The Renaissance (1400-1600).ppt - The Critical Thinking Community

The Renaissance (14001600)
Humanism, the New Learning
and the Birth of Science
Social Conditions in the
The World - 1456
The World - 1502
The World - 1507
The World – 1630
Renaissance Mansions
Palace of Versailles
Renaissance House
Evolving Social Conditions
– 12th century Italy saw a rise in trade, which resulted in
increased wealth and the growth and development of
large city-states. This allowed for the establishment of a
“middle elite”, which did not rule but had leisure time to
develop intellectual skills and to begin to question
received dogma.
– This increased trade also brought new ideas and
technology as cultures began to connect across
continents and oceans.
– As cities began to grow and populations were increasingly
on the move, the character of city life became
increasingly eclectic. The insular, rigid, and homogenous
world of feudal Europe was replaced with an expansive,
dynamic, heterogeneity as cultures, religions, and
ethnicities blended in a manner not seen since Rome.
Significance to Critical Thinking
– All of these factors combined to produce an environment in
which the world view of the average citizen was greatly
expanded. As people found themselves confronted by
others who lived differently and who held alternative
beliefs, some inevitably questioned whether their belief
system was “correct”, as they had always believed.
– Of course, some also became more defensive and insular
when confronted by “the other”. Evidence for this can be
seen in the Inquisition and the religious wars between
Protestants and Catholics in which hundreds of thousands
were killed. Far from being a panacea for provincial
thought, the city was simply one force among many.
Religious and nationalistic dogma were still the dominant
forces and the common citizen was still largely ruled by
Re-Emergence of Greek and
Roman Ideas
– In the 12th century and continuing through the
15th, texts from ancient Greece and Rome
which had long been lost to Europe were rediscovered, along with works by Arab
scholars who had continued to build on the
works of the ancients.
– This tremendous influx of ideas sparked
intense intellectual interest and helped propel
the universities which were beginning to
develop in Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and
The Printing Press
– The invention of the printing press (Johannes
Guttenberg circa 1439), coupled with the
increasing use of local vernacular languages in
scholarship (German, French, Italian, etc.) rather
than Greek or Latin, made great ideas, formerly
exclusive to the elite, accessible to the masses.
– Though many people were still illiterate, the
presence of printed material might have spurred
some to want to become literate.
– As the literate audience continued to increase and
book prices continued to decrease more and more
ideas were spread amongst the populace.
The Printing Press (contd.)
Thus, for perhaps the first time in history, the
ideas developed by those who had leisure
time available were available to a large
audience. Ideas could be disseminated
covertly and anonymously if need be to
avoid censorship or persecution. The
printing press, like the internet, is
especially significant to the history of
critical thinking in that it promotes
opportunities for dissent.
– Education during the Renaissance was still very much tied to
religious organizations. Luther and the Protestants continued
to gain power during the Reformation and one of the ways
they exercised it was in the realm of education. They
believed that training people to read the bible would make
truer believers and so they established schools with this goal
in mind.
– The methods employed primarily involved memorization and
passive mimicry of received “wisdom” and “truth”, and so
were highly unlikely to promote critical thinking.
– Universities continued to evolve and grow and, with the
influence of humanism, began to focus on worldly rather
than otherworldly knowledge. Attention was placed on the
ancient Greeks and Romans, particularly with regards to the
questions they asked about human nature and the natural
We cannot forget that the Inquisition was
still alive and well throughout the
In fact, it would not end until almost the
middle of the 19th century.
The church, therefore, continued to stifle
the development of critical thought.
Influential Thinkers in the
Petrarch (1304 – 1374)
– “The father of humanism”
– Petrarch argued that humans were given their
incredible intellectual and creative potential by god
and that their abilities should be developed to the
fullest. He believed that secular achievements and
learning did not conflict with devotion to god.
Rather, great feats demonstrated a higher love of
god through enjoying the gifts which he had
– This belief spread among intellectuals during the
Renaissance and encouraged many to question
human nature and the world around them.
Significance of Petrarch to Critical
o Petrarch is, in a sense, the “pre-Socratic” of
the Renaissance in that he established a new
paradigm based on reason and logic which
others would follow.
o Petrarch exemplified the following threads of
critical thinking: questioning established
beliefs, believing in the human power to figure
things out through reason, developing
intellectual humility, and to applying
intellectual skills internally in order to take
charge of one’s life.
Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)
– Machiavelli was an Italian thinker whose ideas are difficult to
sort out and categorize.
