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Renaissance to Modern Day, Essay Example

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Essay

In his famous text Oration on the Dignity of Man, Pico introduces what came to be known as a “humanism”, according to which the place of the human within the cosmos takes on a new form. In other words, as opposed to the medieval era, whereby man found himself in a relationship to the universe that was largely defined by submission to God, the renaissance marks an assertion of the anthropocentric nature of existence.

Pico does not assert this anthropocentrism without a concept of God however. Instead he sees that this anthropocentrism is the result of free will as a gift from God: at the same time, this gift marginalizes the importance of God, since free will essentially emphasizes this anthropocentrism.

Now, certainly anthropocentrism in the form of free will does not necessarily have to be interpreted in negative terms. For example, with this notion, ideas such as destiny and fate are radically displaced from being in God’s hands, and thus the human being cannot only begin to take responsibility for his or her life, but can also aim to improve this life. Namely, emphasis shifts from the after-life and other worlds towards what can be done on this particular world. Free will thus unmasks some of the prejudices of the society, showing that many of our social structures are arbitrary: at the same time, in so far as we are free, we may also improve this same social structure. With the power of choice to shape one’s own destiny thus emerges the potential to question the historical and traditional social and power structures within which our lives emerge: we do not merely have to accept these institutions blindly, since they are also the product of free will. On the other hand, we do not merely have to reserve ourselves to these institutions, but also change them.

However, this does not mean that free will is ultimately positive. For when God is detached from existence, what occurs is a type of nihilism where the entire world is only the result of chaotic random choices on the part of individual human beings. The downside of free will in this regard is thus that humans begin to see themselves as the center of all actions – this is precisely an anthropocentrism, which can, for example, degrade the significance of the environment and nature in favor of the demands of the human. This has in fact historically been borne out, as the Renaissance led to the Enlightenment, and this led to a notion of scientific progress that minimized the importance human being’s relation to the natural world.

Accordingly, Pico’s free will stresses both a positive and negative aspect to the anthropocentrism: on the one hand, we are free to shape our destinies, on the other hand, this power can give us the illusion that we ourselves are Gods, thus neglecting other forms of life.

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