Image of man;: a study of the idea of human dignity in classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance


Image of man;: a study of the idea of human dignity in classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance by Herschel Clay Baker (1947)

Image of man;: a study of the idea of human dignity


This book undertakes to discuss if only fragmentarily, one of the perennial topics in the history of thought — the dignity of man. To trace the rationalizations that constitute the history of this idea is extremely difficult. Such a subject is obviously too big for one book, or for a series of books, and the only comfort one can take in presuming to treat it at all is to remember Voltaire's remark that the secret of being a bore is to tell everything. But the temptation to tell everything is in this instance not very strong, simply because no one, and least of all I is capable of treating adequately even the major topics suggested by such a subject. 


Therefore I have written this book with considerable diffidence and discontent, knowing that every paragraph could be a chapter, every chapter a book^and that there are many things that, either through ignorance or because life is short, I have left unsaid altogether. I have tried to mitigate my presumption with the implication of modesty in the subtitle; for although I have tried to write a more or less continuous exposition, I knew that I could treat merely a sampling of the relevant topics. Hoping to suggest some of the main lines of development in the history of the idea of human dignity, I have sacrificed thoroughness for scope. 

And inevitably, in organizing what I have to say under the chronological headings of classical antiquity, the Middle Ages, and the Renaissance, with the corresponding thematic headings of philosophy, theology, and literature.


I have imposed an arbitrary order on material that everywhere cuts across such artificial lines. None the less, as the virtual exclusion of Greek literature (and especially the beguiling figure of Homer) shows, I have tried to limit myself to my self-imposed categories. The most conspicuous of my voluntary omissions has been the development of late Renaissance skepticism and naturalism: although they were to have a corrosive effect on man's traditional evaluation of himself, these topics belong more properly to the crucial seventeenth than to the sixteenth century. I hope presently to devote a whole book to their bearing on this subject in the seventeenth century, but to treat them here would be to disrupt (although not, I hope, to demolish) my thesis that in its estimate of human nature the Renaissance marked no radical departure from the late Middle Ages.


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