Humanism: Crosscurrents of Major European Intellectual Thoughts

"A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hope of reward after death."-Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)


Any level of discourse to a moral Essay on humanism must represent the truth of the human condition. There is hardly any doubt that humanists’ social and political thought must gone through the crosscurrents of major European intellectual thought, especially socialism, religiosity and humanism. Here we will try to peep through their intelligentsia.

Humanism broadly defined as an attitude that emphasizes the dignity and worth of the individual was, in fact, the ‘Renaissance’ of classical literature and thought. The word “Humanism” is here used in a very wide sense, and this gives rise to considerable difficulty in drawing the line of exclusion. As a literary and cultural movement that spread through Western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries has an interesting historical background.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Greek schools with their manuscripts field their country to Italy another European countries. These manuscripts dealt with human life and human values. Their study brought about a re-orientation and revival of European culture and thought particularly of Greek and Roman studies. In the 16th century many young Englishman, tried off degenerated scholasticisms and theology, went to Italy to learn Greek manuscripts where our first modern humanist writers Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Francesco Petrarch contributed greatly to the discovery and preservation of classical works. Pico della Mirandola, the other Italian writer, in his Oration ascertains the dignity of man. Moreover, the “ancients” were being seen in a new way. They had been able to attain insight and wisdom through their reason.



On the return, the young Englishmen established teaching of Greek in the University of Oxford and were known as ‘Oxford Humanists’. These scholasticisms appreciated the moral critical rationality and great art of classical civilization. They considered it the highest level that man has to reach. Their ideal was to recreate such a civilization in the modern world. Humanism thus came to mean the religion of humanity or devotion to human and secular interest opposed to divinity which had been the chief concern in middle Ages. That particular influence on the literature, painting, and architecture of the times initiated the value of individuality and humanism.

The German scholars Johann Reuchlin and Melanchthon extended the movement into the fields of theology and education, and were a major underlying cause of the Reformation. The Dutch cleric Desiderius Erasmus introduces the movement into England. On the other hand, The University of Oxford and Cambridge classical scholars William Grocyn, Thomas Linacre, Erasmus and John Fisher spread the words of humanism throughout English society and that bears fruit in immediate Elizabethan Literature and culture. Humanism, however, develops through diverge lines of antiquity, skepticism and naturalism. But in every field of Ethical, social, political and metaphysical world of internet love, peace, fellow feeling and right to doubt make their point clear. This frame work of thought can be seen at every turn in renaissances writing (1500-1660) from William Shakespeare down to to-days.

Renaissance and Reformation had a common starting-point in humanism; both needed the revival of learning for their motive force; both affected liberation of the spirit from authority, superstition and decadent ideals. The English people gradually cast off obedience to Rome in doctrine, and assumed Italian humanism, simultaneously. The Reformation had been adopted by the consent of King, Lords and Commons. Gradually, the renaissance humanism assumed the dignity and central position of man in the universe. It emphasizes the study of classical, imagination and philosophical literature as against natural science. As the time passes Enlightenment humanism spread through out the world in the name of colonization and etc. We are gradually moving towards progressive humanism or “neohumanism”. That is, however, a different topic to mark upon.
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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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