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Renaissance

 

Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences

 

see New in Philosophy, SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY PHILOSOPHY

Two Aristotelians of the Italian Renaissance: Nicoletto Vernia and Agostino Nifo essays by Edward P. Mahoney, (Variorum Collected Studies Series: Ashgate) Unifying the present collection of essays is their focus on the thought of two Aristotelians of the Italian Renaissance, namely Nicoletto Vernia (d. 1499) and Agostino Nifo (ca.1470-1538). However, the twelve articles brought together in this volume also contain discussions of other late medieval and Renaissance philosophers, including Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, John of Jandun, Antonius Andreae, Joannes Canonicus, Apollinaris Offredi, Paul of Venice, Marsilio Ficino, Pietro Pomponazzi, Marcantonio Zimara, Antonio Trombetta, Pier Nicola Castellani, Giulio Castellani and lacopo Zabarella. This wide range of authors should be no cause for surprise, since the thought of many philosophers of this period cannot be understood or properly appreciated in isolation. Late medieval and Renaissance philosophers were frequently in a dialogue with their contemporaries and with a tradition that included not just such luminaries as Saint Albert the Great, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Blessed John Duns Scotus, but also the likes of Siger of Brabant and John of Jandun. Moreover, both Vernia and Nifo were among the very first university professors of philosophy during the Italian Renaissance to be influenced by the Greek Commentators on Aristotle, most especially Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius and Simplicius. The magnitude and importance of this impact was not properly appreciated in previous scholarship.' Other themes common to the essays lie in the history of metaphysics, instanced by allusions to the Great Chain of Being, and cognitive psychology, especially that of Averroes and his late medieval and Renaissance Aristotelian interpreters.'

An overview of the thought of Nicoletto Vernia, with a chronological analysis of his writings, begins the collection. Topics studied include the nature of motion, the subject of natural philosophy or natural science, the unity of the intellect, intuitive knowledge of the divine essence, the nature of the heavens, the question whether there are real universals, and the question whether law is superior to medicine or vice versa. The article also discusses the earliest of the works of Agostino Nifo, his commentary on Averroes' Destructio destructionum, particularly his views on the subject

of natural philosophy, the nature and motion of the heavens, the relation of metaphysics to other philosophical sciences, metaphysical participation, and the hierarchy of being. Nifo presents Averroes as upholding a metaphysics of participation and the notion of a hierarchy of being.

Vernia's use of Ficino's translations of Plato in his late treatise against Averroes is underlined in Article II, along with his adaptation of Ficino's doctrine on individuation. Also presented are Nifo's use of Ficino's translations in his early writings and his attempt to interrelate Plotinus, Themistius and Ficino. Especially noteworthy is the adoption of Ficino's moral arguments for immortality both in Nifo's De intellectu and also in his De immortalitate animae. And while Marcantonio Zimara (1475-1532) is usually presented simply as an Averroist, he did in fact draw upon Ficino's translations of Plato and Plotinus in his major work, the Theoremata. He uses Plotinus to argue against the reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle and derives some of his remarks about Plato from Themistius and Simplicius.

The remarkable impact of the Greek Commentators on Vernia is a key focus of Article III. That impact is evident in the evolution of his thought regarding the question of immortality and the nature of the human intellect.

In an early treatise on the intellective soul, Vernia had committed himself to Averroes' interpretation of Aristotle's psychology; subsequently in a late work against Averroes he states that the best Aristotelians - both the medievals and also the Greek Commentators - maintain against Averroes the multiplicity of human souls. Following the Greek Commentators, Vernia attempts to reconcile Plato and Aristotle on the soul. Later Nifo, in his own De immortalitate animae, criticized both Vernia's interpretation of Aristotle and also his reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle.

The importance of Jandun as an authority in late fifteenth-century Aristotelianism is established in Article IV, a study of the hand-written annotations found in Vernia's own copies of Jandun and Aristotle, where he cites a wide range of medieval philosophers and reveals a special interest in Albert, Thomas and Giles of Rome.' Clearly Vernia does not consider Jandun's interpretations of Averroes to be accurate. He also appears not to accept the sincerity of Jandun's protestations of religious belief in personal immortality. Indeed he even calls Jandun heretical.

