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The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy
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    Lines, David A. 2015. Beyond Latin in Renaissance philosophy: A plea for new critical perspectives. Intellectual History Review, Vol. 25, Issue. 4, p. 373.

    Ross, Charles 2007. Ariosto In Prose. Prose Studies, Vol. 29, Issue. 3, p. 336.

    Beaney, Michael 2005. The Rise and Fall of German Philosophy. British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Vol. 13, Issue. 3, p. 543.

    Wells, F.C. and Crowe, T. 2004. Leonardo da Vinci as a paradigm for modern clinical research. The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Vol. 127, Issue. 4, p. 929.

    Cosgrove, Denis 2003. Globalism and Tolerance in Early Modern Geography. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, Vol. 93, Issue. 4, p. 852.

    Helander, Hans 2001. Neo-Latin Studies: Significance and Prospects. Symbolae Osloenses, Vol. 76, Issue. 1, p. 5.

    Tirosh-Samuelson, Hava 1997. Theology of Nature in Sixteenth-Century Italian Jewish Philosophy. Science in Context, Vol. 10, Issue. 04, p. 529.

    Wardy, Robert 1993. Chinese whispers. Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society, Vol. 38, p. 149.

    Shapin, Steven 1991. “The Mind Is Its Own Place”: Science and Solitude in Seventeenth-Century England. Science in Context, Vol. 4, Issue. 01,

    Hatfield, Gary 1989. Reason, Nature, and God in Descartes. Science in Context, Vol. 3, Issue. 01,

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Book description

The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, published in 1988, offers a balanced and comprehensive account of philosophical thought from the middle of the fourteenth century to the emergence of modern philosophy. This was the first volume in English to synthesise for a wider audience the substantial and sophisticated research now available. The volume is organised by branch of philosophy rather than by individual philosopher or school, and the intention has been to present the internal development of different aspects of the subject in their own historical context. The structure also naturally emphasises the international nature of philosophy in the Renaissance.


‘The appearance of the present volume will be warmly welcomed not only by historians of philosophy, but by all those engaged in any branch of Renaissance intellectual history, including the history of science and of religion. Doubtless, it will serve as a standard work of reference for many years to come.’

Source: English Historical Review

‘On the basis of the soundness of the general editors’ overall plan and the strength of his main contributors the Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy is an outstanding success.’

