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We are reading Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson.

This week, we read chapter 18: "The arrival of the secular - capitalism, humanism, individualism"

This book will take us about a year, at a chapter a week. Also, the chapters can more or less be read independently.

I leave this diary on my hotlist all week, so, feel free to comment anytime.

88kathy suggested

You could start the diary with a boilerplate explanation and then a few questions that might make the diary easier to write.  

so I'll do that.  The "boilerplate" will be from the table of contents Watson provides, and then the questions will be from my head.  Thanks Kathy!

Here goes:

From the Table of Contents
The changing concept of the Renaissance
The role of the black death
Why the Renaissance began in Italy
Schooling in Italy
The crucial role of the abbaco schools
Life in Renaissance Florence
The woolen industry, banking, and the origins of capitalism
The marriage of aristocratic and bourgeois values
The change from ecclesiastical to secular patronage in the arts
The improved status of the artist
The rediscovery of classical antiquity and the emphasis on this life
Petrarch and the rediscovery of Plato
The aesthetic aristocracy
Pagan values
Humanism and the growth of religious tolerance
Secular art
The humanities in Florence

Some thoughts:
On p. 390 - It is interesting that the rise in atheism took place, not  during or immediately after the black death, but later

       - The role of the city is crucial, and was more so when communication was much slower.  Both in ancient Greece and in Renaissance Italy, there were many cities (although by modern standards, some would be called towns), bringing more people into contact with each other on a regular basis.  Even now - once, a friend visited from a rural community and told me he saw more different people in one restaurant in NYC than he did in a year at home.

    - The idea that "the world is susceptible to understanding and control" is one of those revolutionary concepts (like numeracy) that is so basic it's hard to conceive of what was like otherwise.

p. 391 - The study of history exists in a chicken-egg relationship with individualism and the rise of the secular.

p 393 - Without the rich and super-rich, would the Renaissance have happened?

p 394 - Now that the merchant class was demanding and paying for art, more control of life was wrested from the church.  

     - Artists signing their work is yet another sign of individualism.

p 396 - Adding Plato to the body of knowledge was a huge thing - contrast Plato and Aristotle in how they write and reason about the world,  and what each considered important!  In addition, it loosened the hold of Aristotle, which, I think, later gave rise to experiment.  

p 397 - The rise of the importance of beauty in everyday life is another huge step.  

p 398 - It is interesting to contrast the initial role of capitalism with its current role.  Originally, it was intimately linked to the rise of individualism and aesthetics, today, it is often seen as antithetical to those values.  Part of this change happened in the industrial revolution.  I wonder how much of what some people lay on capitalism ought be laid to industry?

p 400 - Erasmus is central to humanism in a way that few people have been central to a movement - perhaps Einstein in physics.  It is ironic that his moderation made him enemies on both sides, and friends in neither.

Originally posted to plf515 on Sun May 09, 2010 at 05:06 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips for ideas? nt (14+ / 0-)

    We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

    by plf515 on Sun May 09, 2010 at 05:06:18 AM PDT

  •  This was an interesting chapter (6+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bronte17, 88kathy, Nova Land, plf515, DBunn, Govinda

    The introduction of clocks in every day life - I just can't imagine a life without the concept of time being ever present.  I underlined a lot in this chapter, but at the very end I found one of the most interesting little factoids - the introduction of flat, non-distorting mirrors is thought to contribute to the concept of individualism.   I couldn't get very enthused about Platonism.  I don't think I understand it very well, and personally I'm really more about scientific observation and fact-based reality instead.

  •  Intellectual history is always (7+ / 0-)

    a worthwhile endeavor because one sees connections more clearly--a synthetic rather than an analytic approach.  The former IMO is richer and preferred, although both are essential.

    I'd appreciate your expanding on the Plato comment.  Aristotle was, if anything a philosopher of science and the empirical world,  Plato's idealism was antithetical to a nascent merchant class; hence I don't understand how rediscovering Plato "later gave rise to experiment".  I think the appearance of neo-Platonism was instead a reactionary response to the rising bourgeoisie.  Aristotle may have dominated the intellectual landscape since Aquinas but that doesn't mean a reversion to Plato is the answer.

    All the more so, "the idea that, 'the world is susceptible to understanding and control'" is no more than an expression of the beginning of science as epistemological truth.  Plato had little influence on this.

    Thank you for these diaries.  I enjoy them.

