Francois Rabelais was a French humanist of the Renaissance period. He was a great contributor to the development of humanism, so often his ideas are common to those of humanist thinkers. To understand his conception of human nature it is necessary to understand what Renaissance humanism was.
Renaissance humanism was a movement that, taking inspiration from Classical Antiquity, reformed aspects of society and culture, especially education and literature. Renaissance humanism breaks with the previous medieval thinking that puts religion and self renunciation in the center of life, and brings man in the center of all things. Human life ceases gradually to be just a preliminary phase for the afterlife and gains importance on its own.
Rabelais was a visionary for his age and we can consider him a forerunner of modernism. Medieval education was based on church values; its scholars struggled to separate body from spirit. For the humanist thinker, this was a legacy that stood against the natural necessities of individuals. Through his life and works, Rabelais contributes to the reformation of education. He believes in self-determination as the key to improving oneself through experimentation and education, and he values critical judgment. The Rabelaisian human is educated in arithmetic and languages, music and liberal arts.
”Of the liberal arts, geometry, arithmetic, and music, I gave you some smattering when you were still small, at the age of five or six. Go on and learn the rest, also the rules of astronomy.” he writes in Gargantua and Pantagruel.
Another interesting aspect found in his work that stands for his modernist thinking is his opinion on war. He considers that the only war worth to be fought is that of defense. He is against the war of conquest, a utopian perspective that holds heavy relevance even today.
Furthermore, the Rabelaisian human does not undermine the importance of physical activities such as eating and reproduction. These base activities were undermined by the spiritual perspective of the Middle Ages.