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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (February 24, 1463November 17, 1494) was an Italian Renaissance humanist philosopher and scholar.

Most famous for the events of 1486, when at the age of twenty-three, he proposed to defend 900 theses on religion, philosophy, natural philosophy and magic against all comers, for which he wrote the famous Oration on the Dignity of Man which has been called the "Manifesto of the Renaissance" [1] (http://www.wsu.edu:8080/~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_1/pico.html), and a key text of Renaissance humanism.


Biography

He belonged to a family that had long dwelt in the Castle of Mirandola (Duchy of Modena). To devote himself wholly to study, he left his share of the ancestral principality to his two brothers, and in his fourteenth year went to Bologna to study canon law and fit himself for the ecclesiastical career. Repelled, however, by the purely positive science of law, he devoted himself to the study of philosophy and theology, and spent seven years wandering through the chief universities of Italy and France, studying also Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac, and Arabic. An impostor sold him sixty Hebrew manuscripts, asserting positively that they were written by order of Esdras, and contained the secrets of nature and religion. For many years he believed in the Kabbala and interwove its tenets into his philosophical theories. His aim was to conciliate religion and philosophy. Like his teacher, Marsilius Ficinus, he based his views chiefly on Plato, in opposition to Aristotle, as by this time scholasticism was in decline. But Pico was constitutionally an eclectic, and in some respects he represented a reaction against the exaggerations of pure humanism. According to him, we should study the Hebrew and Talmudic sources, while the best products of scholasticism should be retained. His Heptaplus, a mystico-allegorical exposition of the creation according to the seven Biblical senses, follows this idea (Florence, about 1480); to the same period belongs the De ente et uno, with its explanations of several passages in Moses, Plato and Aristotle; also an oration On the Dignity of Man (published among the Commentationes).

With bewildering attainments due to his brilliant and tenacious memory, he returned to Rome in 1486 and undertook to maintain 900 theses on all possible subjects (Conclusiones philosophicae, cabalasticae et theologicae, Rome, 1486, in fol.). He offered to pay the expenses of those who came from a distance to engage with him in public discussion. Pope Innocent VIII was made to believe that at least thirteen of these theses were heretical, though in reality they merely revealed the state of natural philosophy in the fifteenth century. The proposed disputation was prohibited and the book containing the theses was interdicted, notwithstanding the author's defence in Apologia J. Pici Mirandolani, Concordiae comitis (1489). One of his detractors had maintained that Kabbala was the name of an impious writer against Jesus Christ. Despite all efforts Pico was condemned, and he decided to travel, visiting France first, but he afterwards returning to Florence. He destroyed his poetical works, gave up profane science, and determined to devote his old age to a defence of Christianity against Jews, Mohammedans, and astrologers. A portion of this work was published after his death (Disputationes adversus astrologiam divinatricem, Bologna, 1495). Because of this book and his controversy against astrology, Pico marks an era and a decisive progressive movement in ideas. He died two months after his close friend Politian, on the day Charles VIII of France entered Florence. He was interred at San Marco, and Savonarola delivered the funeral oration.

Writings

In the Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486), Pico justifies the importance of the human quest for knowledge within a neo-Platonic framework. He writes that after God had created all creatures, he conceived of the desire for another, sentient being who would appreciate all his works, but there was no longer any room in the chain of being; all the possible slots from angels to worms had been filled. So, God created man such that he had no specific slot in the chain. Instead, men were capable of learning from and imitating any existing creature. When man philosophizes, he ascends the chain of being towards the angels, and communion with God. When he fails to exercize his intellect, he vegetates. Pico did not fail to notice that this system made philosophers like himself among the most dignified human creatures. The idea that man could ascend the chain of being through the exercise of their intellectual capacities was a profound endorsement of the dignity of human existence in this, earthly life.

The Oration also served as an introduction to Pico's 900 theses, which he believed to provide a complete and sufficient basis for the discovery of all knowledge, and hence a model for mankind's ascent of the chain of being. The 900 Theses are a good example of humanist syncretism, because Pico combined Plotinism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah. They also included 72 theses describing what Pico believed to be a complete system of physics.

Besides the writings already mentioned, see his complete works (Bologna, 1496; Venice, 1498; Strasburg, 1504; Basle, 1557; 1573, 1601). He wrote in Italian an imitation of Plato's Banquet. His letters (Aureae ad familiares epistolae, Paris, 1499) are important for the history of contemporary thought. The many editions of his entire works in the sixteenth century sufficiently prove his influence.

This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia.

References and external links

fr:Jean Pic de la Mirandole it:Giovanni Pico della Mirandola ja:ピコ・デラ・ミランドラ no:Giovanni Pico della Mirandola pl:Giovanni Pico della Mirandola ru:Пико делла Мирандола sk:Pico della Mirandola sv:Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

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