    •  OK .... (6+ / 0-)

      What I meant was this.

      After the rediscovery of Aristotle he became venerated, and people looked at a lot of his statements the way many look at Biblical statements - things that HAD to be so, because Aristotle said them.

      And Aristotle observed the world, but did not experiment.  In some ways, he didn't even observe carefully - he made lots of statements that clearly aren't true.

      Once it became clear that, in the ancient world, Aristotle was not the only thinker, it became easier to start to question whether Aristotle might be wrong about some things.

      We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

      by plf515 on Sun May 09, 2010 at 07:02:41 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  But what you are saying is (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        88kathy, Nova Land, plf515, DBunn, mayim

        this is the use to which Aristotle's works were put by Aquinas and others.  It had little to do with his overall body of work per se.  I don't believe you'll find anywhere in Aristotle's logic that appeals to authority  are valid.  Plato's ideal is the philosopher-king; you can't get much more authoritarian than that, so substituting this for the bastardization of Aristotle by ecclesiastical authority is not progress.

        Sure he made mistakes.  Scientific method came centuries later.  Aristotle may have become status quo, but Plato is hardly compatible with the ascendance of the middle class and the advent of science.  This was my point.

        Thank you for clarifying your statement.  

        •  I agree regarding Aristotle (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          88kathy, Nova Land, myrealname, DBunn, mayim

          he never claimed to be the final and only authority.

          And Plato's Republic would have been an awful place.

          But Plato's dialogue format is, I think, conducive to a questioning attitude, and that questioning attitude was key to the development of science (and the fall of religion)

          We all differ in ways that matter. But we're all the same in the ways that matter most.

          by plf515 on Sun May 09, 2010 at 08:13:42 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  I am among giants here. Truly I knew their names (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Nova Land, plf515, myrealname, DBunn

      but not any difference between the two.  Thanks for this discussion.

      It's time for trains. Choo baby Choo

      by 88kathy on Sun May 09, 2010 at 08:22:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Erasmus surely wasn't well liked. I never heard (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nova Land, plf515, myrealname, DBunn

    his name before.  My thinking, I would describe to myself as Christic Humanism.  And yet Erasmus is totally unknown to me.

    It's time for trains. Choo baby Choo

    by 88kathy on Sun May 09, 2010 at 08:26:11 AM PDT

  •  10 (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nova Land

    Healthcare for the nobility, education for the few, prisons for all, cut taxes on the rich. - Candidate for California Governor, Meg Whitman

    by anyname on Sun May 09, 2010 at 08:27:52 AM PDT

  •  I hope finally to pick up a copy of this book... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    two weeks from now, when I will be able to make a trip to the big city of Knoxville (my first such trip this year -- and it's May already! -- and visit my favorite 2nd-hand bookstore.

    I see there are 36 chapters, so there's a fair chance I'll be able to pick up a copy and catch up on reading in time to join in the discussion of the second half of the book.  But just in case I don't find a copy, have you given any thought to what book will be coming up for discussion after History of Thought... is finished (so I can get an early start on looking for that one)?

  •  Interesting (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nova Land, plf515, myrealname

    Stumbled into this diary, now I wish I were reading that book :)

    On Renaissance art-- the rediscovery of perspective was, apparently, an irresistably powerful psychological tool, one that ultimately rebuilt the Western mind. The illusion of depth must have been an incredible sensory experience for those seeing it for the first time, literally "mind blowing" to use a crass vernacular term.

    Perspective had the effect of re-orienting the axis of engagement from the vertical (the relationship of man to God) to the horizontal (the relationship of an individual viewer to the surrounding world). Then, once we were looking at the surrounding world, the logical next questions were inevitably what are those things in the world, what are they really like, what makes them tick?

    The artist's drive to paint ever more 'magically' compelling representations of the world, translates directly into a drive to understand the things being represented, the medium through which we perceive them, and, eventually, the entitity doing the perceiving.

    In just the last few years, we have seen the development of a new artistic form that has the potential to rival the significance and impact of Renaissance perspective. I'm referring to fully interactive 3D virtual environments, where you don't just see a particular POV, you can move through the space, look in any direction, etc. We have added fluent dimensions of time, motion, and viewer participation to a medium that was previously 'frozen' in all three respects. We are just at the beginning of this new era, and most of us are seeing it with minds already formed in the previous era. It would be interesting to know what the effects will be on human consciousness-- but of course, by definition, that will be for others, not for us.

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