The Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century Rationalism

By G. H.R. Parkinson | Go to book overview

Introduction

G.H.R. Parkinson

The philosophy that is discussed in this volume covers a period of some three hundred and fifty years, from roughly the middle of the fourteenth century to the early years of the eighteenth. What is offered, however, is not a comprehensive history of the philosophy of this period. Topics such as the later stages of scholasticism, and the beginnings of British empiricism in the seventeenth century, are not discussed here, but are reserved for other volumes in this series. The substance of the volume is the history of certain important philosophical movements that occurred during this period: namely, Renaissance philosophy and seventeenth-century rationalism. But the volume does not deal with these movements exclusively. If one is to understand Renaissance philosophy, one must also examine the scholastic thought against which it reacted and with which it frequently interacted. Similarly, if one is to understand the seventeenth-century rationalists, one must also understand some of their contemporaries who were not rationalists—men such as Bacon, Gassendi and Hobbes. They therefore find a place here, as do Renaissance scholastics such as Pomponazzi and Cremonini.

The division of the history of philosophy into a number of movements is a procedure that has often been followed, but it has its critics. In recent years, historians of philosophy have emphasized what one might call the individuality, the ‘thisness’ of philosophers, and have argued that to try to force this or that individual into pre-set categories can lead to distortions. There is indeed a danger of such distortions; on the other hand, it seems fair to say that during certain epochs certain philosophical questions came to the forefront, and that philosophers provided answers which (although different) had some kinship, so that it is possible to speak of a ‘movement’ in such cases. Such, at any rate, is the assumption made in this volume; whether the assumption is a fruitful one, the volume itself will show.

The term ‘Renaissance philosophy’ is a controversial one, as

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