the throne of Peter
followed this captivity in the French Babylon. The great coun-
cil convened at Constance in 1414-17 to end these troubles
had three aims: to heal the schism; to exterminate heresy; and
to address complaints of corruption in a programme of reform.
Dissidents were executed; rival popes yielded their claims;
but, in the half-century of revived papal power that followed
the bull Execrabilis
issued against conciliar power by Pius II in
1460, the greatest and most infamous popes of the Renais-
sance were unable or unwilling to achieve much in the way of
reform. The pope elected four years before Luther began his
revolt was a Medici cardinal who took the name Leo X and -- if
we believe the story -- greeted the news of his accession with a
cynical and untimely remark: 'God has given us the papacy;
now let us enjoy it.' 41

The Council of Constance renewed debates on church gov-
ernment that had begun a century earlier in the contest between
papal propagandists and supporters of secular power; especially
important were Giles of Rome and James of Viterbo, speaking
for the papacy, and Marsilio of Padua, John of Paris, and John
of Jandun, arguing for temporal authority and popular sover-



Schevill ( 1949: 185).


eignty. William of Ockham also sided with Louis of Bavaria
against Pope John XXII, but the ideas most dangerous to
papal power were those of the Defender of the Peace, written
in Paris by Marsilio in 1324 and condemned as heretical three
years later by Pope John, who also excommunicated William
of Ockham in 1326. Most threatening to John was Marsilio's
claim that 'Christ left no head of the church', but the deeper
and more broadly subversive element in the Defender of the
was the principle that political authority comes from God
through the people and only then to pope or king. Popular
sovereignty, according to Marsilio, is inalienable; subjects who
can always dismiss their ruler only delegate sovereignty, con-
trary to the view of Aquinas that the consent required of the
governed causes them to lose sovereignty. Marsilio moved
closer than Thomas both to the political theories that were to
accompany vast changes in practical politics during the Renais-
sance and also to Aristotle's older conception of the polis as a
human artefact, unprotected by the divine mandate that
Augustine saw hovering over the city of man. Jean Gerson and
other conciliarists who advocated the solutions worked out at
Constance were less radical than Marsilio, whose ideas re-
mained to incite not only the transformations of church gov-
ernment that came with the Reformation but also the greater
novelties of political philosophy that emerged from new Re-
naissance statecraft. By the middle of the fifteenth century,
however, in the narrower arena of church government, the
conciliar movement had petered out. Nicholas of Cusa, one of
the most original minds of his day, signalled its failure in the
1440s by abandoning earlier concessions to conciliar power
expressed in his work of 1432-3 On Universal Concord. 42

In the meantime, other traditions had emerged to engender
ideals of liberty, both communal and individual, in the secular
order. The medieval epistolary and oratorical techniques of



Marsilio of Padua ( 1967: 267-73); Ozment ( 1980: 144-81, esp. 154 for
the quotation from John's condemnation of Marsilius); Skinner ( 1978: i.12-
22, 49-65; 1988: 395-403). Most of what follows on political theory is based
on Skinner Foundations; for older works, see Cassirer ( 1946: 78-175); Figgis
( 1960; 1965); Allen ( 1960); Ullmann ( 1977).


the ars dictaminis and ars arengandi had taught Europeans to
apply their growing literary skills and their increased apprecia-
tion of antiquity to moral and political tasks, and precursors of
humanism in Northern Italy in the late thirteenth and early
fourteenth centuries used new knowledge of ancient Rome to
champion civic liberties against the overlords, the signori, who
came to power in the faction-ridden Italian communes of the
day. In the late fourteenth century, when a more settled in-
ternal politics eased worries in Florence about the good order
of the city and shifted concern to the good life of the citizenry,
another generation of humanists wrote chronicles, educational
manifestos, and advice-books for rulers that shared certain
fundamentals with scholastic political philosophy, especially
the Aristotelian view of the commonwealth as a human product
and of political conduct as a contest of virtue and vice. At the
same time, these quattrocento humanists began translating
Aristotle's moral and political philosophy into better Latin;
following Petrarch's example, they also took up the Ciceronian
style of politics as heroic oratory, using the tools of classical
rhetoric and the examples of ancient history to create an acti-
vist and erudite vocabulary of civic life. A constant point of
reference in their speeches and treatises was the eternal tension
between virtue and fortune, increasingly interpreted in a way
that led to hope for the triumph of individual and communal
effort. 43

