Before Enlightenment

Play and Illusion in Renaissance Humanism


Author: Timothy Kircher
In Before Enlightenment: Play and Illusion in Renaissance Humanism, Timothy Kircher argues for new ways of appreciating Renaissance humanist philosophy. Literary qualities – tone, voice, persona, style, imagery – composed a core of their philosophizing, so that play and illusion, as well as rational certainty, formed pre-Enlightenment ideas about knowledge, ethics, and metaphysics.

Before Enlightenment takes issue with the long-standing view of humanism’s philosophical mediocrity. It shows new features of Renaissance culture that help explain the origins not only of Enlightenment rationalists, but also of early modern novelists and essayists. If humanist writings promoted objective knowledge based on reason’s supremacy over emotion, they also showed awareness of one’s place and play in the world. The animal rationale is also the homo ludens.

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Timothy Kircher, Ph.D. (1989), is Hege Professor of History at Guilford College. He has published monographs and articles on Renaissance humanism, including The Poet’s Wisdom: The Humanists, the Church, and the Formation of Philosophy in the Early Renaissance (Brill, 2006).
"This fine book adds great depth and meaning to the study of Renaissance humanism. Kircher’s writing is crisp, his analyses are clear-eyed, and throughout he strikes a series of fine balances: between examinations of humanist classics with examinations of lesser known texts (often in manuscript); between Latin and vernacular; between Italian and ultramontane. Throughout, his writing is informed, but not dominated, by the history of continental philosophy."
Christopher S. Celenza, Georgetown University
List of Illustrations

1 The Riddles of Renaissance Humanism
 1 Renaissance Humanism in the History of Early Modern Ideas
 2 Finders and Seekers in Renaissance Humanism
 3 Renaissance Humanism in the History of Philosophy
 4 Literary Modalities of Humanist Expression and Overview of Chapters

2 Esse et videri: To Be and to Seem (Knowledge)
 1 Piccolomini’s Dream
 2 Quattrocento Hypocrisy: The Play of Appearances
 3 Trecento Antecedents: Appearing and Seeming in Petrarch and Boccaccio
 4 Walking Knowledge: The Transience and Accumulation of Perception
 5 Sixteenth-Century Simulations

3 The Procession of Virtue (Ethics)
 1 Reason as the Guide to Virtue: Finding the Moral Way
 2 The Virtues of Pedagogy
 3 The Morality of Rational Love
 4 Fortune’s Challenge to Virtue
 5 Laying Down the Moral Habits: Dialogues of the Dead
 6 Fortune and Folly in the Sixteenth Century

4 The Beauty of the Whole (Metaphysics)
 1 Poetica Theologia to Poetica Metaphysica
 2 Prometheus the Light-Bringer: the Mediator between Humanity and Divinity
 3 Approaching the Sun: the Upper Reaches of Humanist Conceptions of Reality
 4 Chaos Theory: the Circulation of Atomism
 5 The Limits of Vision Beneath the Earthly Veil
 6 Ontological Rupture: Momus as Alter-Prometheus
 7 The Swiftness of Time: Playing with Plutarch

5 The End of Humanism – and the Humanities?
 1 Questions of Humanism and the Humanities
 2 The End in Rabelais’s Cinq livres / Five Books
 3 Bembo’s Walking Knowledge and the Limited Outlook
 4 The Turnings of Self-Study as Humanism’s Physics and Metaphysics
All interested in Renaissance humanism, literature, philosophy, and intellectual history, and anyone concerned with the origins of the early modern novel and essay. Keywords: Renaissance, Early Modern, humanism, philosophy, history, literature, comparative literature, Neolatin, classical reception, phenomenology.