Renaissance philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C035-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved September 19, 2019, from

4. Philosophical themes

It is difficult to map the interests of Renaissance philosophers on to the interests of contemporary philosophers, especially as the main form of writing remained the commentary, whether on Aristotle or Aquinas. Suárez is the first well-known author to write a major systematic work of metaphysics that is not a commentary, though earlier authors (such as Nifo and Pomponazzi) had written shorter works on particular themes. Nonetheless, certain general themes can be isolated:

4.1 Logic and language. Logic was basic to the curriculum of all educational institutions, and many Renaissance philosophers wrote on logic (see Logic, Renaissance; Language, Renaissance philosophy of; Aristotelianism, Renaissance §2; Logic in the 17th and 18th centuries §§1–2). Individual humanists who worked in this field include Valla (§4), Agricola, Vives; Melanchthon (§2) and Ramus (§2); individual scholastics include Soto (§2), Toletus and Fonseca (§2). Theories of logic and language were often closely related to metaphysics and philosophy of mind, as well as to science.

4.2 Metaphysics and philosophy of mind. Among the themes that overlapped with theories of logic and language were: (i) mental language (see Language, Renaissance philosophy of §2; Language, medieval philosophy of §2; see also Language of thought); (ii) analogy (see Language, Renaissance philosophy of §4; Capreolus, J.; Cajetan §2; Silvestri, F.; Fonseca, P. da §3); (iii) objective and formal concepts (see Capreolus, J.; Fonseca, P. da §3; Suárez, F. §2; Language, Renaissance philosophy of §4); (iv) beings of reason (see Language, Renaissance philosophy of §3; Fonseca, P. da §3; John of St Thomas §4). A specifically Thomistic theme in metaphysics was the relation between essence and existence (see Aquinas, T. §9; Cajetan §5; Fonseca, P. da §3; Báñez, D.; Suárez, F. §2). Other metaphysical issues include: (i) universals (see Paul of Venice; Biel, G. §4; Suárez, F. §2); (ii) individuation (see Capreolus, J.; Cajetan §3; Suárez, F. §2); and (iii) the Great Chain of Being (see Paul of Venice; Ficino, M. §3; Pomponazzi, P. §4; Bruno, G. §5; Aristotelianism, Renaissance §6). Issues in the philosophy of mind included the existence of an agent sense (see Blasius of Parma §3; Nifo, A. §3; Aristotelianism, Renaissance §4) and of intelligible species (Cajetan §4; Nifo, A. §3; Toletus, F. §5; Aristotelianism, Renaissance §4).

4.3 Immortality. The biggest single issue was the nature of the intellectual soul, whether it was immortal, and if so, whether its immortality could be proved (see Paul of Venice; Blasius of Parma §2; Ficino, M. §3; Cajetan §4; Silvestri, F.; Pomponazzi, P. §2; Nifo, A. §3; Toletus, F. §5; Suárez, F. §3; John of St Thomas §3; Aristotelianism, Renaissance §5; Soul, nature and immortality of the; Immortality in ancient philosophy).

4.4 Free will. Free will was a topic closely connected with the religious issues of grace, predestination and God’s foreknowledge (see Valla, L. §3; Biel, G. §3; Pomponazzi, P. §4; Luther, M. §3; Erasmus, D. §1; Calvin, J. §4; Molina, L. de; Molinism; Báñez, D.; Providence §3).

4.5 Science and philosophy of nature. The discussion of scientific method also overlaps with logic (see Logic, Renaissance §7; Aristotelianism, Renaissance §2; Vernia, N. §2; Zabarella, J. §§4–5; Latin America, colonial thought in §5). Themes include (i) traditional Aristotelian discussions about the object of natural philosophy (see Aristotelianism, Renaissance §3; Vernia, N. §3; Zabarella, J. §6, John of St Thomas §3); (ii) Anti-Aristotelian materialism (see Blasius of Parma); (iii) the new philosophies of nature which saw the universe as full of life (see Paracelsus; Bruno, G.; Campanella, T.; Cardano, G.; Telesio, B.) or as explicable in terms of light-metaphysics (see Patrizi da Cherso, F.); (iv) tentative approaches to empiricism (see Vives, J.L. §4; Ramus, P. §4; Sanches, F. §3). Finally, there are the thinkers who set science on a new path by using a combination of mathematical description and experiment (such as Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo).

4.6 Moral and political philosophy. Humanists were deeply concerned with moral and political philosophy (see Humanism, Renaissance §2; Erasmus, D. §3; Vives, J.L. §2), as were Protestant reformers (see Melanchthon, P. §3; Calvin, J. §5). Although the central focus remained on Aristotle (see Aristotelianism, Renaissance §7), Epicurean moral philosophy was taken up by Valla and Stoic moral philosophy was also influential (see Lipsius, J.; Charron, P. §3). Major political thinkers included Machiavelli, Vitoria and Bodin. Many discussions of forms of government, the status of law, and the notion of a just war grew out of the Aristotelian–Thomistic tradition – prominent contributors to this tradition include Christine de Pizan, Vitoria, Soto (§4), Toletus (§2), Suárez (§4), Molina (§4) and Hooker (see also Latin America, colonial thought in §1). Other significant types of Renaissance political philosophy include: (i) conciliarism (see Ailly, P. d’; Gerson, J.; Nicholas of Cusa; Major, J. §3); (ii) utopianism (see Utopianism; More, T.; Rabelais, F. §2; Campanella, T. §3); (iii) Neostoicism (see Lipsius, J.). (See also Political philosophy, history of; Religion and political philosophy; Natural law.)

4.7 The human being. Themes related to the human being that were prominent in the Renaissance include: (i) the distinction between microcosm and macrocosm (Nicholas of Cusa; Pico della Mirandola, G. §2; Paracelsus §2; Campanella, T. §2); (ii) love (Ficino, M. §4; Pico della Mirandola, G. §2); (iii) the ability to shape one’s own nature (Pico della Mirandola, G. §3; Pomponazzi, P. §4).

Citing this article:
Ashworth, E.J.. Philosophical themes. Renaissance philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C035-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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