15Evolving Social Conditions 12th century Italy saw a rise in trade, which resulted in increased wealth and the growth and development of large city-states. This allowed for the establishment of a “middle elite”, which did not rule but had leisure time to develop intellectual skills and to begin to question received dogma.This increased trade also brought new ideas and technology as cultures began to connect across continents and oceans.As cities began to grow and populations were increasingly on the move, the character of city life became increasingly eclectic. The insular, rigid, and homogenous world of feudal Europe was replaced with an expansive, dynamic, heterogeneity as cultures, religions, and ethnicities blended in a manner not seen since Rome.
16Significance to Critical Thinking All of these factors combined to produce an environment in which the world view of the average citizen was greatly expanded. As people found themselves confronted by others who lived differently and who held alternative beliefs, some inevitably questioned whether their belief system was “correct”, as they had always believed.Of course, some also became more defensive and insular when confronted by “the other”. Evidence for this can be seen in the Inquisition and the religious wars between Protestants and Catholics in which hundreds of thousands were killed. Far from being a panacea for provincial thought, the city was simply one force among many. Religious and nationalistic dogma were still the dominant forces and the common citizen was still largely ruled by them.
17Re-Emergence of Greek and Roman Ideas In the 12th century and continuing through the 15th, texts from ancient Greece and Rome which had long been lost to Europe were re-discovered, along with works by Arab scholars who had continued to build on the works of the ancients.This tremendous influx of ideas sparked intense intellectual interest and helped propel the universities which were beginning to develop in Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Cambridge.
18The Printing PressThe invention of the printing press (Johannes Guttenberg circa 1439), coupled with the increasing use of local vernacular languages in scholarship (German, French, Italian, etc.) rather than Greek or Latin, made great ideas, formerly exclusive to the elite, accessible to the masses.Though many people were still illiterate, the presence of printed material might have spurred some to want to become literate.As the literate audience continued to increase and book prices continued to decrease more and more ideas were spread amongst the populace.
19The Printing Press (contd.) Thus, for perhaps the first time in history, the ideas developed by those who had leisure time available were available to a large audience. Ideas could be disseminated covertly and anonymously if need be to avoid censorship or persecution. The printing press, like the internet, is especially significant to the history of critical thinking in that it promotes opportunities for dissent.
20EducationEducation during the Renaissance was still very much tied to religious organizations. Luther and the Protestants continued to gain power during the Reformation and one of the ways they exercised it was in the realm of education. They believed that training people to read the bible would make truer believers and so they established schools with this goal in mind.The methods employed primarily involved memorization and passive mimicry of received “wisdom” and “truth”, and so were highly unlikely to promote critical thinking.Universities continued to evolve and grow and, with the influence of humanism, began to focus on worldly rather than otherworldly knowledge. Attention was placed on the ancient Greeks and Romans, particularly with regards to the questions they asked about human nature and the natural world.
21InquisitionWe cannot forget that the Inquisition was still alive and well throughout the Renaissance.In fact, it would not end until almost the middle of the 19th century.The church, therefore, continued to stifle the development of critical thought.
23Petrarch (1304 – 1374) “The father of humanism” Petrarch argued that humans were given their incredible intellectual and creative potential by god and that their abilities should be developed to the fullest. He believed that secular achievements and learning did not conflict with devotion to god. Rather, great feats demonstrated a higher love of god through enjoying the gifts which he had bestowed.This belief spread among intellectuals during the Renaissance and encouraged many to question human nature and the world around them.
24Significance of Petrarch to Critical Thinking Petrarch is, in a sense, the “pre-Socratic” of the Renaissance in that he established a new paradigm based on reason and logic which others would follow.Petrarch exemplified the following threads of critical thinking: questioning established beliefs, believing in the human power to figure things out through reason, developing intellectual humility, and to applying intellectual skills internally in order to take charge of one’s life.
