Michelangelo, Creation of Adam (detail)

The Philosophy of the Renaissance

Instructor: Liane Carlson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, pockets of Europe exploded into one of the most vigorous and inventive periods of cultural production in the continent’s history. From Michelangelo’s revolutionary frescos in Rome to Montaigne’s innovative literary explorations of personal emotion and experience, a new spirit of inquiry and expression upended the scholastic pedantry of medieval theology. Rhetoric came to overwrite the predominance of logic, and history and moral philosophy took precedence over questions of epistemology and metaphysics. The aim was cultural renewal, and the means was a classical revival, a return ad fontes (to the sources) to ancient Greek and Roman poetry, rhetoric, and ethics. What resulted was an efflorescence in the study and practice of what we know today as the “humanities.” What, then, were the central tenets, motivations, and innovations of “Renaissance humanism” (a term notably only coined ex-post facto in the 19th century)? Against what ideas and modes of thought did Renaissance thinkers argue, as they struggled to raise the human experience as a value unto itself? How can we understand Renaissance philosophy, and what is its intellectual legacy today?

In this course, we will study some of its leading proponents and defenders, including Desiderius Erasmus, Thomas More, and Giambattista Vico, among others. How did the classical revival lead Renaissance thinkers to reimagine their relationship with ancient Greece and Rome, and to reimagine the nature of history more generally? Can we discover a distinctively Renaissance philosophy of history? Of rhetoric, or religion? Do we still think with and through the categories of Renaissance philosophy, and if so, how?

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
February 02 — March 02, 2022
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Wednesday, February 23rd.


Registration Open