Friday, April 20, 2012


One of the major intellectual currents in Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth century. Began in Italy, possibly as a result of a growing commercial class. Developing an instrumental view of education as a means to learn good decision making and leadership skills, rather than a desire to search for abstract truth, humanist scholars saw rhetoric as more important than logic. In a narrow sense humanism entails a shift in educational focus from an old curriculum emphasizing religion and law, to topics like grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy. This focus on literary and rhetorical skills did not mean that critical thinking and truth were abandoned. Rather the opposite, scholars went back to the sources, and back to desiring a context for those sources, understanding that they existed in a specific time and culture and that the reader needed to understand that context to understand the text. This sort of reading led to a new understanding of time and change over time. It also led Lorenzo Valla to the conclusion that the Donation of Constantin, giving the legacy of Rom to X, had been a fraud.
Humanism has been described as competing with scholasticism, but it is probably more correct to say that humanism was more practically oriented and simply found scholastic methods less useful.
Politics - politically changes in Italian society encouraged humanism - increasing the demand for educated civil servants. The ideal life was no longer contemplative, but civic. So Machiavelli wrote "The Prince" on how to educate a ruler ...
Antiquity - unclear what influenced what, but there is a renewed interest in greek and roman art and thought. Aristotle was well integrated but Plato was new - and very iteresting. Art beoomes less focused on god and heaven, mroe on people and nature.
Religion - made the afterlife less important (it could be after the plagues were over and population growth well on its way again) - there were religious strains of Humanism, applying different logic and more science.
This started in Italy but moved north and shifted as it went. ???
Humanists influential in England:
Thomas Linacre (1460-1524), John Colet (1467-1519), William Lilly (1468?-1522)
In Sir Thomas More (1478–1535), Sir Thomas Elyot (c. 1490–1546), and Roger Ascham (1515–68), English humanism bore fruit in major literary achievement. Ben Jonson is also one of the gang, as is much of Henry VIII and Elizabethan culture.