What is the main idea of Pico della Mirandola's "Oration on the Dignity of Man?"
Pico Della Mirandola's "Oration on the Dignity of Man" was a sort of manifesto of Christian Renaissance humanism. Rrteacher accurately pointed out the the primary theme of this manifesto is humanity's free will, not just to choose salvation or damnation, but also to choose his place in the natural order of creation.
This was a radical idea. Throughout the medieval period, there was a strong belief that humanity's place in the universe was fixed and that it was unnatural to strive for something different. Mirandola, however, stated that man was created:
neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer.
In other words, man had no permanently fixed place and could, to put it colloquially, choose his own destiny! By his own volition, a person could use philosophy to elevate his nature to something spiritual (following the Platonic notion that the spiritual is greater than the physical). Likewise, he could instead choose to lower his nature by indulging in materialistic and fleshly desires, so much so that he became little more than an animal.
Mirandola argued that mankind ought to be praised and understood as a wonderful aspect of God's creation. The reason for this, he suggested, was that God had given man something that he granted to nothing else in nature: free will. Man could choose to be great or to be debased, they occupied a place between the divine and the worldly. According to Mirandola, God in effect told Man when he was created:
We have made thee neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, so that with freedom of choice and with honor, as though the maker and molder of thyself, thou mayest fashion thyself in whatever shape thou shalt prefer.
The way toward intellectual greatness, he argued, was through philosophy. But not just any philosophy, or more accurately, any particular philosophy, would suffice. Rather Miradola suggested that thinkers should turn to all of the great philosophical approaches of antiquity, incorporating varying aspects of each. This required a rigorous program of study, one which formed the foundation for what scholars today recognize as Renaissance humanism.