Renaissance Philosophy Workshop

The conference took place on 14th June 2013 at Senate House, University of London, hosted by the Institute of Philosophy. Four speakers presented, with an open discussion at the end. The four speakers and papers were:

  • Michael Engel (Cambridge), ‘Continuity and Change in the Thought of Elijah Del Medigo’
  • Maude Vanhaelen (Warwick), ‘The Reception of Plato’s Parmenides in the Renaissance: ‘Originality’ and Imitation’
  • John Sellars (Birkbeck), ‘Pomponazzi contra Averroes on the Intellect’
  • John Marenbon (Cambridge), ‘Renaissance Philosophy, an Historiographical Fiction?’

The four papers were prefaced with some introductory remarks by John Sellars on different attempts to define renaissance philosophy which tentatively concluded that it might not be possible to offer a definition more substantive than ‘philosophy generally written in Latin some time after Ockham and before Bacon’ (following Charles Schmitt).

The first paper by Engel problematised this by examining the work of a Jewish philosopher working in Renaissance Padua and writing in Hebrew. Drawing on his own inspection of unpublished manuscripts, Engel highlighted the way in which Del Medigo was at once both an outsider and an active participant in philosophical debates in Padua in the fifteenth century.

Vanhaelen’s paper turned to the better-known Platonic tradition, focusing on Ficino’s commentary on the Parmenides and challenged the claim that it merely repeated the ancient commentary of Proclus. Her paper stressed Ficino’s originality despite his debt to the previous tradition.

The paper by Sellars examined arguments by the Aristotelian Pomponazzi against the interpretation of Aristotle’s doctrine of intellect by Averroes. By examining this debate with a medieval philosopher his paper stressed the continuity with medieval philosophy. At the same time, it also highlighted the ways in which Pomponazzi’s own interpretation of Aristotle looks thoroughly modern and pre-empts a number of themes in contemporary Aristotle scholarship.

John Marenbon concluded the event with a critical discussion of the historiographical category of ‘renaissance philosophy’, responding in part to Sellars’ introductory remarks at the beginning of the day. Marenbon argued that the label ‘renaissance philosophy’ neither picks out a distinct type of philosophy or a clearly defined chronological period, and that it would be better to think in terms of a ‘long middle ages’ running from c. 200 to c. 1700 AD. This led into an open and lively discussion among all the speakers and participants about the value of the label. However there was complete agreement that there is much interesting and neglected philosophy in the period that deserves further attention from historians of philosophy.

The audience included staff, post-doctoral fellows, post-graduate students, and at least one undergraduate student.