But the promise of civic humanism faded in the second half
of the fifteenth century when political conditions in Italian
cities concentrated power in the hands of princes and dynasties.
In Florence, for example, the might of the Medici family grew
from the 1430s through the next century and beyond, inter-
rupted by episodes of republican rule. One of the abler servants
of any Florentine republic was Niccolò Machiavelli, who none
the less dedicated his best-known work, The Prince, to a
Medici duke when he found himself out of work after the
restoration of their dynasty in 1512. In its theorizing on virtù
and fortuna, this startling little book propagated a familiar



Baron ( 1966); Ullmann ( 1977: 5-6); Skinner ( 1978: i.1-12, 23-48,
69-112; 1988: 408-23); below, Ch. 2, nn. 17, 18, 20; Ch. 4, n. 100.


theme, but in divorcing the prince's virtù from the conventional
catalogue of Christian and classical virtues and in constraining
the ruler's behaviour solely by reasons of state, Machiavelli
nullified Christendom's basic political principles. The counsels
of virtù offered in The Prince respond mainly to threats against
the security of the ruler's stato, a word that no longer referred
just to the personal status of an individual prince but had not
yet come to mean the state of a polity as expressed in its
current institutions; this slippage of meaning occurred as the
city-states of the peninsula and the younger nation-states of
the continent were acquiring the trappings of modern national
governments. The Discourses on the First Ten Books of Livy,
Machiavelli's other great work of political philosophy, is a
better reflection of the personal sentiments of the republican
diplomat who wrote it. Machiavelli took examples from Livy's
history of the early Roman republic to warn the Florentines
against political passivity, individual greed, mercenary armies,
and other dangers to the health of their city. Because the
Discourses aimed to protect the city's liberty rather than the
prince's security, critics have been friendlier to this longish
treatise than to the brief but incendiary Prince. But even in the
Discourses Machiavelli treats Christianity itself -- especially its
sanctification of the withdrawn, ascetic contemplative -- as a
source of political contagion. 44

Luther, Machiavelli's contemporary, preached a contrary
doctrine of righteous political quietism. The earliest heroes of
the Reformation admired and revived the subversive theories
of medieval conciliarism, but they directed these dangerous
ideas mainly at the temporal claims of the Roman church.
Insisting that the church was a purely spiritual gathering of the
faithful, a congregatio fidelium without coercive authority, the
first reformers taught that if an unjust ruler was entitled to no
obedience, neither were his subjects allowed any right or duty



Skinner ( 1978: i.113-89; 1988: 423-42); for a selection from the enor-
mous literature on Machiavelli, see, in addition to Skinner ( 1981): Meinecke
( 1965: 25-116); Sasso ( 1958); Baron ( 1961); Hale ( 1963); Ridolfi ( 1963);
Chabod ( 1965); Gilbert ( 1965); Procacci ( 1965); Hexter ( 1973: 150-203);
Pocock ( 1975: 156-218); Berlin ( 1982: 25-79); de Grazia ( 1989); below, pp.
278 -84.


of active resistance. God's providence ordains the powers that
be, even tyrannical powers divinely established to punish a
sinful people. As political and military conditions evolved
through the sixteenth century, Lutheran and then Reformed
thinkers compromised their original docility, yet it remains
true that the genealogy of absolutist government in early
modern and modern Europe can be traced through early Pro-
testant interpretations of such texts as the thirteenth chapter of
Paul's letter to the Romans.

Supporters of Rome and the papacy also recalled the con-
ciliarist controversies of the later Middle Ages; and although
most of them wished to protect ecclesiastical hierarchy, their
hostility to the Protestants led them to adopt constitutional
theories of secular government that challenged the absolutist
tendencies of the early reformers. This process began in the
early sixteenth century with the revival of the Thomist via
in Paris, where the enormously influential Francesco de
Vitoria studied from 1509 to 1522. Vitoria spent most of his
later life in Salamanca as a teacher, directly or indirectly
shaping the careers of several generations of Dominican and
Jesuit philosophers and theologians, of whom the greatest
were Robert Bellarmine and Francisco Suárez. Whether they
favoured passive or active resistance to tyranny, Protestant
theorists connected the ruler's political authority with godliness
or some other divine disposition, but in response their Counter-
Reformation opponents emphasized the Thomist Aristotelian
view of the state as a purely human construct whose legitimacy
depended not on a divine mandate but on contractual arrange-
ments among mortal creatures. Unlike. Protestants, who denied
mankind any innate capacity to improve its moral condition,
Catholic thinkers trusted human reason to discover a better
moral order and allowed that the individual moral agent, of
whatever religious condition, can search within for the primary
precepts of a natural morality. Thus it was the scholastics of
Spain and Italy rather than the pastors of Geneva and Germany
who resurrected medieval natural law theories and, avant la
, elaborated ideas of the social contract and state of nature
that were to inform the more aggressively secularist and pop-