Source: The Times Higher Education Supplement

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Page 1 of 2

  • 1 - The conditions of enquiry: Manuscripts
    pp 7-24
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    This chapter provides certain general organising themes and proposing a coherent explanation for the continued importance of manuscripts as a philosophical medium throughout the Renaissance. Manuscript production in the Latin West can be broadly divided into two periods: the era of monastic scriptoria, and the second period dating from the thirteenth century which witnessed the increase in the number of manuscripts available to a reading public. The increased demand for manuscripts as well as established means of obtaining desiderata through professional bookdealers accompanied the development of the public library in the Renaissance. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the balance of manuscripts was altered. This was especially a function of the deep commitment to ancient writers, first Latin and then Greek. In addition to the availability of standard philosophical works from the later Middle Ages, the Renaissance marked the introduction of Greek texts, especially of the ancient Greek commentators on Aristotle and of new translations of his writings.
  • 2 - The conditions of enquiry: Printing and censorship
    pp 25-54
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    Printing had an enormous effect on all learning, though its effect was neither sudden nor revolutionary. This chapter explains how printing affected the conditions of learning in the Renaissance, and especially how the press communicated the results of scholarly enquiry. Renaissance men may not have been more argumentative than their predecessors of the age o script, but the press amplified their words enormously. Censorship and freedom of expression coexisted uneasily in the Renaissance. The machinery of censorship often broke down, and the fragmentation of political and ecclesiastical authority left many loopholes: if an author might not publish in one jurisdiction, he could in the next. Finally, intellectuals relied on a counter-tradition encouraging openness to novelty. The concept of freedom of enquiry did not exist in the Renaissance. Certainly the religious and, to a lesser extent, the political divisions seriously impaired free expression.
  • 3 - The Renaissance concept of philosophy
    pp 55-74
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    Any approach to the meaning of philosophy in the Renaissance requires some preliminary qualification and explanation. This chapter explores questions such as how far is it permissible to speak of a specifically Renaissance philosophy. In the thirteenth century, new schools cultivated grammar, rhetoric and such linguistic models as were appropriate to political office, moral discourse and the deeper understanding of classical language and literature. The new and ancient sapientia, which Petrarch contrasted with the haughty doctrines of the recentiores, entailed the exercise of both caritas and the sermo through shared human experience. Contemporary with Lorenzo Valla but active in very different circles and still close to certain typically medieval traditions (the Albertist School at Cologne, Ockhamism, German mysticism), Nicholas of Cusa contributed decisively to the new metaphysico-religious conception of sapientia. Nicholas has often been seen as the instigator of the late fifteenth-century Platonic revival, and Cassirer has argued, not entirely convincingly, for his influence over Marsilio Ficino.
  • 4 - Translation, terminology and style in philosophical discourse
    pp 75-110
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    In the sixteenth century several scholars from Europe produced nearly 200 Latin translations of over forty texts ascribed to Aristotle. Plato and Aristotle dominated philosophical translation as they dominated philosophy, but Renaissance scholars also made other important thinkers more familiar to the West. Some scholars like Simone Simoni, praised the verbal method for its precision and for its terminological continuity with the medieval textual tradition. Oratorical translation implied commitment to classical rhetoric, an approach to language which since the age of the sophists had possessed its own technical baggage as well as certain anti-philosophical impulses. Part of Alonso's defence of medieval transliteration was the claim that there was common and public use of many Greek words not just in learned discourse but also in the language of the uneducated and vulgar idiom. But his examples, grammatica, logica, rhetorica, philosophia and theologia, show that Alonso was thinking of the common talk of scholars, not of ordinary language.
  • 5 - Humanism
    pp 111-138
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    If one wants to understand the role of the humanists and of humanism during the Renaissance and their impact on learning and philosophy, he or she must consider not only the place of their subject-matter, the humanities, in the classifications of the arts and sciences and among the subjects taught in the schools and universities, but also their professional activities and their literary production. This chapter first discusses the intellectual interests and the professional activities of the humanists. Next, it describes their scholarly and other achievements, and above all the form and content of their literary production, as well as some of the basic attitudes that underlie and pervade it. Then, the chapter presents a brief history of Renaissance humanism, and ends with a short description of its impact on the philosophy and general thought of the period.
  • 6 - Logic and language: Traditional logic
    pp 139-172
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    In order to understand the full scope of the changes which took place in logic during the sixteenth century, it is necessary to consider the range of non-Aristotelian topics treated by medieval logicians. The most important developments in medieval logic were presented in the form of treatises on individual subjects. Separate treatises began to be written on traditional topics which had usually been discussed in some wider context. By 1350, the doctrines of speculative grammar had already lost their importance for philosophers of language. During 1350-1600, there was only one brief work in support of speculative grammar. A useful insight into the changes in logic which took place during the sixteenth century can be obtained from a consideration of two groups of textbooks: four transitional texts and two texts which appeared in the Jesuit Ratio studiorum at the end of the century. One interesting transitional text is Nifo's Dialéctica ludiera, which was first published in Florence in 1520.
