Oration on the Dignity of Man

by Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

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Why, according to Pico della Mirandola's "On the Dignity of Man," does man possess great dignity and capacity?

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As a leading humanist and thinker of the Renaissance, Pico locates human dignity in the unique capability of humans to make of themselves whatever they want to be. It is this freedom that ultimately separates man from the animals and gives him a special status among God's creatures.

In looking at history, Pico concludes that everything is in a state of flux. All except one thing, that is—human freedom. Whatever method we use to understand our world, be it religion, science, or philosophy, is inherently unstable. As the world changes, so does man's world-view. The only thing that provides any kind of stability in such a world of constant change is the innate and inordinate capacity of human beings to transform themselves. Man cannot change nature, but he can change how he responds to its ceaseless flow. Man's freedom is the still point of the turning world; the only firm foundation upon which anything of lasting value can be built. Pico believes that God gave man this freedom to enable him to express the divine in myriad different ways. It is in this freedom and its unfettered exercise that the true dignity of man really lies.

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Pico della Mirandola believes that man has great dignity and capacity due to his ability to mold his fate or determine who he wants to be.

Mirandola gives praise to those who do not cave into the wishes of the flesh or temptation.

"If you see a philosopher judging things through his reason, admire and follow him: he is from heaven, not the earth."

To Mirandola, however, the ultimate form of achievement is to become one with God.

“If you see a person living in deep contemplation, unaware of his body and dwelling in the inmost reaches of his mind, he is neither from heaven nor earth, he is divinity clothed in flesh."

Thus, Mirandola is challenging the reader to reach their highest potential.

In doing so, a person honors God.

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