ularist political philosophies of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries. Even the arguments for natural liberty advanced by
Huguenot pamphleteers in the 1570s and after were derived
from scholastic sources. After the Anabaptists, whose active
following was much smaller than their fearsome reputation,
disciples of John Calvin formulated the most radical political
philosophies of the Renaissance and Reformation era, but the
elements of these theories were not 'Calvinist' in any distinc-
tive sense. 45

After 1529, Martin Luther and his followers moved more
quickly than their Reformed brethren toward permitting or
advocating active resistance, developing positions not adopted
by the Reformed churches until the 1550s and 1560s. Because
John Knox and other leaders in Scotland and England were
not surrounded by a hostile Catholic majority, they were able
to advance more radical proposals than those condoned by
Huguenots on the Continent. Before 1572, when the massacre
of St Bartholemew's Day destroyed two decades of gradualist
policy on both sides of the Confessional divide, Reformed
theorists derived a restricted religious duty -- not a moral right --
of resistance from violations of the godly purpose of govern-
ment. The less timid English and Scots claimed that any subject
had this duty, while the Huguenots confined it to legitimate
magistrates; but both groups moved a long way from the
Pauline doctrine of submission to ordained powers as Luther
had originally taught it. After 1572, the Huguenots finally
transformed the religious duty to resist into a moral right, thus
adding a key ingredient to a secularized politics and public
morality for Europe. The horror of St Bartholemew's Day
provoked a variety of reactions. Montaigne, who despised the
Huguenots as anarchists, wrote between 1572 and 1574 that he
was 'disgusted with innovation in whatever guise, . . . for I
have seen very harmful effects of it. The one that has been
oppressing us for so many years . . . has itself to blame.' He
accommodated his scepticism to the principle that subjects
owed obedience to any established order, whatever its real



Skinner ( 1978: i.144-52; ii.3-224).


claims to legitimacy, and the versatile Justus Lipsius was even
less tolerant than Montaigne, who at least disapproved of
outright persecution. Jean Bodin, who barely escaped the mas-
sacre himself, thought that princes should restrict themselves
to affairs of state and not meddle in religious controversy, but
he recommended toleration only if coerced uniformity was
impossible, not because it was undesirable. 46

François Hotman Francogallia of 1573 was the single most
important Huguenot response to St Bartholemew's Day in the
realm of political philosophy. Finding themselves so ruthlessly
abandoned by the Valois monarchy, Hotman and other
Huguenot polemicists announced a robust theory of popular
sovereignty based on the claim that people create rulers con-
tractually to preserve the common welfare. If a ruler breaks
the contract by endangering the public good, the people have
a moral right of self-defence to resist the ruler actively, even
though this right can be exercised only by legitimate magis-
trates, never by individuals or even by the people as a whole.
The notions of natural right and contractual obligation used by
the Huguenots were scholastic inventions, recognized as such
when Beza and other Reformed leaders installed a clearly
scholastic programme of education in Geneva and elsewhere.
And it was the Spanish Jesuit Juan de Mariana as much as the
Scots humanist George Buchanan who pushed the idea of
active resistance to its limits in the last decades of the sixteenth
century. Buchanan replaced earlier biblical descriptions of a
divine covenant with a naturalistic version of the social con-
tract based on Stoic accounts of primitive humanity. In this de-
theologized framework Buchanan asserted that the whole
commonwealth or any of its members could rightly use force
to remove an unjust ruler. When the Protestant Henry of
Navarre succeeded to the French throne in 1584, Catholic
theorists began to make equally firm claims for the right to
rebel and to kill a tyrant, and the most provocative call to
tyrannicide came from the first book of Mariana work On the
( 1598), whose conclusions were no less naturalist and