The remaining essays focus on Agostino Nifo. Articles V and VI attempt in particular to reconstruct his knowledge of and interpretation of Plato, Aristotle and Neoplatonism. A conversation that Nifo had with Pico delta

Mirandola regarding Plato's doctrine of the soul is recounted in Article V." Nifo himself cites a wide range of Plato's writings in his De immortalitate animae and contrasts Plato's and Aristotle's methods of philosophizing, showing preference for Aristotle. In his late, humanistic writings he frequently cites Plato.

The influence of Neoplatonic authors on Nifo is investigated in Article VI. From his earliest work, the commentary on the Destructio, he made use both of Ficino's translation of Plotinus's Enneads and also his commentary on that work. Nifo also cited the Liber de causis, which he recognized as derived from Proclus. He attempted to conciliate Plotinus both with Themistius and with Simplicius, and he cited other Neoplatonic authors including lamblichus, Porphyry, Ammonius and Pseudo-Dionysius. Nifo turns to the Neoplatonists when discussing cognition, individuation, and immortality.

Nifo's dramatic shift from maintaining to rejecting Averroes' interpretation of Aristotle is recounted in article VII. Both in the early commentary on the Destructio and in the early commentary on the De anima, Nifo denies that the immortality of the soul can be demonstrated. But in his De intellectu he rejects Averroes as an accurate guide to Aristotle and insists against Duns Scotus that immortality is demonstrable. He draws on the thought of Albert and Ficino and, notably, includes moral arguments for immortality. He later explained that after he had learned Greek he recognized that Averroes misrepresented Aristotle's views on the, important question of immortality.

Some late medieval philosophers and Renaissance philosophers postulated a special cognitive power known as the agent sense (sensus agens) to explain sensation. That tradition and Nifo's contribution to it in his early opusculum De sensu agente provide the focus of Article VIII. The issue was whether the senses, considered passive, along with the sensible species were sufficient to explain sensation or whether some other cause was needed to account for the `spirituality' required in sensation. John of Jandun had maintained the need for a psychological power in the individual human being comparable to the agent intellect in intellectual cognition. Nifo investigates Jandun's teaching and gives arguments against it. His own proposal is that the spirituality needed is due to God, who uses the sensible as his instrument; the sensible provides the content of the sensation. Giles of Rome and Cajetan of Thiene appear to have influenced Nifo's analysis. Iacopo Zabarella would later examine and criticize Nifo's position in his own treatise on the agent sense.

A previously unchronicled dispute between Nifo and the Franciscan theologian Antonio Trombetta is the subject of Article IX. Medievals like Aquinas and Jandun explicated the cognitive psychology of Averroes in such fashion that they took him to have maintained the existence of intelligible species in the separate intellect. Already in his early commentary on the Desrructio, Nifo attacks Jandun for this interpretation of Averroes; he also attacks Aquinas for postulating intelligible species in the angels. In turn, Trombetta attacks in his treatise against the Averroists those who deny that Averroes held to intelligible species. He clearly has Nifo in mind, though he does not name him.

Two interpretations of Averroes' doctrine of the agent intellect, namely that of Nifo and that of Pier Nicola Castellani, are compared and contrasted in Article X. Pier Nicola's nephew Giulio Castellani, a philosopher in his own right, dismissed Nifo as inconsistent in his writings and indicated his low regard for those works. However, Pier Nicola had in fact borrowed key elements from Nifo's interpretation of Averroes on the agent intellect and incorporated them in his own account. Nifo maintained that there are three agent intellects for Averroes, namely, God, the grade of perfection in the separate intellect, and the first principles. This proposal is followed in great part by Pier Nicola.

