- The Cambridge Companion to Renaissance Philosophy
The editor of this volume notes that philosophers and historians of philosophy have often ignored the period between the scholastic age and the seventeenth century because of the Renaissance's "reputation as a philosophical wasteland" [End Page 912] (339). The appearance of this volume demonstrates that this assessment of the Renaissance is currently undergoing significant revision: the essays in this book demonstrate the distinctive philosophical achievements of the period.
The book comprises eighteen chapters on well-chosen topics: Renaissance culture (Robert Black), humanism and scholasticism (James Hankins), the Aristotelian tradition (Luca Bianchi), the Platonic tradition (Christopher S. Celenza), the rediscovery of Stoicism, Epicureanism, and skepticism (Jill Kraye), Islamic philosophy (Dag Nikolaus Hasse), magic (Brian P. Copenhaver), the immortality of the soul (Paul Richard Blum), philosophy and the Reformation (Peter Harrison), Hispanic scholastic philosophy (John P. Doyle), Renaissance cosmologies (Miguel A. Granada), knowledge taxonomies (Ann M. Blair), ethics (David Lines), and political philosophy (Eric Nelson). Two philosophers each receive a chapter: Dermot Moran writes on Nicholas of Cusa and Lodi Nauta on Lorenzo Valla. The volume concludes with a protreptic for further research into Renaissance philosophy. All of the chapters are well-written, interesting, and informative. The chapters are supplemented by a chronology of events that begins with the birth of Petrarch (1304) and ends with seventeenth-century publications by Galileo, Descartes, and Gassendi. An appendix contains fifty paragraph-length biographies of notable philosophers, excerpted from the 1988 Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy.
In the introduction, James Hankins contends that the Renaissance exhibits three species of philosophers: the humanist moralist, the university professor, and the new reformer who seeks to reground the discipline. The chapters that follow largely support this threefold division. Hankins also acknowledges the limits of this kind of book, stating that "philosophy for the purpose of the present collection will be understood approximately as it is understood today" (6–7). (This reviewer wonders, however, how the astutely-written chapter on magic by Copenhaver satisfies this editorial criterion, since magic is not part of any present-day philosophical curriculum). Several chapters contain sections especially worthy of note. Black attempts an intermediate position on the contested question of a Platonic academy in Florence. Hankins wisely distinguishes senses of the term humanism. Bianchi's discussion of the philosophical difficulties of distinct translations of Aristotelian terminology is instructive. Nauta's careful treatment of the differences between scholastic and humanistic approaches to Latin is noteworthy. Celenza, Kraye, Harrison, Blum, and Doyle display a rare facility in synthesizing a large amount of material in a way that is instructive as well as interesting. Since most of the chapters are thematic, the same figures often appear in more than one chapter. As would be expected, several chapters deal significantly with Ficino and Petrarch. Other figures receiving more extended treatment include Poliziano, Pomponazzi, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Telesio, Patrizi, Bruno, Suárez, and Campanella. Some figures escape any significant treatment apart from the occasional mention, such as Giovanni Pico and Cajetan.
A few scattered lines in the volume are bound to raise an eyebrow (or two). The careful reader will be displeased to see the claim that in 1486 "Pico della [End Page 913] Mirandola publishes his 900 Theses and Oration on the Dignity of Man" (xiii), since only the former was published that year and Pico's Oratio, arguably the best-known text today of Renaissance philosophy, was first published posthumously by Pico's nephew Gianfrancesco in the Opera of 1496 with a table of contents title of Oratio quedam elegantissima. Other readers may take exception to seeing Nicholas of Cusa described as a "dilettante" in philosophy (180), as Cusa is only one of two philosophers deemed worthy of an entire chapter in this collection. Chapter contributors appear to have been free to select preferred rendering of names —Petrarch and Petrarca are used interchangeably, sometimes in the same chapter —and Ficino's famous work is...