Montaigne ( 1965: 86 [ Frame trans.]); Skinner ( 1978: ii. 225- 301); see
also Kelley ( 1973; 1981).


secularist than Buchanan's. Given Mariana's odious reputation
among Protestants, it is worth noting that he was one of
several Jesuits who criticized Machiavelli ragione di stato on
prudential and moral grounds alike. Machiavelli's status as a
political philosopher suffered most of all from Huguenot critics
in the 1570s who finally turned against Catherine de' Medici,
holding her responsible for St Bartholemew's Day and knowing
her to be the daughter of the Lorenzo de' Medici to whom
Machiavelli had dedicated The Prince. 47

The Renaissance transformation of philosophy

Politicians, reformers and humanists did not eliminate older
approaches to philosophy but changed them in important ways,
even though medieval styles of thought persisted into the
seventeenth century and remained an effective force in philo-
sophical discourse. In the eighteenth century, after Descartes and Locke had pushed the frontiers of philosophy beyond the
limits explored in the Renaissance, scholastic manuals were
still being read by Oxford undergraduates while Hume wrote
philosophy in a neo-classical prose that echoed the linguistic
innovations of the humanists. Examined year by year, the
gradual transformation of philosophy may be hard to correlate
with discrete events, but when viewed on a larger scale the
major moments of modification become visible. In 1400, for
example, Platonism was a rare commodity, scholasticism ruled
the universities, and outside university walls there was little
that deserved the name 'philosophy' beyond some conventional
moral argumentation. Within a century, after university philo-
sophers had greeted the first legions of humanism and scholars
had learned again to read Greek, conditions altered remark-
ably: Plato, along with other newly exhumed Greeks, became
a stylish alternative to Aristotle; discussions of philosophy
unblessed by the universities became respectable and fashion-
able; and the proud masters of the schools faced the hot blast
of humanist invective. By the end of the sixteenth century,



Skinner ( 1978: ii. 302-58); Allen ( 1960: 360-6).


university philosophy was the resultant of the two forces of
scholasticism and humanism, and philosophy outside the uni-
versity moved beyond the confines of medieval custom. Even
though Montaigne's longest work was an 'apology' for a scho-
lastic theologian, it is hard to imagine him composing his
sceptical essays in the environment of medieval Paris or
Bologna, and impossible to contemplate his achievement in
the absence of its humanist precedents.

As a layperson working without university support or pro-
tection, Montaigne found it possible to write influential philo-
sophy only because the conditions of intellectual life had
changed so much over the two hundred years before he died in
1592. The printing press, for example, gave him access as
reader to a range of literature that would have dazzled Petrarch,
who died in 1374, and the same technology enabled him to.
speak quickly and precisely as author to a public unimaginably
large and diffuse by Petrarch's standards. Although he man-
aged quite well without it, the university was still the common
site of philosophical debate throughout Montaigne's lifetime;
but he helped establish a new intellectual framework wherein
most of his important successors -- Bacon, Mersenne, Gassendi,
Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, Leibniz -- worked entirely
or largely outside the university.

Montaigne also felt the effects of the Reformation and the
ensuing wars of religion, calamities that nourished his fideist
scepticism. But in other thinkers, both Catholic and Protestant,
the Reformation inspired a renewed zeal for philosophy as a
rational bulwark of belief. The Roman Catholic establishment
emerged from the Council of Trent with a stronger dogmatic
commitment to Aristotle (more and more a Thomist Aristotle)
than the medieval church had ever enforced. And although
Luther had raged against scholastic theology, his Protestant
followers soon learned that they needed the philosophical
equipment of the schoolmen to justify the theological distinc-
tions that divided them from Rome and from each other. The.
partitions of philosophy familiar to the Middle Ages -- logic,
natural philosophy, moral philosophy, and metaphysics --
proved indispensable to the Renaissance as well, so the tradi-


tional taxonomy persisted in the professorial appointments of.
universities, whether new or old, papist or Protestant. In Italy-
philosophy maintained its alliance with medicine and science
and continued to favour logic and natural philosophy, except
at the Collegio Romano, founded by the Jesuits in 1553 to
advance the cause of the Counter-Reformation. The most
famous philosophers in other Italian universities -- Paul of
Venice, Pietro Pomponazzi, Jacopo Zabarella -- were hired to
teach logic and natural philosophy in the usual preparatory
programme for medical students. Elsewhere, whether in the
Protestant and Catholic institutions of northern Europe or in
the Catholic universities of the Iberian peninsula and the New
World, philosophy remained a part of the arts course with
strong ties to theology as well as science, allowing for local

