Humanism was a new way of thinking that came about in fourteenth century, the time of the Renaissance. Many scholars refer to it as the "Spirit of the Renaissance." Humanism was a lay phenomenon that emphasized human beings - as opposed to deities - as well as their interests, achievements and capabilities. Humanism is derived from the Latin word humanitas, which Cicero, the noted orator of the Roman Empire, referred to as the "literary culture needed by anyone who would be considered educated and civilized."
Humanism and Literature
Humanists searched for wisdom from the past. They copied the lifestyles of the ancient Greeks and Romans. They also traced their families back to the days of the ancient Romans. They endeavored on archaeological expeditions to recover ancient manuscripts, statues and monuments so that they may better understand human nature. The Christian humanists, however, were sometimes skeptical as to the authority of the ancient writers. Medieval humanists accepted pagan and classical authors uncritically. The humanists of the Renaissance, however, viewed the classics from a Christian perspective, "Man is created in God's image." They rejected any classical ideas that opposed Christianity but sometimes found an underlying harmony between secular and pagan ideas and the Christian faith.
The humanists of the Renaissance loved the language of the classics and thought it was finer and more pure than the corrupt Latin taught in medieval schools. They became more concerned with form rather than content. Literary humanists wrote in the style of the ancient writers. The leading humanists of the time were rhetoricians. They held discussions in the same style used in the ancient P...
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... the same dilemma. They read mostly Greek and Roman texts because they believed them to be the greatest.
Humanism and Political Theory
The political theories that emerged because of humanism can best be illustrated with Niccolò Machiavelli's The Prince. The Prince described the actual competitive framework of the Italian states. It deals with problems of society and government that have always existed. Machiavelli said that the test of a capable government was whether or not it could provide justice, law, order among its citizens and whether or not the ruler increases his power. He also said that a ruler should only be concerned with the way things are, not the way things should be. He believed that political actions cannot be restricted by moral considerations, and that if the outcome of a decision is favorable, then the ends will justify the means.
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