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Erasmus, Desiderius (c.1466–1536)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Although Erasmus was not a systematic philosopher, he gave a philosophical cast to many of his writings. He believed in the human capacity for self-improvement through education and in the relative preponderance of nurture over nature. Ideally, education promoted docta pietas, a combination of piety and learning. Erasmus’ political thought is dominated by his vision of universal peace and the notions of consensus and consent, which he sees as the basis of the state. At the same time he upholds the ideal of the patriarchal prince, a godlike figure to his people, but accountable to God in turn. Erasmus’ epistemology is characterized by scepticism. He advocates collating arguments on both sides of a question but suspending judgment. His scepticism does not extend to articles of faith, however. He believes in absolute knowledge through revelation and reserves calculations of probability for cases that are not settled by the authority of Scripture or the doctrinal pronouncements of the Church, the conduit of divine revelation. Erasmus’ pioneering efforts as a textual critic of the Bible and his call for a reformation of the Church in its head and members brought him into conflict with conservative Catholic theologians. His support for the Reformation movement was equivocal, however. He refused to endorse the radical methods of the reformers and engaged in a polemic with Luther over the question of free will. On the whole, Erasmus was more interested in the moral and spiritual than in the doctrinal aspects of the Reformation. He promoted inner piety over the observance of rites, and disparaged scholastic speculations in favour of the philosophia Christi taught in the gospel. The term ‘Christian humanism’ best describes Erasmus’ philosophy, which successfully combined Christian thought with the classical tradition revived by Renaissance humanists.

Citing this article:
Rummel, Erika. Erasmus, Desiderius (c.1466–1536), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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