Since the university was the only large and powerful institu-
tion that promoted philosophy in the later Middle Ages, the
humanist critique of the discipline provoked outrage mainly
from professional practitioners whom the universities paid to
teach. New approaches to philosophy met less resistance in
courts, academies, and studies of private scholars. Intellectuals
working in such freer circumstances, which had been scarce in
the Middle Ages, could show less concern for the protocol,
traditions, and academic requirements that make universities
so conservative. The court philosopher had to honour no cur-
riculum but his prince's whim, and the competitors he faced in
winning his bread were rarely his peers in learning. His free-
dom of inquiry might be shallow, of course, if it stopped at the
bottom of a capricious patron's purse, but, within such limits,
heterodoxy was safer outside the university than inside. Un-
surprisingly, some philosophers sought royal or aristocratic
patronage, like poets, painters, or architects. Petrarch enjoyed
papal and princely support. Nicole Oresme served Charles V of France for more than two decades. Ficino made his trans-
lations and studies of Plato at the behest of the Medici. Toward
the end of our period, a whole constellation of intellectual
stars, including Giordano Bruno, John Dee, Tycho Brahe, and
Johannes Kepler, brightened the court of the Emperor Rudolf II,


displaying not only the force of that sovereign's favour but
also a new, if still dim, aura of enlightenment in Europe, a
glimmer of tolerance, and, at times, even encouragement for
independence of mind. Still, the prevailing outlook in the late
sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was gloomier, as
Europe slouched toward thirty more years of religious slaugh-
ter. Cardano, Della Porta, and Patrizi were harassed by the
Inquisition; Ramus fell in 1572 in the butchery of St Barthole-
mew's Day; Dee died in 1608 with the reputation of a wizard;
and Bruno went to the stake in 1600, condemned for heresy.
Giulio Cesare Vanini was burned in 1619, by which time
Tommaso Campanella's daring had earned him his seventeenth
continuous year in prison, with nine more to come. When
Galileo's confinement in 1633 moved Descartes to suppress his
Principes, he had good reason to fear that the stakes in the
game of philosophy were more than metaphysical.

Repression was nothing new, of course. 48 Ockham was ex-
communicated in 1326. John Wyclif died a natural death in
1384, but only after having been condemned for heresy, the
charge that sent John Hus to the stake at Constance in 1415.
Wyclif and Hus defied the church on central issues of religious
belief and practice, but Lorenzo Valla learned in 1444 that
lesser offences could put a thinker at risk. Giovanni Pico's
provocations of the late 1480s caused the most celebrated
incident of philosophical suppression of the later fifteenth cen-
tury. Philosophers helped persecute Johann Reuchlin a few
decades later, in 1512. In the next year the Fifth Lateran
Council commanded Christian professors to refute those who
taught that the human soul is mortal, and by 1514 Pietro
Pomponazzi had already been accused of heresy for holding
suspect opinions about the soul. Soon afterward, when Leo X warned Pomponazzi to respect the Council's teaching, only a
cardinal's intervention saved his career and permitted him to
end it teaching in a university on papal territory. Meanwhile,
Luther had caused graver problems for Rome. He last tried to
conciliate the papacy in 1520, when he prefaced his pamphlet



For what follows on censorship and printing, see esp. Grendler ( 1988);
also Grendler ( 1977; 1981; 1984); above, n. 17.