  • 7 - Logic and language: Humanistic logic
    pp 173-198
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    This chapter focuses on individual humanists' contributions to dialectic as part of their overall perspective on the liberal arts, and emphasises the closely similar development in Aristotelian treatment of the appropriate areas of their logic teaching. It presents a discussion on three early humanists, namely, Lorenzo Valla, Rudolph Agricola, and Petrus Ramus. In pointing out that the context for humanist dialectical innovations was their preoccupation with oratory and with textual exegesis, it does not imply that the significance of contributions of major humanist dialecticians like Valla and Agricola was confined to the study of the non-rigorous and descriptive use of language. A distinction does, however, need to be drawn between the original and influential work of Valla, Agricola and distinguished specialists in the Greek of the ancient logical texts and the humanist textbook writers of the latter half of the sixteenth century.
  • 8 - Natural philosophy: Traditional natural philosophy
    pp 199-235
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    This chapter sketches the main outlines of this natural philosophy, and supplies a sampling of illustrations that enable the reader to capture its spirit, its values and its limitations. It begins with a description of the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, and of how disciplines concerned with nature fared over the years roughly between 1200 and 1650. The main exposition is concerned with methodological and stylistic innovations within the period, with the way in which natural philosophy fitted into the overall structure of knowledge, how as a philosophy it stood in relation to the more specialised sciences, what its empirical content was in particular and the various ways in which it was systematised by writers interested in philosophical synthesis. The chapter ends with a focus on the relationship between natural philosophy and medicine, and on critiques of the former that led to its downfall and the rise of the modern era.
  • 9 - Natural philosophy: The new Philosophy of nature
    pp 236-263
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    The intellectual ferment of the early sixteenth century profoundly influenced the education and training of a group of thinkers who by the middle of the century were beginning to elaborate a new vision of nature. This chapter first discusses the contributions of three thinkers of new philosophy of nature: Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Pico and Pietro Pomponazzi. Geographical discoveries, emerging experimentalism, technical progress and practical experience all changed the picture of nature. The chapter then discusses the works of two scholars, Girolamo Cardano and Bernardino Telesio, whose works differed with that of Aristotle. Francesco Patrizi da Cherso outlined his proposals for a new ideology for the Catholic Church. Based on the authority of an ancient theology in the Platonic mould, it would replace the scholastic Aristotelianism which had dominated the church. Tommaso Campanella took a considerable interest in astronomical/astrological situations and related astrological events in an attempt to reveal their hidden meanings.
  • 10 - Natural philosophy: Astrology and magic
    pp 264-300
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    When Henricus Cornelius Agrippa described magic as a linking of inferior to superior entities, he alluded also to astrology as an ingredient of the magical worldview. A greater emphasis on natural philosophy in the analysis of magic and astrology characterised a number of Giovanni Pico's contemporaries and near-contemporaries associated with the University of Padua and other studia of northern Italy. By the early fifteenth century, a tradition of secular Aristotelianism stimulated more by medicine than theology had established in these universities a pattern of education in which astrology was a prominent ingredient in an arts curriculum strongly inclined towards natural philosophy. Francis Bacon knew the Renaissance philosophers who had nourished Campanella's magic, and he also understood the anti-philosophical and occultist impulses expressed by Agrippa and Paracelsus. But Bacon's vision of the history of philosophy as a chronicle of degeneracy left him in many respects an heir of that history, and nowhere more than in his attitudes towards occultism.
  • 11 - Moral philosophy
    pp 301-386
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    Scholars generally agreed that moral philosophy should begin with ethics, proceed to oeconomics and conclude with politics. Ethics concerned the formation of man's moral character. There was nothing particularly new or original about Renaissance views of man. The Renaissance was, however, characterised by an increased and intensified interest in the exploration of man's nature. From antiquity to the Renaissance, the enquiry into man's supreme good or summum bonum, that is, the attempt to determine the ultimate purpose for which he was born, was generally accepted as the defining characteristic of ethic. Christianity attempted to appropriate the useful aspects of classical ethics, while abandoning or avoiding any doctrines which overtly contradicted Christian dogma. The attempt to establish the proper relation between Christian and classical moral doctrines and the effort to determine the supreme good of man were two of the most important issues in Renaissance ethics.
  • 12 - Political philosophy
    pp 387-452
