Humanism, Pegagody, and Their Discontents in the European Renaissance

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Al Cacicedo / NEMLA Conference April 3-6 2014
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Christian humanism informs the pedagogical project in Renaissance Europe. Among others, Vives, Erasmus, and Elyot argue that the goal of a liberal education is to produce agents of virtue. That is particularly true for "governors" because the inculcation of virtue in students at a young age and continuing into adolescence will allay the arrogance of rank and so make for a magistrate who is good and who will therefore work towards a virtuous society. Machiavelli objects that princes who are "good" will not be able to do good, however, because the goodness envisioned by humanistic pedagogy produces weak, retiring, passive men who cannot control the innate wickedness of human beings. Instead of producing good, he says, such weakness simply makes the prince a tool for others' manipulation. The difference in approaches to education continues throughout the Renaissance. Although he equivocates about the importance of private virtue, for instance, Montaigne agrees with Machiavelli and wishes to reform education so that it enables active participation in building a functioning society. Milton, on the other hand, reaffirms that the purpose of education is to "repair the ruins of our first parents by regaining to know God aright." Although humanist education survives, then, the advent of the scientific enterprise complicates the argument and underscores the impetus to do rather than be good.

This session seeks to trace the changes in and attitudes towards humanistic pedagogy over the course of the Renaissance, in the writing of poets and essayists, pedagogues and humanists, scientists and philosophers. The subject is pan-European, so papers from all national traditions are welcome. Please send papers to Alberto Cacicedo, Albright College,

Deadline: September 30, 2013
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