on the Freedom of a Christian with an open letter to Pope
Leo. Luther recommended 'a spiritual and true freedom [that]
. . . makes our hearts free from all sins, laws and commands',
but the success of his Pauline preaching made the sixteenth
century even more fearful of intellectual liberty than the
fifteenth had been. 49 Pope and emperor both condemned
Luther's writings in 1521, and Reformers followed suit by
urging civil authorities to silence competing Protestant voices
while they quashed the dogmas of the papist enemy. On neither
side, however, was censorship systematic or effective. France was exceptional: the 'broadsheet incident' of 1534 -- when Pro-
testant posters denouncing the mass appeared not only in Paris but even on the door of the king's bedchamber in Amboise --
occasioned stern measures of control and created the panic
that culminated in the burning of Etienne Dolet, the humanist
printer, in 1546. In 1559 Pope Paul IV inaugurated broad
institutional censorship by approving a papal Index of Prohi-
bited Books, a harsh and unpopular innovation enforced for
less than a year. Pius IV's Index of 1564 was more moderate
than Paul's, and neither this Tridentine version nor the Cle-
mentine Index of 1596 went especially hard on philosophy,
though Valla, Pomponazzi, Bodin, Telesio, Patrizi, Bruno,
and other thinkers all suffered one degree of restriction or
another. (The church finally abandoned the Index in 1966,
long after secular governments had invented more efficient
machineries of silence.) Protestants, including Genevans who
wanted no reading of Aquinas, were as quick as Catholics
to ban books, but fragmented jurisdiction made Protestant
censorship less effective and more dependent on local civil

It was the printing press, paradoxically, that gave the new
and ineffective systems of censorship their technological basis.
Besides the power to keep books from being printed and to
restrict their distribution once published, censors who wished
to manipulate opinion in large populations had to disseminate
and control their own lists of banned works. They needed



Luther ( 1961: so [ Dillenberger trans.]); Pine ( 1986: 59-61, 127).


printed catalogues or anti-catalogoes because once printed they
were easier to stabilize and distribute. To appreciate the fear
that printing inspired in the authorities, one need only recall a
few numbers. By 1500, less than half a century after Guten-
berg's discovery, presses were running in more than two hun-
dred and fifty sites in Europe. By the end of the incunabular
period (up to 1500), some 30,000 editions known to us (more
were lost and unknown) had appeared in press runs that com-
monly produced a thousand copies by the start of the new
century. Petrarch and Salutati were proud to have gathered
libraries of a few hundred titles, but private collectors of the
early sixteenth century acquired many thousands of volumes.
Philosophy's fortunes rose on this flood of new information:
print stabilized and broadcast the resurrected classics; the des-
pised scholastics found a place in the new medium alongside
the ancients; contemporary philosophers like Ficino saw their
fame magnified in their own lifetimes; and forgotten thinkers
like Sextus Empiricus enjoyed revivals quicker and broader than
anything that could have happened in the age of manuscripts.
Scholars looked more widely and deeply into the world of
learning. The eclectic curiosity so characteristic of the sixteenth
century fed on growing libraries. But eclecticism threatened
orthodoxy; information bred contradiction; print nourished
philology, and (with apologies to a great French playwright)
philology led to crime. Books spread confusion as they enlarged
communication, and print was a wonderful vehicle of contro-
versy. By modern standards, early modern polemic was scarce-
ly instantaneous, but it had grown wings since the era of pen
and paper -- as witness the broadsheets and pamphlets of the
early Reformation. Philosophers also spoke louder through
the new instruments of the press, but the same tools of dis-
course amplified the ancient risks of their trade.

One philosopher who suffered official censure was Giambat-
tista Della Porta, whose Academy of the Secrets of Nature,
established in Naples around 1560, failed when the Inquisition
accused him of sorcery. Later he joined Galileo in the more
successful Lincean Academy, founded in 1603. 50 These aca-



Paparelli ( 1955); Badaloni ( 1959-60); Clubb ( 1965); Muraro ( 1978).


demies were the forerunners of the Royal Society in Britain,
the Académie des Sciences in France, and the American Philo-
sophical Society, all dedicated to the advancement and diffu-
sion of knowledge. When the ancestors of the early learned
societies first appeared in France and Italy, mainly in the
sixteenth century, their objectives were sometimes narrower
but their constituencies were usually diverse. Philosophy in the
larger sense was one subject cultivated among others in the
academies, whose members were often fond of the practical
side of astrology and alchemy; but some important philoso-
phers also used the new organizations to their benefit. Giovanni
Pontano, vigorous as a patron of letters in Naples until his
death in 1503, founded the Accademia Pontaniana, where he
pursued his own philosophical studies and also assisted Agos-
tino Nifo, a celebrated university philosopher of his day. One
of the most venturesome minds of the later sixteenth century,
Bernardino Telesio, supported another academy in southern
Italy, the Accademia Consentina. By the middle years of that
century, such institutional alternatives to the university were
available as broader platforms for philosophy than the Middle
Ages had known.

