giovedì 16 maggio 2013

Origin and meaning of the term humanism

Coluccio Salutati

The history of the term humanism is complex but enlightening. It was first employed (as humanismus) by 19th-century German scholars to designate the Renaissance emphasis on classical studies in education. These studies were pursued and endorsed by educators known, as early as the late 15th century, as umanisti—that is, professors or students of Classical literature. The word umanisti derives from the studia humanitatis, a course of classical studies that, in the early 15th century, consisted of grammar, poetryrhetorichistory, and moral philosophy. The studia humanitatis were held to be the equivalent of the Greek paideia. Their name was itself based on the Latin humanitas, an educational and political ideal that was the intellectual basis of the entire movement. Renaissance humanism in all its forms defined itself in its straining toward this ideal. No discussion of humanism, therefore, can have validity without an understanding of humanitas.
Humanitas meant the development of human virtue, in all its forms, to its fullest extent. The term thus implied not only such qualities as are associated with the modern word humanity—understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy—but also such more aggressive characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, and even love of honour. Consequently, the possessor of humanitas could not be merely a sedentary and isolated philosopher or man of letters but was of necessity a participant in active life. Just as action without insight was held to be aimless and barbaric, insight without action was rejected as barren and imperfect. Humanitas called for a fine balance of action and contemplation, a balance born not of compromise but of complementarity. The goal of such fulfilled and balanced virtue was political, in the broadest sense of the word. The purview of Renaissance humanism included not only the education of the young but also the guidance of adults (including rulers) via philosophical poetry and strategic rhetoric. It included not only realistic social criticism but also utopian hypotheses, not only painstaking reassessments of history but also bold reshapings of the future. In short, humanism called for the comprehensive reform of culture, the transfiguration of what humanists termed the passive and ignorant society of the “dark” ages into a new order that would reflect and encourage the grandest human potentialities. Humanism had an evangelical dimension: it sought to project humanitas from the individual into the state at large

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