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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.1 (2002) 121-122
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Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy
Jill Kraye and M. W. F. Stone, editors. Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy. New York: Routledge, 2000. Pp. xii + 270. Cloth, $75.00
Early-modern philosophy begins in the seventeenth century. This book, based on a colloquium at the Warburg Institute, London in 1997, strives at extending the limits of this period into the sixteenth and fifteenth centuries. Thus "the long-standing exclusion of the Renaissance from the standard philosophical curriculum" (xii) should come to an end by acknowledging its being an integral part of early modern philosophy and its relevance for an understanding of modern thought. The distinctive element of the Renaissance was, according to the editors, humanism, understood as the revival of ancient sources from the fourteenth century on, and its impact on the shaping of modern thought by these sources.
One can identify the following types of argument offered in the twelve contributions to this book: (1) Renaissance humanists mediated classical sources into the seventeenth and following centuries either by translating Greek texts into Latin (Lohr on Aristotle commentaries) or by offering new interpretations that were to become standard (Hankins on Ficino and Galileo, and Mercer on the German Platonists). (2) Ancient modes of thought, mediated through the Renaissance, shaped modern philosophy (Stone on Aristotelian and Reformed ethics, Levi on Stoicism in Justus Lipsius, Kraye on Marcus Aurelius editions, and Osler on Gassendi and Aristotle). (3) Humanist literary forms and mentalities survived in modern thought (Bianchi on dialogue, Vickers on rhetoric in Bacon, and James on 'grandeur' and scientific argument).
Two papers do not fit into this scheme: in "The Theology of Lorenzo Valla," the only paper dealing directly with a Renaissance humanist, Monfasani wants to prove that "Valla was no theologian." Monfasani does this on the basis of a very narrow concept of dogmatic correctness, blaming Valla continuously for being banal, to the effect that the paper does not contribute to the topic of the book. One could well connect Valla's theological issues (free will, summum bonum, trinity, etc.) with his provocative stirring up of philosophy in general and show his influence on Protestant theology and on modern ethics.
The other paper is by J. R. Milton, which is enlightening because it summarizes the prejudices against humanism in modern philosophy ("'Delicate learning,' erudition and the enterprise of philosophy"). He endorses "one of the most familiar narratives in European philosophy" (161), namely that Descartes's breakthrough was due to his total rupture [End Page 121] with the philosophical tradition, especially with contemporary humanist and scholastic thought. Thus Descartes's triumph was that of the myth of the irrelevance of history to philosophy as evident in Galileo, Locke, and even Hume. If antecedents are acknowledged, e.g., in Berkeley, then accepting that they "provide us either with an irreplaceable source of wisdom or with equally irreplaceable models for imitation, or indeed both" (167), still fails to recognize that the history of a philosophical problem is a part of that problem rather than just some general "wisdom" or a model for imitation. Of course, Milton repeats the myth of Bacon's anti-humanism, masterly refuted in this very book by Brian Vickers, and Milton believes that Valla "enthroned" "custom and example" and therefore for him "it would be difficult if not impossible to state Hempel's Raven Paradox" (169). One might wonder whether the conclusion: "All ravens are black --all non-black things are non-ravens," is the paramount of modern philosophy. But a thorough reader of Valla's logic might discover similarities to pragmatism, which are fostered by his deep criticism of language with the tools of Renaissance humanism. However, Descartes's indebtedness to Renaissance method and rhetoric is handbook knowledge today.
The audience for this collection of samples are specialists either in seventeenth- or eighteenth-century philosophy, or in Renaissance thought, or even philosophers in the narrow sense of the disciplines. The latter are difficult to convince of the usefulness of historic studies or "erudite activity" (Milton...