Oration on the Dignity of Man


Oration on the Dignity of Man

The Oration on the Dignity of Man (De hominis dignitate) is a famous public discourse pronounced in 1486 by Pico della Mirandola, a philosopher of the Renaissance. It has been called the "Manifesto of the Renaissance"[1].

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Amazing capacity of human achievement

Pico’s Oration attempted to remap the human landscape to center all attention on human capacity and human perspective. Arriving in Florence, this famous Renaissance philosopher taught the amazing capacity of human achievement.“Pico himself had a massive intellect and literally studied everything there was to be studied in the university curriculum of the Renaissance; the “Oration” in part is meant to be a preface to a massive compendium of all the intellectual achievements of humanity, a compendium that never appeared because of Pico’s early death.” [2]

Dignity of liberal arts

Della Mirandola spoke in front of hostile clerics of the dignity of the liberal arts and of the dignity and glory of angels. He said that a man should emulate the dignity and glory of the angels by "exercising philosophy." Pico della Mirandola said a man, if he cultivates what is rational, "will reveal himself a heavenly being; if intellectual, he will be an angel and the son of God." Pico della Mirandola said a philosopher "is a creature of Heaven and not of earth."[3]

Importance of human quest for knowledge

In the Oration, Pico justified the importance of the human quest for knowledge within a Neoplatonic 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 exercise his intellect, he vegetates. Pico did not fail to notice that this system made philosophers like himself among the most dignified human creatures.

Man's ascent of the chain of being

The idea that men 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 root of this dignity lay in his assertion that only human beings could change themselves through their own free will, whereas all other changes in nature were the result of some outside force acting on whatever it is that undergoes change. He observed from history that philosophies and institutions were always in change, making man's capacity for self-transformation the only constant. Coupled with his belief that all of creation constitutes a symbolic reflection of the divinity of God, Pico's philosophies had a profound influence on the arts, helping to elevate writers and painters from their medieval role as mere artisans to the Renaissance ideal of the artist as genius.

Introduction to Pico's 900 theses

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 Platonism, Neoplatonism, Aristotelianism, Hermeticism and Kabbalah. They also included 72 theses describing what Pico believed to be a complete system of physics.

Mystical vocation of humanity

In the Oration he writes that "human vocation is a mystical vocation that has to be realized following a three stage way, which comprehends necessarily moral transformation, intellectual research and final perfection in the identity with the absolute reality. This paradigm is universal, because it can be retraced in every tradition."[4]

References

  1. ^ Oration on the Dignity of Man (1486)
  2. ^ http://www.wsu.edu:8001/~dee/REN/PICO.HTM
  3. ^ http://www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Mirandola/
  4. ^ Prof. Pier Cesare Bori. "The Italian Renaissance: An Unfinished Dawn?: Pico della Mirandola". Accessed Dec. 5, 2007.

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