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A Philosopher’s Humanism: Paul Oskar Kristeller

A Philosopher’s Humanism: Paul Oskar Kristeller

Chapter Five (p.293) A Philosopher’s Humanism: Paul Oskar Kristeller
The Other Renaissance
Rocco Rubini
University of Chicago Press

This chapter reviews and contextualizes the early career of Paul Oskar Kristeller (1905-1999), the doyen of Renaissance studies in postwar American academia. It details Kristeller’s relationship to his Italian mentor, Giovanni Gentile, and to rival academics during his exile in Italy in the 1930s, as well as his indebtedness to his German mentors and peers. These included Hans Baron, whose epistolary dialogue with Kristeller helped interest the latter in the Renaissance Platonist Marsilio Ficino; Martin Heidegger, who influenced his appreciation for existential concerns; and, especially, Heinrich Rickert, whose brand of Neokantianism was instrumental, the chapter shows, in shaping Kristeller’s influential view of Renaissance humanism as “rhetoric” rather than “philosophy.” The nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century debate concerning the scientific value of the Geisteswissenschaften provides an additional context for Kristeller’s scholarship: this dispute pitted Rickert against the German historicist tradition that runs from Johann Gustav Droysen to Wilhelm Dilthey, and was favored by Eugenio Garin. With this context in mind, the chapter invites a new understanding of the fundamental disagreement between Garin and Kristeller that defined Renaissance studies; it also aims to transcend that disagreement by revealing that the two scholars were united in making Renaissance scholarship a philosophical discourse in its own right.

Keywords:   neokantianism, Marsilio Ficino, Giovanni Gentile, Wilhelm Dilthey, Giuseppe Saitta, Hans Baron, Johann Gustav Droysen, Geisteswissenschaften, Heinrich Rickert, philology

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