– On the one hand, Il Principe (The Prince) is a treatise on
how a ruler should conduct himself in order to create the
best possible state. This necessitates occasional acts of
harshness, but do not extend to cruelty. In The Prince,
Machiavelli repeatedly states that a ruler should not seem
cruel lest his people become uneasy and rebel. However,
Machiavelli also points out that rulers should not shy from
being feared, for he who is feared will be followed.
– On the other hand, Discourses on Livy is a profoundly
democratic work in which Machiavelli analyzes the various
forms of government which existed in the ancient world. His
purpose was to devise a system for the perfect state which
would avoid the problems of despotic rulers (often a problem
in monarchies) as well as an ignorant populace (often a
problem in democracies).
Machiavelli’s Significance to Critical
o Machiavelli, like other humanists in the
Renaissance, is important because he had many
insights into human nature. He was keenly
perceptive of both the faults of rulers and the faults
of the ruled, and desired a life in which both were
limited. His writings on 16th century Florence could
be applied in many ways to 21st century Europe or
o The threads Machiavelli exemplified are: openness
to freedom of thought, thinking systematically and in
a disciplined manner and belief in reason as the
primary means to figure things out.
More’s Utopia and Bacon’s New Atlantis
– Thomas More’s contribution to critical thinking lies
in his Utopia (1518). In it, he attempts to design the
perfect society to the smallest detail. Francis Bacon
had his own idea of a perfect state which he
explicated in his New Atlantis (1627). His ideal was
based on state-sponsored scientific inquiry where
“generosity and enlightenment, dignity and
splendor, piety and public spirit" were traits
common to the populace.
Significance of Utopia and New
Atlantis to Critical Thinking
– While both societies seem to be far from perfect to
the modern mind (In Utopia, for example, everyone
dresses alike, all houses are the same, the father is
the undisputed master of the house, etc.), they are
nevertheless significant in that they represent minds
which are critical of the many problems they see in
contemporary societies.
– In seeking to work out a better system which would
promote the betterment of all, they are some of the
few people to have attempted to think seriously
about the idea of a critical society.
Erasmus’ Follies and Bacon’s
– Erasmus wrote In Praise of Follies in 1509. It is a satire of
common behavior of esteemed sections of society which
Erasmus believed to be highly amusing. He depicts
professors as being tremendously deluded and who make
themselves happy through their deceit. He pokes fun at
monks as being more in love with themselves and their
manner of dress than with devotion to god. He criticizes the
political power which the Pope wields as being selfish and
not at all in keeping with religious piety.
– In his “Idols of the Mind”, Francis Bacon devised a
framework of human error to be avoided. They were: Idols of
the Tribe; Idols of the Cave; Idols of the Market Place; Idols
of the Theater. Each of these described a category of faults
which humans routinely fall prey to, and which should be
Significance of Follies and the
o Both In Praise of Follies by Erasmus and the “Idols of
the Mind” developed by Francis Bacon were focused
on explicating the various ways in which human
thinking can be problematic.
o The significance of these two works for critical
thinking is that they represented studies of the human
mind its problematics. Both Bacon and Erasmus saw
that human beings routinely form selfish and selfdestructive belief systems. Both contributed to critical
thinking by shedding light on this aspect of the human
Bacon’s other Contributions
o In addition to his explication of the “Idols”, Bacon also
contributed to critical thinking in two ways: his Advancement
of Learning in which he critiqued established systems of
education in many directions and proposed a new system
based on, among other things, a separation of theology from
other fields of thought.
o Bacon is also credited with developing a forerunner to the
“Scientific Method”. Bacon proposed a system whereby one
could come to general principles which could be tested in
the world. His experiments with heat, for example, involved
creating lists of hot bodies, cold bodies, and bodies with
varying degrees of heat. He sought to determine what
properties the hot bodies had which the cold did not, and
thereby to figure out what constituted heat. Once this was
found, he could then apply this principle to other bodies not
on his list as a way of proving or disproving his hypothesis.
He used this system as a tool for scientific research.
Bacon’s Significance to Critical
Bacon rates very highly in terms of critical
While certainly not without flaws, his wide scope
of interest and ability to think through ideas
deeply and thoroughly resulted in many
significant contributions to critical thinking.
In addition to those traits listed previously, he
also demonstrated a belief in reason, openness
to freedom of thought, and disciplined and
systematic thinking.
What can we learn from the
That social conditions have a huge impact on
That a heterogeneous mix of peoples, cultures
and ideas is much more likely to spur critical
thinking than a homogenous environment.
That progressive critical thinkers are often lightyears ahead of their contemporaries or
That critical thinking can be applied in countless
ways by countless people.

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