Oration on the Dignity of Man

by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola
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How does Pico conceive of human will and what implications does the conception have? 

Pico believed in human dignity. He thought man's freedom of will was a gift from God and that, by using it wisely, one could achieve his or her full potential.

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Pico conceives of human will as a gift from God. He implies that, since God has given man free will, he must use it wisely to decide his destiny in life.

In his treatise, Oration on the Dignity of Man , Pico argues that dignity comes from accepting this gift...

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Pico conceives of human will as a gift from God. He implies that, since God has given man free will, he must use it wisely to decide his destiny in life.

In his treatise, Oration on the Dignity of Man, Pico argues that dignity comes from accepting this gift of free choice and using it to ascend to great heights of nobility:

That we may understand — since we have been born into this condition of being what we choose to be — that we ought to be sure above all else that it may never be said against us that, born to a high position, we failed to appreciate it, but fell instead to the estate of brutes and uncomprehending beasts of burden...

Pico maintains that, with this free will, we must contemplate the greatness of God and imitate the Seraphim and Cherubim, who are filled with "charity," "intelligence," and "justice." He asserts that anyone who lives a life of contemplation and meditation will attain the necessary wisdom to fulfill the dictates of a practical life.

This contemplative philosophy will essentially allow man to wash away "the filth of ignorance and vice." Along with this, the "darkness of reason" can be dispelled through "dialectic" (debate and discussion), and the impulses of human passion can be constrained through "moral science." According to Pico, the purification of the soul should be the main focus of those who have the free will to decide what they will be:

Then may we suffuse our purified souls with the light of natural philosophy, bringing it to final perfection by the knowledge of divine things.

Thus, man should use his free will to rise ever higher in the quest for perfection, "so that the passions may never run rampant, nor reason, lacking restraint, range beyond its natural limits"; Pico believes that this quest will clothe man with dignity and nobility.

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