Italian Renaissance

Question 1

Pico’s Oration on the Dignity of Man and Alberti’s Book of the Family both carries important statements on self-determination because both concluded that   man has the ability to carve out his own destiny. Pico points out that man is put in a position wherein he can choose to go lower or higher in the rank of creation depending on choices by virtue of his free will. He is an “indeterminate” being who have to yet form   his destiny after he is born (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 181).  I agree with this idea since I am aware of man’s ability to think first before he acts; he has the ability to reason things out and to determine and predict the outcomes of his actions or choice. He can choose to act or not act.  For example, a man may hate someone so much that he may think of killing him. Yet, he knew that killing the man will make him go to jail. There is another alternative for him to do: to forget about all grievances and forgive the man. So he is faced with two choices: to kill that would put him in jail or to forgive that would make him live the rest of his life in freedom. In this example alone it is clear that he determines his fate.

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With the privilege to choose, Pico thinks that humans are much more favored than the angels. Angels will remain to be who they are for the rest of eternity as they are limited by the prescribed laws of God (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 181). In other words, their future is already determined and although they cannot go lower than their celestial status they cannot go higher than it. On the other hand , Pico states  that although man may go so low so as to act like a  beast, he  can rise up above  the angels and possibly much higher as a  son of God. If man will use his intellect and not choose to be a part in either the status of beast or angels, he can withdraw and unite his spirit with God (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 182).

In presenting his views, it can be noticed that Pico quoted a lot of ideas from a variety of human sources: Abdala of Saracen (Arabians), Persians, Chaldeans, David of Christianity, Greek philosophers, etc. The  listings of multiple sources from a variety of people of diverse backgrounds is seen as an important model of humanistic education because it consolidate together the different ideas of different types of people from different manner of influences  to formulate an important idea or concept.

In like manner but using a different perspective, Alberti supports the idea of self-determination since he explained that it is up to him who he will become. He states that upon careful observation and examination “men usually are the cause of their every good and their every evil” even though they may blame Fortune for it (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 167). He stressed that although they may praise Fortune for its positive contribution in their life and blame misfortune for their troubles he noticed that it is with their abilities and good character, industry, good management, civility, disciplines and the like that are indeed the very cause of their success, fame, wealth, honor or glory while it is with their stupidity that they had come to ruin.  Alberti has pondered on the sad fate of many great families “who used to be happy and glorious but now have disappeared and die out’, and like most men    he attributed their pitiful state to “Fortune’s unfairness and malignity” (Bondanella & Busa, 166). In an unemotional examination, Alberti realized that Reason overcome Fortune and most likely determine the fate of men.  In fact, Alberti believe that reason is more valuable that Fortune. Fortune may look powerful and strong in changing man’s situation from good to bad, from wealth to poverty because of its “instability and inconstancy” but in exercising reason, Alberti declares that the bad influence of Fortune can be overcomed (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 167).  To illustrate, Alberti uses the example of his family whom he said “had been subject to many adversities but with good reason and complete counsel endures misfortune (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 167)”. Indeed reason makes Fortune incapable and weak.

Question 2

I agree with Alberti’s statement because as I can observe, each person has his own deficiency which may be found in abundance in others.  For example, one person is good in art while another one is not. One person may not be good in art but he is good in mathematics and deciphering scientific mysteries. The skills and abilities are distributed to people and not concentrated in only one. Yet they need each other’s skills in accomplishing something. For example, in building a ship, a scientist, an engineer, and a carpenter are needed. Not one person is sufficient to accomplish the task alone. In recognizing his need of others, a person will then be grateful for other’s contribution and would therefore recognize his value in his life.  Moreover, each person had different qualities. Some are serious by nature, others are always happy; others are optimistic while others are pessimistic; others are emotionally strong but physically weak while others are physically weak but emotionally strong. Since different adversities comes to the lot of man , each person needs each other to support and provide strength, a  serious person needs the laughter and carefree spirit of  another, a pessimistic person needs the optimism of another. Deficiency also occurs in the physical aspect.  There are those who cannot walk, cannot see, cannot hear, cannot think and they need someone who is not deficient in each to help them get through with life. This only illustrates how much an individual in many respects need the help of another, of a friend. And this help is only extended through compassion.  According to Boccaio in his book the Decameron, “to have compassion for those who suffer is a human quality that which everyone should possess and especially those who acquired comfort themselves”

( Bondanella & Busa, 1987,  62). According to Boccaccio, the comforts of his friends in his sufferings had provided him relief. It is interesting to note that Alberti says that more than two people are needed in complementing deficiencies.  This suggests a widening circle of people helping each other, for if two people can completely complement all the lack of one person and vice versa then friendship would stop in the two but as is the case in real life, and as I had observed, the second person who provided the lack of the first person may not also find the provision of his lack in the first, a third person is needed. This concept is illustrated well by Alberti when he said that because he was helped in his suffering he is ready to help others who are in need as a payment for the help he received from his friends who, by virtue of their good fortune and intelligence, do not need him. He feels that his humble talent would not be of value to his friends but may be needed by others. And when others are helped, they would become grateful, fostering and cultivating friendship as a result (Bondanella & Busa, 1987, 63).

Another interesting thing to note in the quotation of Alberti is that he uses the word ‘Nature’ and not ‘God’ as the one who establishes the function of man in his existence. I think it is significant that Alberti uses the word ‘Nature’ rather than ‘God’ because in the first place humanism embraces as much as possible the ideas of men from different backgrounds and this may include a person who  may have a different concept of God but nevertheless exhibited wisdom in his life philosophy.  So to use ‘Nature’ and not ‘God’ is to include all people’s ideas, regardless of their religious beliefs. Moreover, humanism celebrates the excellence and abilities of man and not on his particular religion.   Furthermore, to use the word ‘Nature’ is also important since it speaks of what is inherent not only to man but also to all beings and that this Nature had its own fixed laws by which man and all other creatures are governed, no matter who they conceived God to be. Therefore, the idea being conveyed here , in a humanist perspective, will be much more fitting if Alberti uses the word ‘Nature’ since there is no need  to argue on theological issues  but to point what is most  clearly visible and unarguable to all using human intellectual reasoning.


Bondanella, Julia Conawa and Mark Musa. (1987). The Italian Renaissance Reader.  New York: New American Library.


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