Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Education, Knowledge, Philosophy, People, Ethics, Life, History, Actions

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/01/06


Francesco Petrarch was an Italian philosopher mostly known in the modern settings due to his works in poetry. His contribution to the world philosophical thought, however, comes from the role he played in making discoveries about classical writings and literature which he went on to make known to the world in Latin through his letters. He among other philosophers are seen as the founders of humanism; a philosophical way of thinking adopted by a number of people. The humanistic approach therefore mainly centered on collecting and rediscovering ancient texts mostly in Latin.

Attitudes towards pursuit of understanding

A major aspect of Petrarch’s pursuit of understanding was based on history. According to him, history provided the material through which people in search of knowledge drew their thoughts and therefore built their cases that would inform others whether to follow them or take different routes. According to him, people in search of truth had the option of taking the experiences and thoughts of other people in history in framing their own actions and thoughts. (Hyman 38) In learning from history however, Petrarch was aware of the limits that were associated with the phenomena whereby one had to maintain his search to the things that they sought to apply and copy in their lives or avoid in their actions.
Petrarch's high regard for historicism in the pursuit of knowledge and truth can be clearly understood from his proclaimed attachment and affection to antiques. Throughout his life, he had an undying passion for antiquity and all the forms of material that came with it. To this end, he portrayed a passion for searching for lost manuscripts written by different scholars in the past. Upon discovering these texts, he viewed most of them to be faulty and partially or wholly distorted. This therefore led to the core of hiss intellectual work that involved restoring the lost parts in the ancient texts and then presenting the perceived purified versions or contents of the ancient texts through his letters.
Through his activity of rediscovering ancient writings by different authors, Petrarch built his own kind of ethical philosophy when it came to materials appertaining knowledge. According to him, his moral philosophy was built on the ethical guidelines given in the ancient texts; texts that were free from the distortion done on them over time. (Hyman 36) This therefore built the desire that he had to go about collecting ancient writings about knowledge. This however was not the only force that pushed him into being involved in such activity. Through his many letters, it can be seen that Petrarch portrayed some kind of loss and feelings of being defeated in the quest of restoring the dignity of the texts. An example is the admission he made of having lost Varro’s books thus the inability to provide the knowledge Varro had to the world.
Generally, therefore, Petrarch’s search for knowledge and understanding can be summarized as being based on historicism. This approach could be fully applied through having an interest in antiquity and trying to bring the ideas that the ancient writers had into the modern context. This according to him was the way through which people could be driven towards being virtuous and also be enabled to gather wisdom.

Goals in an ideal intellectual life

In defining his goals of an intellectual life, Petrarch developed an ideal moral philosophy that he prescribed for all those trying to indulge in intellectual activity and the overall search and dissemination of knowledge. His understanding was in contradiction to the scholasticism that he saw in his time and therefore in developing the goals of a proper and ideal intellectual life, he sought to correct the faults that were evident in the other line of thought.
The first goal according to Petrarch was delivering proper content in the ideal intellectual life. Proper content in this case referred to the provision of understanding on how people could live better that their present conditions thus improving their overall lives. According to him, intellectual life should give rise to knowledge that was necessary since he was of the view that the unnecessity of philosophy corresponded to the lack of nobility of that venture.
A famous illustration Petrarch gave to underlie his thought on the necessity factor is the comparison of medicine and moral philosophy. According to him, knowledge on medicine was just some kind of mechanical philosophy whose importance could not be compared to that of moral philosophy that gave teaching to people on how to lead good lives. The difference between the two was that medical knowledge highlighted how one could continue to exist normally, while moral philosophy gave the chance for people to not just exist but live well.
The other goal of an ideal intellectual life was bringing about knowledge that provided an inspiration for people not to just live but develop the will of indulging in good activities. This could be clearly seen from the purpose he attached to the moral philosophy that he preached about. This philosophy was meant to be learned by the people in order to inform them to be better according to Aristotle. Petrarch, however, adds to this understanding that moral philosophy should make the individual better but not just fulfill the role of informing. The individual, in this case, should be moved to the point of appreciating and being passionate of virtuous activity while detesting any kind of vice.
Virtue therefore according to Petrarch is the end goal of any intellectual teaching and emphasis should not only be on the goal of achieving virtue but the process of getting there. People therefore involved in propagating knowledge are therefore also teachers of virtue with the desire of making their teachings transform the students into good people who live well.
The other goal that Petrarch attached to an ideal intellectual life is having an ultimate proper community. (Hyman 37)The proper community according to him provided the best avenue and the chance for which discussions about moral philosophy could be done. This kind of community which portrayed a number of characteristics that Petrarch viewed to be important. One was having real relationships between teachers and students as opposed to superficial relationships and then allowing for governance through unanimous agreements between people as opposed to being compelled by certain ideologies. This kind of community according to him would support philosophical discussions and was the kind that the ancient writers figured well in.

Views on Aristotelian logic and Scholasticism

Petrarch was renowned for his opposition and criticism towards Scholasticism and the Aristotelian logic. This is because the supporters of these ideologies possessed traits that did not conform to his understanding of good knowledge or the ideal intellectual life. According to Petrarch, Scholars in his time devoted more time to the development of knowledge and by extension information that was not useful to other people’s lives. They were involved in satisfying their quest for knowledge such that they ignored what would be useful to the society. Their fault according to him was failing to come up with moral concepts and ideas that were helpful to the people taking up such knowledge.
This notion that he possessed about the scholars at that time raised the question of what was important between being good and being learned. Supporters of Aristotelian logic and Scholasticism therefore entered into this debate and branded him as being good but ignorant. According to them it was nobler to be more learned than to just appear to be good among people. His response to these accusations however reiterated his point that he preferred being good than being seen to be learned. For a start, the criterion that the scholars used to determine whether individuals were learned or ignorant was simple enough such that he would match it. He however pointed out that some of his critics were however even worse than him in their own levels, others possessing unverified information whiles those who surpassed him in terms of learning having useless information.
Petrarch’s representation of Aristotelian natural philosophy also clearly shows the dissent that he had about that ideology. According to him he saw no importance of man being armed with the knowledge of natural features and occurrences rather than being in full possession of knowledge on the nature of man and all the dynamics associated with it. The knowledge that the Aristotelian pursued was actually false since it was unsubstantiated by different authors due to the general lack of experience people had about the phenomena in question. To him, there is some kind of knowledge that people pursue and that is not worth having or being in procession of another issue that Petrarch had with philosophers who upheld Scholasticism was their perceived fault in failing to develop some form of affection and relationship with their subjects or compatriots. These philosophers were on the contrary overwhelmed in their dialectic nature that prevented them from seeing the true goals of intellectual activity.
The scholars in this case were mostly fond of entering into arguments about various issues which led to Petrarch branding them to be more in love with disputes and quarrels as opposed to the genuine search for true knowledge and truth. He however agreed with them to some point that it was not noble for people to just accept issues or information without questioning its level of truthfulness but his problem with them arose when the scholars rejected outright facts and truths and decided to enter into contention and debates. Generally, therefore, the fault that scholars at the time were victim of was confusing the means of getting knowledge to be the end of knowledge. Dialecticism was a genuine mode of pursuit for knowledge and information but should not be seen as the ultimate goal of philosophical activity.


Francesco Petrarch presents an ideology that holds the contribution of philosophical activity to the betterment of human lives highly. Through his goals in the ideal intellectual life, the conflict that he has with the supporters of Aristotelian logic and Scholasticism is clearly observed.

Works Cited

Hyman, Arthur. Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. Hackett Publishing, 2010.

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