Readings of Platonic Virtue Theories from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance: The Case of Marsilio Ficino’s De amore

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It is commonly known that ancient schools of ethics were revived during the Renaissance: The texts pertaining to Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic and Epicurean ethics were edited, translated and discussed in this period. It is less known that the Renaissance also witnessed a revival of Plotinian ethics, by then perceived as a legitimate form of Platonic ethics. Plotinus’ ethics had been transmitted through the Middle Ages through Macrobius’ Latin treatise In somnium Scipionis I.8, which relied heavily on Plotinus’ student, Porphyry, and his report of Plotinus’ ethics. In this article it is argued that the Florentine humanist and philosopher Marsilio Ficino carried on this tradition of Platonic, or rather Plotinian, ethics. He was familiar with Plotinus’ Enneads, since he had had access to it through Greek manuscripts from around 1462; his Latin translation of the Enneads was published in 1492. The article argues that in his commentary on Plato’s Symposium, completed in 1469, Ficino made use of Plotinian ethics and bypassed the monastic interpretation, which Plotinian virtue ethics had received from medieval theologians and philosophers. Ficino thus re-interpreted the Plotinian theory in a more worldly manner, making the so-called “higher virtues” accessible to humans outside religious institutions, attained by their natural constitution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)680-703
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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