Oration on the Dignity of Man

Oration on the Dignity of Man

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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
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

. It has been called the "Manifesto of the Renaissance".

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.”

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 angel
Angels are mythical beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The English word angel is derived from the Greek ἄγγελος, a translation of in the Hebrew Bible ; a similar term, ملائكة , is used in the Qur'an...

s. 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
God is the English name given to a singular being in theistic and deistic religions who is either the sole deity in monotheism, or a single deity in polytheism....

." Pico della Mirandola said a philosopher "is a creature of Heaven
Heaven, the Heavens or Seven Heavens, is a common religious cosmological or metaphysical term for the physical or transcendent place from which heavenly beings originate, are enthroned or inhabit...

 and not of earth."

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
Free will
"To make my own decisions whether I am successful or not due to uncontrollable forces" -Troy MorrisonA pragmatic definition of free willFree will is the ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints. The existence of free will and its exact nature and definition have long...

, 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
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

, because Pico combined Platonism
Platonism is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In a narrower sense the term might indicate the doctrine of Platonic realism...

, Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

, Aristotelianism
Aristotelianism is a tradition of philosophy that takes its defining inspiration from the work of Aristotle. The works of Aristotle were initially defended by the members of the Peripatetic school, and, later on, by the Neoplatonists, who produced many commentaries on Aristotle's writings...

, Hermeticism
Hermeticism or the Western Hermetic Tradition is a set of philosophical and religious beliefs based primarily upon the pseudepigraphical writings attributed to Hermes Trismegistus...

 and Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

. 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."