Not surprisingly, like Vernia Nifo too shows interest in the thought of Saint Thomas Aquinas. Article XI presents an analysis of Nifo's use of the writings of Aquinas and his evaluation of Thomas's thought. In his earliest writings, Nifo sharply criticizes Thomas and other Latins, preferring instead Themistius and Simplicius. He disputes Thomas's psychology and appears in general to prefer Albert. His tripartite division of forms is not taken from Thomas but rather from Ficino and Albert; his view of the soul as a totum potestativum appears to have been derived from Albert. Nifo emphatically rejects Thomas's doctrine of intelligible species, his distinction between the intellect and will and also his distinction between essence and existence. On the other hand, he does adopt Thomas' doctrine of individuation and his account of the disembodied soul. Moreover, he ranks Thomas ahead of all others as a commentator on Aristotle, routinely calling him `the Expositor' (Expositor), an honorific title also applied to Thomas by Jandun and others. Thomas' errors in explicating the text of Aristotle are attributed to his ignorance of Greek and use of bad translations.

The final essay focuses on a question debated throughout the late medieval and Renaissance periods, namely, can the human intellect achieve a direct, intuitive knowledge of separate substances - most notably God - during the present life. Thomas insisted that this was impossible. Jandun rejects Thomas's position as irrational and opposed to philosophy. Basing himself on his understanding of Aristotle and Averroes, he maintains that the human being united to the separate possible intellect will, according as its deposit of knowledge increases, ascend through the Intelligences and finally be united to God by an intuitive knowledge of God; the felicity or beatitude that results Jandun calls status. Nifo offers a like interpretation of Averroes and also adopts the terminology of status, which is borrowed from Albert the Great.

THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY edited by Charles B. Schmitt, Jill Kraye, and Quentin Skinner ($42.95, PAPERBACK, Cambridge University Press ISBN: 0521397480 also available HARDCOVER)

The Renaissance, known primarily for the art and literature that it produced, was also a period in which philosophical thought flourished. THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY offers a balanced and comprehensive account of philosophical thought from the middle of the fourteenth century to the emergence of modern philosophy at the turn of the seventeenth century. The Renaissance has, of course, attracted much scholarly attention for over this century, but the philosophy of the period was, to begin with, relatively neglected and this is the first volume in English to synthesize for a wider readership the substantial and sophisticated research now available. The Renaissance was, in fact, a time of intense, varied and in many ways distinctive philosophical activity which deserves to be at least as well known as the philosophy of the Middle Ages. This volume has become a watershed in opening up this epoch in philosophy to a wider readership.

The volume is organized by branch of philosophy rather than by individual philosopher or by school. The intention has been to present the internal development of different aspects of the subject in their own terms and within their historical context. The structure also naturally emphasizes the international nature of philosophy in the Renaissance and the broader connotations of ‘philosophy’ in that intellectual world. It will be an important source of reference for an unusually wide range of students and scholars in the humanities.

CAMBRIDGE TRANSLATIONS OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHICAL TEXTS edited by Jill Kraye ($39.95, PAPERBACK, 2 Volume Set: Moral and Political Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, ISBN: 0521597722; HARDCOVER the set, Volume One:Moral Philosophy PAPERBACK, HARDCOVER; Volume Two:Political Philosophy PAPERBACK, HARDCOVER)

The success of THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY has given impetus to the production of this two volume anthology that contains forty new translations of important works on moral and political philosophy written during the Renaissance and previously unavailable in English. The anthology is designed to be used in conjunction with THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY, in which all of these texts are discussed.

The works, originally written in Latin, Italian, French, Spanish, and Greek, cover such topics as: concepts of man; Aristotelian, Platonic, Stoic, and Epicurean ethics; scholastic political philosophy; theories of princely and republican government in Italy; and northern European political thought. Each text is supplied with an introduction and a guide to further reading.

These readable and fully annotated versions of a wide range of texts will enable serious readers of the history of philosophy to gain firsthand access to the ethical and political thought of the Renaissance which is still relatively under-appreciated. Overall, THE CAMBRIDGE HISTORY OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHY and its companion work of documentation, CAMBRIDGE TRANSLATIONS OF RENAISSANCE PHILOSOPHICAL TEXTS, provide a comprehensive introduction to the philosophical echos within the culture of early modern Europe.