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    If the origins and development of Renaissance political thought has to be understood, the focus has to be on the city-states of the Regnum Italicum and the forms of political literature to which they gave rise. Roman emperors were able to support the traditional demands of city-states by invoking the authority of Roman civil law. Some features of Italian political theory in the fourteenth century are best explained as a series of attempts to come to terms with changes in Italian political life. The close of the thirteenth century witnessed the deepening of factional quarrels in many cities governed by podestà, as a result of which there were widespread moves to replace these elective systems of government with the rule of hereditary signori. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, the political ideas of the Italian Renaissance at first began to attract the attention and soon to command the allegiance of large numbers of intellectuals throughout Northern Europe.
  • 13 - Psychology: The concept of psychology
    pp 453-463
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    If physics was the foundation of Aristotelian natural philosophy, psychology was its culmination, since, unlike the other branches of natural philosophy, it treated the principles governing animate rather than inanimate bodies. Philosophers considered psychology relevant to ethics, which required a basic understanding of the soul as the source of man's thoughts and actions and the seat of his ultimate perfection. Non-philosophical disciplines, too, relied on the study of psychology: theology, as is obvious in the debate on immortality; rhetoric, which drew its force from the appeal to senses and emotions; and medicine, which also considered the human body. The contribution of the humanists to psychological discussion in the Renaissance was the most far-reaching. Even more important for Renaissance psychology was the humanist rediscovery, translation and publication of the Greek commentaries on Aristotle's psychological works. Humanist scholars also began to recover and disseminate lost works of classical philosophy from outside the Aristotelian tradition.
  • 14 - Psychology: The organic soul
    pp 464-484
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    The tendency to concentrate on the intellectual soul and the debates which surround it obscures another, equally important aspect of Renaissance psychology: the existence of a broad consensus concerning the general nature of the organic soul and its functions. Renaissance Aristotelians, like their medieval predecessors, were trained in the art of disputation and used to presenting their ideas in the form of questions. Discussions of a single problem organised around the refutation of competing opinions using arguments based on authority, reason, faith and experience. Juan Luis Vives and Philipp Melanchthon reflect particularly clearly the two main trends in sixteenth-century philosophical discussions of the organic soul. However, the works of conservatives such as Jacopo Zabarella, reflect changes in the trends such as the accelerating tendency to simplify psychological theory. Commentators on De anima and other writers in the Aristotelian tradition introduced arguments based on anatomical information into treatments of the organic soul.
  • 15 - Psychology: The intellective soul
    pp 485-534
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    Aristotle's teaching on the intellective soul serves as the starting-point for Renaissance discussions. The first period of Renaissance psychology dates from the introduction of a new approach to Italy at the end of the fourteenth century and ends in the last decade of the fifteenth century, when new source materials discovered by the humanists first entered the discussion. This chapter discusses the contributions of four humanists of this period: Blasius of Parma, Paul of Venice, Gaetano da Thiene, Nicoletto Vernia. Blasius of Parma may be considered the first Renaissance psychologist, and was the most highly esteemed Italian philosopher at the turn of the century and played a key role in introducing British philosophy to his country. In the period of transition, from about 1490 to 1520, there was a reassessment of natural philosophy as a mode of argument in its own right. The chapter talks about three scholars, Alessandro Achillini, Agostino Nifo and Pietro Pomponazzi, associated to this development.
  • 16 - Metaphysics
    pp 535-638
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    The subject-matter of metaphysics has been debated since the time when Aristotle first conceived the idea of the science. Aristotle speaks of a science which he calls first philosophy because it grounds the first principles or axioms of the special sciences, and distinguishes three types of speculative science, physics, mathematics and divine science. In the course of history it was Aristotle's conception of metaphysics as divine science that gave rise to the most difficulties. As more and more new sciences, sciences connected with this new vision of reality and often undreamt of in antiquity, came to maturity, even thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition were forced to reopen the question of the definition of metaphysics and its relationship to the individual sciences. Since each of these problems, the problem o f God and the problem of the science of being, had its own history, the chapter discusses them separately.
  • 17 - Problems of knowledge and action: Fate, fortune, providence and human freedom
    pp 639-667
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    In De consolatione philosophiae, the masterpiece he composed in prison, Boethius drew heavily on classical sources to produce a rational and Christian synthesis of the topics associated with fate, namely fortune and chance, divine foreknowledge and providence and freedom of the will. Boethius' eirenic approach and solutions were an influential legacy to the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In some respects the fragmentation of scholasticism was well under way by the second half of the thirteenth century. More than anything else, Latin Averroism helped to reactivate a number of ancient and deterministic ideas. Pietro Pomponazzi played a key role in the sixteenth-century controversy about astrology. After 1520 the controversy about freedom became markedly theological, and the motives which fuelled it were by no means exclusively philosophical. Protestant theology proposed variations of a theological fatalism, that is, the total dependence of human freedom on the efficacy of grace.
  • 18 - Problems of knowledge and action: Theories of knowledge
    pp 668-684
