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Pico, Sanchez and Renaissance Humanism

            Renaissance humanism emerged out of the rigid Medieval theocratic tradition but managed to elevate the position of man in the world without subverting the basis of Christianity (the accepted tradition of the time) or removing man from the established teleological framework. One of the championed humanists of the time, Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, argues in his seminal work, Oration on the Dignity of Man, against the relegation of man as a subject within the hierarchy of the natural world by emphasizing man's uniqueness as a liberated, rational being to suggest that man be assigned to a category all his own. In a prefiguration of existentialism, he highlights free will as a liberating force and that by it; man gains not only the privilege, but also the responsibility, to elevate himself in the hierarchy of beings both corporeal and divine. According to Pico, God assigned man to the middle realm to expound the counsel of the higher order to those the lower, but since the properties of man are undefined-their limits, man ordains for himself-he has the capacity to ascend or descend in the order by merit of his pursuits. Pico sees this order akin to Jacob's Ladder, which man gains access to through the art of discourse and reasoning, and to its highest ranks, through philosophy. He holds that God created man below the angels, but that by discovering the secrets of the Cherubs through philosophy, man can not only battle the angels and succeed through strength of will, but become filled with such divine power that "[he] shall no longer be [himself] but shall become He Himself Who made [him]" (Pico,239). .
             Francisco Sanches, a fellow Renaissance philosopher, also challenges the hierarchy of medieval practice, but instead of its redefinition he posits abolishment of the order in its entirety. Sanches' entire argument in That Nothing is Known centers on the precept that nothing is known and consequently, that "knowledge is fiction" (Sanches, 402).

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