THE CAMBRIDGE COMPANION TO RENAISSANCE HUMANISM edited by Jill Kraye ($59.95, hardcover,  320 pages, Cambridge University Press; ISBN: 0521430380) PAPERBACK

From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, humanism played a key role in European culture. Beginning as a movement based on the recovery, interpretation and imitation of ancient Greek and Roman texts and the archaeological study of the physical remains of antiquity, humanism turned into a dynamic cultural program, influencing almost every facet of Renaissance intellectual life. The fourteen original essays in this volume deal with all aspects of the movement, from language learning to the development of science, from the effect of humanism on biblical study to its influence on art, from its Italian origins to its manifestations in the literature of More, Sidney and Shakespeare.

Contents:
List of illustrations
List of contributors
Preface
Maps
1. The origins of humanism by Nicholas Mann
2. Classical scholarship by Michael D. Reeve
3. Humanism in script and print in the fifteenth century by Martin Davies
4. The humanist reform of Latin and Latin teaching by Kristian Jensen
5. Humanist rhetoric and dialectic by Peter Mack
6. Humanists and the Bible by Alastair Hamilton
7. Humanism and the origins of modern political thought by James Hankins
8. Philologists and philosophers by Jill Kraye
9. Artists and humanists by Charles Hope, Elizabeth McGrath
10. Vernacular humanism in the sixteenth century by Warren Boutcher
11. The new science and the traditions of humanism by Anthony Grafton
12. Humanism and Italian literature by M. L. McLaughlin
13. Humanism and English literature in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries by Clare Carroll
14. Humanism and seventeenth-century English literature by Joseph Loewenstein
A guide to further reading in English
Biographical index

MEDITATION ON THE SOUL: Selected Letters of Marsilio Ficino ($24.95, hardcover, 275 pages, notes, bibliography, index, Inner Traditions, ISBN: 0-89281-567-1)

The leader of the Platonic Academy in Florence, Ficino (1433-1499), was a magnet for the most brilliant scholars of fifteenth-century Europe. It was here in Florence that the Italian Renaissance derived its impulse and direction, and the west was awakened to a new realization about itself. Artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael, writers such as Spenser and Milton, and rulers such as the Medici were influenced by Ficino’s theology of love. In devoting most of his life to the study and translation of the great dialogues of Plato and the Neoplatonists, Ficino and his colleagues were midwives to the birth of the modern world.

In this anthology of some of the correspondence of these scholars we see that the issues that taxed the minds of people centuries ago are still central to contemporary life, for they are matters of the soul. These selections of Ficino’s letters, for the first time easily accessible to modern readers, offer a new glimpse into the raw stirrings of one of the most celebrated eras in western history. The ideas express some of the highest ideals of love and shrewd observations of character and conduct. This book is a profound service to the student of Renaissance culture and to those interested in a living spirituality.

JOHN DEE: The Politics of Reading and Writing in the English Renaissance by William H. Sherman ($ 16.95, paper, 312 pages, notes, bibliography, index, University of Massachusetts Press, ISBN: 1-55849-070-1

Over the past four centuries, and especially the last four decades, the Elizabethan, John Dee has proven one of the most interesting and enigmatic figures of the English Renaissance. Books from his library and from his own pen have always been treasured; and since 1950 there have appeared three monographs, four doctoral theses, and countless essays devoted to his life and works. He is one of the few Elizabethan figures who (like Queen Elizabeth herself) remain vivid—or at least colorful—enough to inspire historians and novelists alike. Yet, while he has always been assured of a place in Britain's heritage, and in Renaissance studies, the nature of that place has never been secure. Since his own day his activities, his works, his milieu, his influence—in short, his very identity—have been subject to fluctuation and debate.

Sherman explains much of the variability of Dee's fate as ascribed to his position as one of the great Renaissance polymaths: their aspirations toward universal knowledge and their seemingly protean characters pose peculiar historiographical problems. During his long career Dee plowed a virtually boundless field of knowledge: even a list including astrology, mathematics, cartography, cryptography, alchemy, angelology, medicine, theology, and law fails to describe the full array of his activities. Like other representatives of late Renaissance "encyclopedism," he believed that his strivings in these various spheres amounted to a patterned and synthetic endeavor; that by mastering all disciplines and all books he would apprehend the mystery of God's creation. As Gabriel Naude put it, by assembling a universal library "he might know all, see all, and be ignorant of nothing," thus truly qualifying as a ''Cosmopolitan, or Habitant of the Universe.