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    The theory of knowledge, as a or the branch of philosophy, is a post-Renaissance phenomenon that develops from certain critical movements in Renaissance thought. This chapter deals first with problems about knowledge raised within the world of Aristotelian philosophers and their critics. Next, it talks about the alternative epistemologies offered by the nature philosophers, Platonists, Neoplatonists, Hermeticists and cabalists, epistemologies that range from exoteric to esoteric theories. The chapter concludes with a discussion on the critical and sceptical views, leading to the modern problems of knowledge. The main stream of academic philosophy up to the end of the sixteenth century was scholastic Aristotelianism, accepting pretty much without question Aristotle's explanation of how knowledge is attained through sensory activity. During the sixteenth century various naturalistic theories of the world were put forward, which led in part to the development of a new sceptical critique of Renaissance philosophy and science.
  • 19 - Problems of knowledge and action: Epistemology of the sciences
    pp 685-712
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    Current conceptions of epistemology are only dimly foreshadowed in Renaissance logic and psychology. This chapter focuses on topics in the epistemology of disciplines that were, from the curricular point o f view, orthodox: natural philosophy, medicine and mathematics. It opens with accounts of three sixteenth-century debates concerned, respectively, with: the status of demonstrative regress, a means whereby it was widely supposed that the proximate causes of natural phenomena could be established; the grounds of certainty in mathematics; and the status of hypotheses in astronomy. The chapter then touches upon other major debating points on in an attempt to convey the extent and diversity of Renaissance treatments of method and status in the scientiae. Two of the topics considered in the opening sections figure centrally in modern theses about continuity in the epistemology of the sciences. The chapter ends with some reflections on the vexed question of continuity in the epistemology of the sciences.
  • 20 - Philosophy and humanistic disciplines: Rhetoric and poetics
    pp 713-745
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    To approach a rhetorical culture like the Renaissance with post- or even anti-rhetorical expectations is anachronistic, and can only produce complaints about the confusion of rhetoric with poetics. In the Renaissance, poetry used techniques of proof and persuasion, addressed itself to the practical intellect and existed as a force for good or evil in the world. Classical rhetoric, enthusiastically revived, provided a comprehensive system both for creating and for evaluating works of literature. While rhetoric and poetics were notionally separate disciplines from philosophy, in practice during the Renaissance both became attached to ethics. Renaissance writers on rhetoric and poetics claimed that they owed their knowledge and inspiration not to the Middle Ages but to classical antiquity. Knowledge of the state of rhetoric during the Middle Ages helps us understand the major shift of interest that occurred in the Renaissance.
  • 21 - Philosophy and humanistic disciplines: The theory of history
    pp 746-762
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    History in a modern sense was from the beginning bound up with the humanist movement and was indeed a charter member of the studia humanitatis (along with grammar, rhetoric, poetry and moral philosophy) from which that movement took its name. Not only was history numbered among these humanities but in other senses it had particular relationships with them. The Protestant Reformation introduced a new, yet also very old, element in the humanist theory and practice of history. It shifted attention again to the problem of tradition, largely religious tradition. Humanist historians tried to record and explain as well as give shape to the accessible past on a European as well as a national level. The theory of history continued to be pursued most directly in the expanding genre of the ars histórica, which from the 1540s was increasingly associated with problems of philosophy and method.
  • 22 - Appendices: The availability of ancient works
    pp 763-791
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    New editions and new visions of the texts, however famous the scholars, who created them, could not refute well-founded myths about the early history of philosophy. All generalisations about the state of knowledge of ancient texts in the Renaissance should be made with this substantial reservation well in mind. Four periods, perhaps, saw the most distinctive developments: 1390-1420, circa 1440-1470, 1490-1530, and 1550-1580. The increasing availability of texts did not bring about a revolution in the nature of philosophical work, even if it did produce a widening of horizons among philosophers. More complex than the simple question of availability of texts is the larger one of how and whether classical texts took on a new meaning when understood in terms of a different, wider context. The chapter also provides brief notes on classical authors and their availability. This includes Alexander of Aphrodisias, Alexander, Aristotle, Hermes Trismegistus, Hippocrates, Plato, Plutarch, Themistius, and Theophrastus.
  • 23 - Appendices: The rise of the philosophical textbook
    pp 792-804
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    The philosophical textbook during the period, the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, with which we are concerned was nearly always a summary, exposition or expansion based on Aristotle. The need for a synthetic manual to replace the materials contained in the corpus Aristotelicum arose where those works came to be considered unsatisfactory in one of several ways. This chapter discusses philosophical text books in three time periods: from the Middle Ages to the Reformation; from the Reformation to 1600; and developments during seventeenth century. One of the best medieval examples is Albert of Orlamunde's Summa naturalium, which frequently passed under the name of Albertus Magnus. The age of the philosophical textbook, in Protestant as well as Catholic Europe, begins with the Reformation. Although there were medieval and fifteenth-century examples of philosophical textbooks, it was really at the turn of the sixteenth century that the genre came into its own, particularly at Paris.

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