Sunday, 21 July 2019

On The Anti-Aristotelianism of the Renaissance

Horatio, Hamlet, and the ghost
(Henry Fuseli, 1789)
The leading thinkers of the Renaissance have made trenchant criticisms of Aristotle.

Erasmus and Martin Luther despised Aristotle because they believed that he was the fountainhead of Scholastic philosophy that was polluting their religion and culture. Francis Bacon thought that Aristotle’s philosophy was barren, disputatious and wrong in its objectives. He held Aristotle responsible for the decline in scientific thinking in Europe.

Due to the work of these influential thinkers— Erasmus, Martin Luther, and Francis Bacon—the Renaissance became a period of anti-Aristotelianism. The religious as well as the scientifically minded people were convinced that Aristotle was having a baleful influence on their society and culture. The word “dunce”, derived from the name of the Aristotelian philosopher from the High Middle Ages, Duns Scotus, became a term of abuse and a synonym for Aristotelian scholars.

Even playwrights like Shakespeare became caught in the wave of anti-Aristotelianism that was sweeping across Europe. In his play Hamlet, Shakespeare has Hamlet say, “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” In the play, Horatio is inspired by the ideas of Aristotle.

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