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Valla, Lorenzo (1407–57)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C044-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Unlike most Renaissance humanists, Valla took a special interest in philosophy. However, his most influential writing was a work of grammar, Elegantiae Linguae Latinae (The Fine Points of the Latin Language); he had no comprehensive philosophy, nor did he write mainly on philosophy. Valla considered himself to be a revolutionary overturning received opinions, bragging that through his works he was ‘overturning all the wisdom of the ancients’. His preference for Quintilian over Cicero and criticism of classical authors shocked older humanists, and religious authorities were upset by his views on the Trinity and on papal authority, but Valla never sought the overthrow of classical studies – or the papacy for that matter. He sought rather to destroy the Aristotelianism then reigning in the universities. In De Vero Falsoque Bono (On the True and False Good) (1431), he argued for the superiority of Epicureanism over Stoic and Aristotelian ethics. In De Libero Arbitrio (On Free Will) (1439), he corrected Boethius’ treatment of free will and predestination. In the Dialectica (1438–9) he set out to reform logic and philosophy because he believed Aristotle had corrupted them. Asserting that Aristotle had falsified thought because he had falsified language, Valla was determined to show how logic rightly conformed to the linguistic usage of the classical literary authors; essentially Valla had aggressively revived the ancient competition between the rhetorical and philosophical traditions. The first great humanist, Francesco Petrarca (better known in English as Petrarch), had attempted something similar in the fourteenth century, but Valla’s knowledge of philosophy was greater than Petrarch’s and he had access to more sources. Furthermore, Valla knew Greek and could read texts which the medieval Aristotelians knew only in Latin translation.

Citing this article:
Monfasani, John. Valla, Lorenzo (1407–57), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C044-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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