Hooker the Humanist?

Richard Hooker is often thought of as a scholastic, because of his obvious appreciation for Thomism, Aristotelianism, and late medieval philosophy, and his very orderly and precise argumentation; and scholasticism, of course, as we all know, is antithetical to humanism.  Right?  Well, no, not really—more recently, scholars have recognized that scholasticism and humanism were not necessarily at all mutually exclusive, and William Bouwsma has described Hooker as every bit as much a humanist as he was a scholastic.  These intriguing passages from Susan Schreiner’s book Are You Alone Wise? The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era, describing the distinctives of 15th-century humanism, lend considerable weight to Bouwsma’s argument, and suggest much more fruitful work to be done on this connection:
“Like Valla, he [Agricola] was interested in argumentation that persuaded and influenced the hearer, thereby commanding assent. In his challenge to Aristotelian logic, he emphasized the case for “likelihood” or “probability” over certainty. According to Agricola, dialectic was concerned with speaking convincingly (probabiliter), in a way suitable for creating belief in the given situation or context. Thus both Valla and Agricola challenged the supremacy of the syllogistic form of reasoning and its sole claim to validity and certitude. Both men were interested in forms of reasoning or argumentation that convinced or persuaded rather than proved. 
. . . 
More so than the Nominalists, the humanists explored the implications of living and belonging to history. They focused on the study and writing of history and the assumptions of living within history. They began to recognize the historicity of truth. In particular, they understood the ramifications of human knowledge as appropriate to the ever-changing historical realm: “The historical aspects of the realization of the mind are never eternally valid, never absolutely “true,” because they always emerge within limited situations bound in space and time; i.e. they are probable and seem to be true [verisimile], probably only within the confines of “here” and “now,” in which the needs and problems that confront human beings are met.” 
In this worldview, the objects of contemplation were not eternal and unchangeable first principles. Rather, the object of thought was the changing, contextual, and societal world. Throwing human concerns into the realm of the historical had important consequences for the issue of certainty. Downgrading the claim of certitude based on rational syllogistic demonstration and the elevation of the mind through abstraction, humanists developed a significant consciousness of what it meant to live within the partial and incomplete realm of history.  Ethical, political, and historical issues became the primary subjects of debate and discussion. . . .
By the late Renaissance, the growth of historical knowledge sometimes functioned to accentuate the sense of perspectivism, and “custom” came to be recognized as a dominant force. The study of philology and law also exerted enormous impact on the development of a historicist and relativist consciousness.” 

 

3 thoughts on “Hooker the Humanist?

  1. Brad Littlejohn

    Hey,Sorry I never got around to replying to such a straightforward question!Hooker is to a large extent a one-book-wonder. There's some sermons and unpublished drafts of various sorts that fill out the seven volumes of the Folger Library Edition of his works, but in the main, everything you need is in the Lawes of Ecclesiasticall Politie. Unfortunately, there's really no substitute for reading the whole thing, more or less beginning to end (although you could skip Bks. VI and VII in a pinch); the argument is an intricate and interlocking piece of architecture, so you'll go astray if you just try to read bits and pieces, as most do. That said, however, Bks. I-III or perhaps I-IV, form a pretty complete prolegomenal unit that gives you most of what you need to know about his metaphysic, epistemology, and ecclesiology, and the building blocks of his critique of the Puritans. As far as an edition, the Folger Library Edition runs at like $200 a volume, but you can download the Keble edition, which is more than adequate for the casual reader (in fact, perhaps better, because it brings the spelling and punctuation up to 19th-cent. standard, whereas the FLE goes back to the original), here.As far as secondary literature, it's hard to say, both because Hooker studies is such a contentious area right now, with most books giving you a slanted interpretation, and because Hooker's thought is so broad that very few books try to provide a survey of the whole. Undoubtedly the finest introduction is the Companion to Richard Hooker edited by Torrance Kirby that came out recently, but it costs a fortune as well. Hopefully you have access to a good library.

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