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Petrarch

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Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy
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Abstract

Petrarch made vital contributions to several fields that are intrinsically interconnected. The intellectual center of gravity unifying these topics was his consistent orientation towards Roman antiquity.

He thoroughly and categorically excoriated the dominant Aristotelian scholastic philosophy and theology. He accused the scholastics of verbal ineptitude, scientific irrelevance, practical inefficiency, and a metaphysical and religious misorientation. He countered their approach by developing a radically innovative philosophical program, which was thematically focused on topics concerning man, while formulating as principal goals the restitution of a sophisticated Latin style, the establishment of a practically effective moral philosophy, and a return to simple faith. His models were the great authors of Roman antiquity, including both pagan writers and Church Fathers, first and foremost among them, St. Augustine, followed by Cicero, Seneca, and St. Ambrose.

Petrarch was distinctly dissatisfied with his own times, both with the political state of affairs and with the intellectual status quo. His broad knowledge of classical Roman literature led to an innovative structuring of history. He divided history into antiquity, the long-running “middle” period, and a future age which he hoped was soon to unfold. In its core, he thus anticipated the well-known division still used today by all disciplines working in the field of history: antiquity, the middle ages, and modern times. Petrarch also organized these eras hierarchically. Roman antiquity was the shining paradigm; the middle ages were “dark”; and, if his philosophical and political program was put into action, the future era would shine more brightly than the middle ages, approaching the level of antiquity.

Finally, Petrarch also developed an innovative project concerning the political state of Italy, one intended to guide its future, while also equally inspired by ancient Rome. Petrarch’s two complimentary goals consisted of freeing Italy from foreign rule and establishing a “nationwide” unity.

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Kamp, A. (2019). Petrarch. In: Lagerlund, H. (eds) Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_389-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-024-1151-5_389-2

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