- Early Modern Philosophers and the Renaissance Legacy ed. by Cecilia Muratori, and Gianni Paganini
Early Modern Philosophers and the Renaissance Legacy is one of several volumes published in this decade that reflect a revival of interest in Renaissance philosophy. As a welcome corrective to the common practice of establishing continuities between the two periods by emphasizing how Renaissance philosophies anticipate modern ones, this volume aims to "shift the weight from the problem of assessing the 'modernity' of Renaissance philosophers to the creation of a space of interaction between Renaissance and early modern thinkers in the spirit of 'conversation,' with special attention to tracing sources, direct allusions and confutations within a frame of continuity" (4). To motivate this approach, it opens with a helpful chapter on historiography in which the editors provide an insightful diagnosis of two common misconceptions: first, that there is rupture between early modern philosophy and what came before; and, second, that although it was a period of great artistic and cultural accomplishments, the Renaissance contributed nothing of lasting importance to philosophy.
Muratori and Paganini trace the first misconception back to Hegel's History of Philosophy, which identified the Reformation's emphasis on self-consciousness as a turning point, casting Descartes as the "hero who restarted again from the beginning" (7). Due to the "transmission and reception of certain texts, to the detriment of others," Hegel omitted from his history such Renaissance philosophers as Tommaso Campanella, for whom the idea of self-consciousness is likewise crucial (11). The editors echo Guido Ruggiero's observation that since Hegel, the Renaissance "has been reincorporated into the Middle Ages, dissolved into the Early Modern period, obliterated by the premodern, and largely ignored" (2). Muratori and Pagannini attribute the second misconception largely to "the identification [End Page 736] of philosophy … with epistemology and theory of knowledge (closely related to scientific method) which was, retrospectively, responsible for the reinterpretation of what philosophy's aims are, and ultimately, of what philosophy proper is" (3). While true that, traditionally, this slanted philosophical study of the Renaissance towards the origins of recognizably "modern" scientific methods and theories, such as those of Bacon, Copernicus and Kepler, the editors fail to appreciate that recent research (e.g. on the Renaissance revival of ancient mechanics, and the adaptation of Aristotle's and Galen's methods to the study of medicine at Padua) has served to undermine the first by blurring the lines between modernity and pre-modernity and renewing interest in so-called minor figures of the Renaissance. Recent scholarship in the history of the philosophy of science casts new light on traditional "heroes" such as Galileo, Descartes, and Harvey by revealing how they developed the methods of their predecessors. The editors also fail to acknowledge that recent research into Renaissance Aristotelian natural philosophy and the metaphysics of substance, originally driven by a desire to understand what early moderns rejected, has likewise undermined the second misconception, leading to a reevaluation of philosophers like Francisco Suarez as original metaphysicians rather than mere extensions of medieval Scholasticism.
Nonetheless, this volume makes a valuable contribution by broadening our view of what counts as philosophically significant and encouraging us to wander off the beaten paths to explore more varied interactions between Renaissance and seventeenth-century philosophers. To this end, it is thematically divided into four parts: 1, "The Endurance of Tradition"; 2, "Natural Philosophy"; 3, "Changing Conceptions of the Human"; and 4, "Moral and Political Theory." Each part has 3–4 chapters; all come with a useful abstract plus bibliography, and several provide helpful overviews of the state of the secondary literature. While all contributions exemplify complex ways in which Renaissance philosophy informed modern discussions, several strike me as excellent starting points for colleagues wishing to instruct themselves and their students. In part 1, Lodi Nauta traces the critique of scholastic language and the humanist emphasis on common language from Valla to Hobbes and Leibniz; and Sarah Hutton examines how Henry More develops his theory of the nature and...