The Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century Rationalism

By G. H.R. Parkinson | Go to book overview
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Renaissance philosophy outside Italy

Stuart Brown

Italy might justly be described as the home of Renaissance philosophy. Many of the important cultural developments of the period originated in Italy and only gradually spread north and west to other countries. But each of the other major centres 1 of West European cultural activity—the German States, France, the Iberian Peninsula, England and the Low Countries—provided a distinct context for philosophical activity. Their very different political and religious histories had a more or less direct effect on the kind of philosophy that flourished in each country or region. Each, in its own way, added to what it inherited from Italy and developed what it received from elsewhere in Europe. In different ways and to varying extents, they prepared for or anticipated the transition to modern philosophy. In one way or another, Renaissance philosophy and philosophies continued to develop and flourish somewhere in Europe throughout the seventeenth century. They provided an often neglected part of the context for modern philosophy, both in some ways being continuous with it and in other ways shaping some of the responses to it. There are a number of philosophers, indeed, such as Gassendi and Leibniz, 2 who can fruitfully be represented as Renaissance as well as early modern philosophers.

A distinguishing mark of Renaissance philosophers was their deference to the thought of the ancients. Their arguments often consisted in citing the support of some ancient authority or the consensus of a number of ancient authorities for the view they wished to advance. The tendency of modern philosophers, by contrast, was to rely on appeals to reason and experience rather than on citing authorities to advance their arguments. Some, of course, did both and the decision whether to call them modern or Renaissance philosophers might depend


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