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Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (1463–94)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C031-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, today the best known of Renaissance philosophers, was a child prodigy and gentleman scholar who studied humanities, Aristotelianism and Platonism with the greatest teachers of his day. He claimed to have mastered, by the age of twenty-four, all known theological systems, Christian and non-Christian, from Moses to his own time. He was the first important Christian student of the Jewish mystical theology known as Kabbalah. The purpose of Pico’s philosophical and theological studies was to produce a grand synthesis of religious wisdom which would both deepen understanding of Christian truth and also serve as an apologetic weapon against non-Christians. This was the project outlined in Pico’s most famous work, De dignitate hominis (On the Dignity of Man) (1486), and further illuminated by his Conclusiones (1486) and Apologia (1487). As part of this larger project, Pico planned to write a concord of Plato and Aristotle, of which only a fragment, the treatise De ente et uno (On Being and the One) (1491), was ever finished. Although he proposed to found a new theological school based on an esoteric reading of all theologies past and present, he did not believe that these theologies were the same in substance, differing only in expression. He insisted on the differences between Platonism and Christianity, while holding that every major theological tradition did contain some elements of truth.

In addition to other, non-philosophical works, Pico wrote the Commento (1486), a commentary on a Neoplatonic poem that in effect constituted a critique of Marsilio Ficino’s most famous work, the dialogue De amore (On Love) (1469). He criticized Ficino as too literary and defended the use of precise technical language in philosophy. Pico used Neoplatonic metaphysics to rediscover the ‘secret mysteries’ of pagan theology (though he sometimes criticized the reliability of the Neoplatonists as guides to Plato’s thought) and offered a fresh interpretation of the metaphysics of love based on his own reading of Platonic sources, seeing human erotic love as a psychological process distinct from cosmic love.

Citing this article:
Hankins, James. Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni (1463–94), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C031-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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