It included not only realistic social criticism but also utopian hypotheses , not only painstaking reassessments of history but also bold reshapings of the future. Humanism had an evangelical dimension: it sought to project humanitas from the individual into the state at large. The wellspring of humanitas was Classical literature.
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Greek and Roman thought, available in a flood of rediscovered or newly translated manuscripts, provided humanism with much of its basic structure and method. For Renaissance humanists, there was nothing dated or outworn about the writings of Aristotle , Cicero , or Livy.
Compared with the typical productions of medieval Christianity , these pagan works had a fresh, radical, almost avant-garde tonality. Indeed, recovering the classics was to humanism tantamount to recovering reality.
Classical philosophy , rhetoric, and history were seen as models of proper method—efforts to come to terms, systematically and without preconceptions of any kind, with perceived experience. Moreover, Classical thought considered ethics qua ethics, politics qua politics: it lacked the inhibiting dualism occasioned in medieval thought by the often-conflicting demands of secularism and Christian spirituality.
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Classical virtue, in examples of which the literature abounded, was not an abstract essence but a quality that could be tested in the forum or on the battlefield. Finally, Classical literature was rich in eloquence. In particular, humanists considered Cicero to be the pattern of refined and copious discourse, as well as the model of eloquence combined with wise statesmanship. In eloquence humanists found far more than an exclusively aesthetic quality.
As an effective means of moving leaders or fellow citizens toward one political course or another, eloquence was akin to pure power. Humanists cultivated rhetoric, consequently, as the medium through which all other virtues could be communicated and fulfilled. Humanism, then, may be accurately defined as that Renaissance movement that had as its central focus the ideal of humanitas. It is small wonder that a term as broadly allusive as humanism should be subject to a wide variety of applications. Of these excepting the historical movement described above there are three basic types: humanism as Classicism, humanism as referring to the modern concept of the humanities , and humanism as human-centredness.
Accepting the notion that Renaissance humanism was simply a return to the Classics, some historians and philologists have reasoned that Classical revivals occurring anywhere in history should be called humanistic. Augustine , Alcuin , and the scholars of 12th-century Chartres have thus been referred to as humanists.
The ideal of humanitas
In this sense the term can also be used self-consciously, as in the New Humanism movement in literary criticism led by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More in the early 20th century. The word humanities , which like the word umanisti derived from the Latin studia humanitatis , is often used to designate the nonscientific scholarly disciplines: language , literature, rhetoric, philosophy, art history , and so forth. Thus, it is customary to refer to scholars in these fields as humanists and to their activities as humanistic. Humanism and related terms are frequently applied to modern doctrines and techniques that are based on the centrality of human experience.
In the 20th century the pragmatic humanism of Ferdinand C. Schiller , the Christian humanism of Jacques Maritain , and the movement known as secular humanism, though differing from each other significantly in content, all showed this anthropocentric emphasis.
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Not only is such a large assortment of definitions confusing, but the definitions themselves are often redundant or impertinent. To say that professors in the many disciplines known as the humanities are humanists is to compound vagueness with vagueness, for these disciplines have long since ceased to have or even aspire to a common rationale. The definition of humanism as anthropocentricity or human-centredness has a firmer claim to correctness. For obvious reasons, however, it is confusing to apply this word to Classical literature. Don't have an account?
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