Against the Academicians

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Marquette University Press, 1943 - Ontology - 85 pages

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About the author (1943)

The Count of Mirandola and Concordia, a small state not far from Florence, Giovanni Pico was the exemplification of the brilliant Renaissance philosopher-prince. As a youth he went to Florence and entered into the circle of Marsilio Ficino's Platonic Academy. He studied philosophy at the University of Padua, a center of Aristotelian thought, and in Ferrara and Paris. As a result, his writings show a more positive assessment of Aristotelianism and the scholastics than do Ficino's, even though Pico was strongly influenced by the great Platonist's theories. In 1486 Pico published at Rome his famous collection of 900 Conclusions, which he hoped to defend in a public disputation against all comers. A papal commission found several of the conclusions of dubious orthodoxy, however, and the debate was canceled. Pico composed an Apology (1487) in defense of his views but was forced to flee to France in an attempt to avoid arrest. Imprisoned briefly, he was released through the intervention of his Florentine patron, Lorenzo de' Medici. Pico died in his thirty-second year in 1494, the year in which the Medici were expelled from Florence. The most arresting statement of Pico's philosophical aims is found in the famous Oration intended to open the defense of his 900 Conclusions in 1486. Frequently referred to as the Oration on the Dignity of Man, the work begins with a praise of humankind's miraculous nature. Against the background of a Neoplatonic view of reality derived from Ficino, Pico singles out the human being as unique in the universe, having been endowed by God with the seeds of all sorts of beings, from the highest to the lowest, in the soul. Through free will, people are able to adopt for themselves the nature they choose; by their choices they can live the life of a beast, a rational thinker, or a god. No more eloquent defense of the human capacity for self-perfection was penned during the Renaissance. Pico advocated an eclectic approach to the study of philosophy, refusing to limit himself to a single school or tradition in his search for truth. He attempted to reconcile the views of Plato and Aristotle where they appeared to differ, and, though he accepted the validity of Christianity, he did not hesitate to employ Islamic and Jewish sources in his studies. His use of Jewish cabalistic writings was particularly significant. Among his important works are the treatise On Being and the One (1491), Heptaplus (1489), an allegorical interpretation of the biblical account of creation, and his unfinished Disputation against Astrology (1496).

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