Pico della Mirándola, Gianfrancesco

Pico della Mirándola, Gianfrancesco
(1469-1533)
   Italian philosopher and count, nephew of the more famous Giovanni Pico della Mirándola. He is probably best known for his biography of his uncle, published with his edition of his uncle's works (1496) and translated into English by Thomas More (1510). He received an excellent humanistic education at the court school in Ferrara and was influenced by the Neoplatonic interests of his uncle, but he was even more strongly attracted by the preaching of Girolamo Savonarola at Florence, and its effect on him was to turn him against all forms of rationalistic philosophy. As early as 1496, one of his earliest treatises, De studio divinae et humanaephilosophiae/On the Study of Divine and Human Philosophy, sharply differentiated human philosophy, based on reason, from divine philosophy, based on Scripture, and dismissed the human and rational philosophy as useless or even harmful. The fall of Savonarola and even his execu-tion for heresy did not deflect Gianfrancesco Pico from this radically anti-rationalistic, anti-Aristotelian course. Several later treatises fol-lowed the same line of argument.
   Gianfrancesco's most important philosophical work, probably written sometime after 1510 and published in 1520, was Examen vanitatis doctrinae gentium, which is especially important because it marks the first serious attempt to adapt the Pyrrhonist (radically skep-tical) philosophical ideas of the Hellenistic philosopher Sextus Em-piricus to contemporary intellectual discourse. Gianfrancesco's Exa-men provided a thorough presentation of skeptical principles in philosophy, intended to show that unaided human reason has no abil-ity to discover truth and that only the Bible and the teachings of the church can lead humanity to truth. Gianfrancesco sharply criticized all of the major schools of ancient philosophy, especially Aristotle, the accepted guide for medieval scholastic thinkers. He elaborated a devastating critique of the reliability of sensory knowledge, which he regarded as the shaky foundation of Aristotle's thought and of all dogmatic philosophy. Modern scholars do debate, however, whether Gianfrancesco's book, printed in a small edition by an obscure press in his own little principality at Mirandola, had any effect on the later Renaissance authors who developed skeptical points of view, such as Agrippa von Nettesheim in Pico's own generation and Michel de Montaigne. Neither of these authors mentions the book. Gian-francesco was also involved in politics. As the son of a count of Mi-randola, he inherited the small principality in 1499 but had recurrent conflict with his brothers, was temporarily driven out of power on several occasions, and in 1533 was murdered by one of his nephews.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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