In describing the suggestively named science of anthropographie, Dee asserted the need not merely for interdisciplinarity but for omnidisciplinarity, and offered a tantalizing vision of its rewards:

You must of sundry professions, borow or challenge home, peculier parses hereof: and harder precede: as, God, Nature, Reason and Experience shall informe you. The Anatomistes will restore to you, some part:

The Physiognomisres, some . . . & many other (in certaine "hinges) will be Contributaries. And Larder, the Heauen, the Earth, and all other Creatures, will eche shew, and offer their Harmonious seruice, to fill vp, that, which wanteth hereof: and with your own Experience, concluding: you may Methodically register the whole...

Scholars from fields as diverse as philosophy, geography, and bibliography have been "contributories" to the recovery of Dee and his world. Not surprisingly, they have failed to achieve the gestalt of either Dee or his holistic universe; and the problem of how to "methodically register the whole" remains as acute as ever. Of the strategies available, scholars have almost unanimously opted for the traditional methods of intellectual history and intellectual biography, identifying him with certain schools of thought and tracing their development into a coherent philosophy. Particularly in the influential work of Frances Yates and her students, he has been chiefly associated with the occult philosophy, and has been identified as England's great "magus," or philosopher magician. With a degree of consensus remarkable for such a complex figure, in both the scholarly and the popular imagination Dee has become the reincarnation of Merlin at the Tudor court.

This study began with the realization that Dee left behind many traces of nonmagical activities and writings, and that these traces have been played down or left out altogether in previous accounts. I set out simply to recover these scattered and neglected sources (particularly his marginal annotations and his manuscript writings) and to set them alongside the better-known works; "to fill up," in other words, "that which wanteth." But Sherman quickly developed a sense that these sources did more than enlarge or clarify the received picture: they cast serious doubts on the packaging of Dee as—exclusively or even primarily—a Hermetic, Neoplatonic magus.

In fact, they made it increasingly difficult to assign Dee to any particular school or approach. The more Sherman read, the more Dee seemed to confound conventional divisions of labor and belief. Not only were both Aristotle and Plato central to Dee's thought, but so were Euclid, Ptolemy, Proclus, Plotinus, Cicero, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, and Ramus—a group that gives twentieth-century intellectual historians a strong sense of cognitive dissonance, if not schizophrenia.

What kind of outlook—or, more pointedly, purpose—could have allowed Dee to accommodate these eclectic sources? What kind of personal and cultural phenomena do his efforts to collect and combine all knowledge (the mathematical and the magical, and everything in between) represent? Taking a cue from recent developments in history, sociology, and science, Sherman tried to shift attention from Dee's putative intellectual allegiances to the professional modes and social roles that he so carefully, almost obsessively, documented.

Gradually another Dee emerges, occupying a peculiar and significant place at the crossroads of early modern culture. By equipping himself with a humanistic education in the recovery and analysis of textual information, by pursuing all practical (and most speculative) knowledge, by assembling his country's largest and most valuable library and museum, and by developing a wide range of courtly and commercial contacts, Dee fulfilled a powerful and challenging role. Setting himself up in what was perhaps the first English think tank, he acted as a retailer of special (often secret) knowledge, an "intelligences" in the broadest sense.

The opening section of this book offers a more detailed account of this shift from "magus" to "intelligences," reviewing past approaches to Dee and calling for new attention to neglected sources, contexts, and configurations. The remainder of the study is a preliminary, and by no means exhaustive, attempt at such attention. It joins the recent studies of Nicholas Clulee in John Dee's Natural Philosophy: Between Science and Religion (Routledge Kegan & Paul) in pointing toward a post-Yatesian account of Dee. Despite Sherman’s title, then, this study does not claim to present "the whole Dee." It will be immediately clear where Sherman left materials and issues to others better suited to address them. What he offers, rather, is a range of perspectives which have not figured in previous pictures of the whole Dee and some suggestions about their implications for our understanding of Dee and his contemporaries.

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