Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Renaissance Man on Amphetamines

These are the reasons, most reverend Fathers, which not only led, but even compelled me, to the study of philosophy. And I should not have undertaken to expound them, except to reply to those who are wont to condemn the study of philosophy, especially among men of high rank, but also among those of modest station. For the whole study of philosophy (such is the unhappy plight of our time) is occasion for contempt and contumely, rather than honor and glory. The deadly and monstrous persuasion has invaded practically all minds, that philosophy ought not to be studied at all or by very few people; as though it were a thing of little worth to have before our eyes and at our finger-tips, as matters we have searched out with greatest care, the causes of things, the ways of nature and the plan of the universe, God's counsels and the mysteries of heaven and earth, unless by such knowledge on might procure some profit or favor for oneself. Thus we have reached the point, it is painful to recognize, where the only persons accounted wise are those who can reduce the pursuit of wisdom to a profitable traffic; and chaste Pallas, who dwells among men only by the generosity of the gods, is rejected, hooted, whistled at in scorn, with no one to love or befriend her unless, by prostituting herself, she is able to pay back into the strongbox of her lover the ill-procured price of her deflowered virginity. I address all these complaints, with the greatest regret and indignation, not against the princes of our times, but against the philosophers who believe and assert that philosophy should not be pursued because no monetary value or reward is assigned it, unmindful that by this sign they disqualify themselves as philosophers. Since their whole life is concentrated on gain and ambition, they never embrace the knowledge of the truth for its own sake.

So writes a twenty-four year-old Pico della Mirandola in his exuberant and frenetic Oration on the Dignity of Man. It is not terribly surprising that an aristocrat condemns the practical arts, or that an aspring cognoscento ridicules mercurial trades.

What is surprising, and indeed refreshing, is his unshakable trust that disputation is a nigh-infallible crucible for Truth. That Pico then goes on to throw down the gauntlet to those who ridicule "natural magic" and do not wish to engage in Cabalistic discussion gives his oration an incredibly exotic flavor. That his Cabalistic sources were in fact forgeries he bought for a hefty price makes him look like many a contemporary starlet hoaxed by those "Wisdom of the Ancients" collections which sound like paraphrases of Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Nevertheless, his zeal remains admirable.

Notably, he does not cite the words of Jesus Christ. One might interpret this to mean he is an eclectic syncretist at heart. However, I suspect it indicates that even in his eclecticism he is wary of reducing Christ to just another wise man, as so many of our spiritual poseurs nowadays attempt.

His speech is a sure example of that old-time Humanism praised here before.

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