25Machiavelli (1469 – 1527)Machiavelli was an Italian thinker whose ideas are difficult to sort out and categorize.On the one hand, Il Principe (The Prince) is a treatise on how a ruler should conduct himself in order to create the best possible state. This necessitates occasional acts of harshness, but do not extend to cruelty. In The Prince, Machiavelli repeatedly states that a ruler should not seem cruel lest his people become uneasy and rebel. However, Machiavelli also points out that rulers should not shy from being feared, for he who is feared will be followed.On the other hand, Discourses on Livy is a profoundly democratic work in which Machiavelli analyzes the various forms of government which existed in the ancient world. His purpose was to devise a system for the perfect state which would avoid the problems of despotic rulers (often a problem in monarchies) as well as an ignorant populace (often a problem in democracies).
26Machiavelli’s Significance to Critical Thinking Machiavelli, like other humanists in the Renaissance, is important because he had many insights into human nature. He was keenly perceptive of both the faults of rulers and the faults of the ruled, and desired a life in which both were limited. His writings on 16th century Florence could be applied in many ways to 21st century Europe or America.The threads Machiavelli exemplified are: openness to freedom of thought, thinking systematically and in a disciplined manner and belief in reason as the primary means to figure things out.
27More’s Utopia and Bacon’s New Atlantis Thomas More’s contribution to critical thinking lies in his Utopia (1518). In it, he attempts to design the perfect society to the smallest detail. Francis Bacon had his own idea of a perfect state which he explicated in his New Atlantis (1627). His ideal was based on state-sponsored scientific inquiry where “generosity and enlightenment, dignity and splendor, piety and public spirit" were traits common to the populace.
28Significance of Utopia and New Atlantis to Critical Thinking While both societies seem to be far from perfect to the modern mind (In Utopia, for example, everyone dresses alike, all houses are the same, the father is the undisputed master of the house, etc.), they are nevertheless significant in that they represent minds which are critical of the many problems they see in contemporary societies.In seeking to work out a better system which would promote the betterment of all, they are some of the few people to have attempted to think seriously about the idea of a critical society.
29Erasmus’ Follies and Bacon’s “Idols” Erasmus wrote In Praise of Follies in It is a satire of common behavior of esteemed sections of society which Erasmus believed to be highly amusing. He depicts professors as being tremendously deluded and who make themselves happy through their deceit. He pokes fun at monks as being more in love with themselves and their manner of dress than with devotion to god. He criticizes the political power which the Pope wields as being selfish and not at all in keeping with religious piety.In his “Idols of the Mind”, Francis Bacon devised a framework of human error to be avoided. They were: Idols of the Tribe; Idols of the Cave; Idols of the Market Place; Idols of the Theater. Each of these described a category of faults which humans routinely fall prey to, and which should be avoided.
30Significance of Follies and the “Idols” Both In Praise of Follies by Erasmus and the “Idols of the Mind” developed by Francis Bacon were focused on explicating the various ways in which human thinking can be problematic.The significance of these two works for critical thinking is that they represented studies of the human mind its problematics. Both Bacon and Erasmus saw that human beings routinely form selfish and self-destructive belief systems. Both contributed to critical thinking by shedding light on this aspect of the human mind.
31Bacon’s other Contributions In addition to his explication of the “Idols”, Bacon also contributed to critical thinking in two ways: his Advancement of Learning in which he critiqued established systems of education in many directions and proposed a new system based on, among other things, a separation of theology from other fields of thought.Bacon is also credited with developing a forerunner to the “Scientific Method”. Bacon proposed a system whereby one could come to general principles which could be tested in the world. His experiments with heat, for example, involved creating lists of hot bodies, cold bodies, and bodies with varying degrees of heat. He sought to determine what properties the hot bodies had which the cold did not, and thereby to figure out what constituted heat. Once this was found, he could then apply this principle to other bodies not on his list as a way of proving or disproving his hypothesis. He used this system as a tool for scientific research.
32Bacon’s Significance to Critical Thinking Bacon rates very highly in terms of critical thought.While certainly not without flaws, his wide scope of interest and ability to think through ideas deeply and thoroughly resulted in many significant contributions to critical thinking.In addition to those traits listed previously, he also demonstrated a belief in reason, openness to freedom of thought, and disciplined and systematic thinking.
33What can we learn from the Renaissance? That social conditions have a huge impact on thinking.That a heterogeneous mix of peoples, cultures and ideas is much more likely to spur critical thinking than a homogenous environment.That progressive critical thinkers are often light-years ahead of their contemporaries or predecessors.That critical thinking can be applied in countless ways by countless people.