Charles Harrison

Period 7 VT

Humanism's Impact on the Middle Ages


During the Renaissance, a new form of thought was being learned which was called humanism. Burckhardt believed that humanism was a form of thought that consisted of non-Christian ideals which stressed the study of secular values, individualism, and human dignity. Niccolò Machiavelli expressed many humanist ideals and belief in his writing of The Prince and The Discourses. Machiavelli was in fact a humanist.

In the Middle Ages the prominent way of teaching was the method of scholarism, and the by the teachings of Aristotle. But when the people of the Renaissance studied Aristotle they failed to draw their own conclusion. They relied on the previous statements of others, proving or disproving them. They thought that truth already existed, and looking for new truths was pointless. Some like Machiavelli thought that going to the sources and drawing your own conclusions was the best way to teach. These people were later called humanists.

Humanism revolutionized the method of thought used by the general population of Europe. The church was everything at the start of humanism in the sense that the church controlled every moral and custom down to the thought process. This is what Burckhardt's belief that humanism is non-Christian can be attributed to. The church wasn't used to this new form of realistic and individualistic thought. Even though the church originally looked down upon humanism, it became widely accepted that humanism did express both Christian and secular ideals.

With so many people thinking freely, this led to the thoughts of freedom from princes and brought about the popularity of republics. Principalities were efficient in the sense that under a competent ruler the general goals of the society could be met and done efficiently. This efficiency would come from the fact that only one person had responsibility to make decisions. Under humanism the idea of having one person making decisions for you was not as widely accepted because humanism was a form of individualistic though. With no ability to give input on the way a society is run, people sometimes lose trust in their sole leader's competency and feel that their ideas would better suit the people of the society. This leads to the popularity of republics.

Civic humanism was a form of humanism using the individualistic characteristics of humanism towards the good of the society. Machiavelli believed that the nature of man was to be generally greedy and self-centered in all thoughts and decisions. Although these do not seem like virtues that would benefit a society consisting of more than one person, they in fact did. In a republic where all people are represented in government, all people share their thoughts of how society should be best formed to fit their basically self-centered needs. When these ideas come together it is usually discovered that more than one person has the same view. These people form majorities and the society molds itself to the interest of most of the society's population.

The republic was the most beneficial and livable society under humanism. Machiavelli believed this in The Discourses, and although The Prince was written about principalities it was apparent that he believed that in order to unify Italy principalities would have to be used with the ultimate goal of becoming a republic. With the acceptance of civic duty and personal virtue, people started putting input forward to their societies. This of course caused inner conflict, but that is what pushed the societies onward through technology, culture, and education. Without conflict there would be no reason to advance anything. Having a controlled form of conflict like that in a republic was an excellent way to achieve this.

Humanism was the cause for many of the ideas, ideals, and values present throughout the Middle Ages. A connection could be found to almost every aspect of the Middle Ages to humanism. Without humanism, the Renaissance would not have taken place to such an extreme extent and the world would not start to truly advance itself until some form of realistic thinking began on a large scale like humanism.