A few remarkably independent spirits worked with even less
formal support. If the medieval centuries had their wandering
scholars, the sixteenth had Giordano Bruno, a peripatetic only
in the etymological sense of the term. In the course of his
stormy life, Bruno talked philosophy with professors, princes,
and academicians, and he also worked independently, roaming
all over Europe until disaster overtook him. Bruno's philoso-
phical influence was great, especially on the demise of Aristo-
telianism, yet his fame as a victim of repression became even
greater. Bruno was one of audacity's noblemen, a rash artist of
the idiosyncratic; but of all the autonomous voices of Renais-
sance philosophy, the clearest were Machiavelli's and Mon-
taigne's. Employed as a diplomat in republican Florence,
Machiavelli theorized about his trade in several volumes of
history and political theory, but it was The Prince, written in
1513, that outraged Christendom by setting reasons of state
above other reasons, including the religious, that should guide
the conduct of a statesman endowed with virtù. Montaigne's


was a softer voice than Machiavelli's but no less threatening to
the orthodoxies of his day. In the countryside near Bordeaux,
this learned and provocative genius withdrew to his tower to
write some of the most original and readable philosophy of
any age, a charming dose of sceptical introspection that helped
corrode the convictions of readers seduced by his prose, ex-
perience, and erudition. Campanella produced equally original
work in the less idyllic ambience of his several prisons. Coming
to intellectual maturity as the grip of the Roman Inquisition
grew to its tightest, he imprudently revealed a subversive,
messianic vision for Christendom that terrified the authorities
and kept him jailed for more than thirty years; but he put his
miseries to good use, passing the days constructing a massive
and intricate system that challenged Aristotelian orthodoxy

During the Renaissance, philosophy spoke to a broader
public than it had known in the Middle Ages, not only by
reaching beyond the walls of the university but also by expand-
ing its role as the key element in a global structure of knowl-
edge descending from the enkuklios paideia (general education)
of ancient Greece and culminating in the great encyclopedic
schemes of Comenius and Alsted in the seventeenth century
and of Diderot Encyclopédie in the eighteenth century. 51 Compared with the late twentieth-century discipline, Renais-
sance philosophy was less isolated as an academic specialty; it
had more live channels connecting it in both directions to
other disciplines; it was a functional basis and an active con-
comitant of all fields of learning. In the development of theory,
in the regulation of practice, and in the education of profes-
sionals and laypersons, philosophers sustained lively conversa-
tions affecting physical science, medicine, law, magic, astrology,
poetry, theology, history, and other areas as well. Ficino justi-
fied his astrological medicine by connecting it with the cosmo-
logy and matter theory that he found in prominent ancient and
medieval philosophers. The competing theologies of Francisco
Suárez and Richard Hooker both looked back to the metaphy-



Marrou ( 1956: 176-7, 211, 220, 223, 281); Vasoli ( 1978); below, Ch. 6,
nn. 6, 20.


sical heritage of the Middle Ages. Galileo's mechanics and
Harvey's biology were daring novelties that owed something to
the Peripatetic tradition, which generally met a less happy fate
in the Scientific Revolution. The elder Scaliger found Aristo-
telian categories to suit his linguistic and poetic innovations,
while Patrizi tried to formulate an alternative poetics in Pla-
tonic terms. Thus, long before the powerful Anglo-American
tradition of the twentieth century clipped philosophy's ties
with other fields, the Renaissance had tried to multiply and
fortify the links among disciplines established in still earlier
periods. Its eclectic curiosity makes Renaissance philosophy an
unwieldy object of study, but a fascinating one, attractive
enough -- one hopes -- to sustain the reader's interest despite
the atomizing instincts of our more compartmentalized culture.

We might organiize our inquiry into Renaissance philosophy
in any of a number of ways; we might find a pattern, for
example, in the divisions of philosophy or the rhythms of early
modern politics or the differences among major personalities
or the changing map of European geography and culture. But
in the central part of this volume our principle of organization
will be the ancient philosophical traditions that the Renais-
sance revived, broad categories that will expose continuities
and modifications over a period of several hundred years. Any
approach must have its defects, and this one will say more
about larger issues -- such as the differences between Aristo-
telianism and Platonism -- than about smaller questions ad-
dressed by individual philosophers. Since eclecticism and
creativity were such prominent items in the philosophical
repertory of the period, the reader should keep this short-
coming in mind and remember that our treatment will not do
justice to the contributions of many important and original

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