The Critique of Scholastic Language in Renaissance Humanism and Early Modern Philosophy

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic

3 Citations (Scopus)
336 Downloads (Pure)


This article studies some key moments in the long tradition of the critique
of scholastic language, voiced by humanists and early-modern philosophers alike. It aims at showing how the humanist idiom of “linguistic usage,” “convention,” “custom,” “common” and “natural” language, and “everyday speech” was repeated and put to new use by early-modern philosophers in their own critique of scholastic language. Focusing on Valla, Vives, Sanches, Gassendi, Hobbes, and Leibniz, the article shows that all these thinkers shared a conviction that scholastic language, at least in its more baroque forms, was artificial, unnatural, uninformative, ungrammatical, and quasi-precise. The scholastics were accused of having introduced a terminology that was a far cry from the common language people spoke, wrote, and read. But what was meant by “common language” and such notions? They were not so easy to define. For the humanists, it meant the Latin of the great classical authors, but this position, as the article suggests, had its tensions. In the later period it became even more difficult to give positive substance to these notions, as the world became, linguistically speaking, increasingly more pluralistic. Yet the attack on scholastic
language continued to be conducted in these terms. The article concludes that the long road of what we may call the democratization of philosophical language, so dear to early-modern philosophers, had its roots – ironically perhaps – in the humanist return to classical Latin as the common language.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEarly Modern Philosophers and the Renaissance Legacy
EditorsCecilia Muratori, Gianni Paganini
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-32604-7
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-32602-3
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameInternational Archives of the History of Ideas


  • humanism
  • language
  • scholasticism
  • meaning

Cite this