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Aristotelianism, Renaissance

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-C003-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved January 22, 2018, from

Article Summary

By the Renaissance here is meant the period of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries during which there was a deliberate attempt, especially in Italy, to pattern cultural activities on models drawn from antiquity. However, Aristotelianism during that period was not cut off from medieval developments, since earlier interests and topics of discussion still held the attention of philosophers, theologians and non-academic intellectuals. Moreover, given that Aristotelianism was embedded in the university curriculum, the approach and activities of Renaissance Aristotelians often reflected earlier institutional developments. The educational reforms of the German Lutheran Philipp Melanchthon and of the newly-founded Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) ensured that Aristotle remained central to the curriculum. On the other hand, deliberate attempts to divorce themselves from earlier structures and approaches can be discerned in some Renaissance Aristotelians. Owing to the influence of humanism, professors of philosophy whose loyalty was to Aristotle came to study Greek and explicate Aristotle from the Greek text, to imitate the style of classical models, and to prefer the Greek commentators over the medieval Latins because their language was Greek.

Renaissance Aristotelianism did not constitute a uniform, coherent school of thought with a clearly defined body of doctrines shared by all adherents. A careful reading of the many commentaries, paraphrases, textbooks and treatises based on Aristotle’s works reveals a surprisingly wide variation in interpretation and a strong tendency to modify or supplement the Stagirite’s teachings with tenets derived from other philosophical or scientific sources or from contemporary interests and discoveries. It is perhaps wise to speak of a variety of Aristotelianisms rather than to perpetuate the long-standing caricature of ‘modern’ philosophy and science arising by throwing off the shackles of a monolithic Peripatetic orthodoxy. The various Aristotelianisms included Albertism, Thomism, Scotism and Averroism, but as a result of the new translations of the Greek commentators on Aristotle there were also Renaissance Aristotelians who approached Aristotle by way of Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, Simplicius and John Philoponus. Another current is best described as ‘eclectic Aristotelianism’. Some Aristotelians adopted a ‘philological’ approach, approaching Aristotle simply through analysis of the Greek text and not as a philosophical challenge. This approach made Aristotelianism irrelevant to the enterprise of philosophy, but fortunately did not predominate.

Citing this article:
Mahoney, Edward P. and James B. South. Aristotelianism, Renaissance, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-C003-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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