Were there good humanists?

Niccolo Machiavelli was a really opinionated man. According to Wikipedia, “he was a diplomat, political philosopher, playwright, and a civil servant of the Florentine Republic” native to Florence, Italy who lived during the early Renaissance period (1469-1527) He was a very a very well known humanist of his time, one of his most famous pieces was The Prince. According to McKay, “No renaissance book on any topic has been more widely read and studied.” (Mckay, 415)

McKay also points out that Machiavelli, “As a good humanist … explores the problems of human nature and concludes that human beings are selfish and out to advance of their own interests.” (Mckay, 415) What I felt was most moving was the statement, “as a good humanist”, because the quote makes one wonder what really is being a good humanist then? It’s confusing because McKay says that Humanists in general seemed to have believed  “preoccupations of the humanists was education, and moral behaviors… a life active in the world should be the aim of education individuals and that education not… private or religious purposes, but benefited the public good” (McKay, 414)

In contrast, Machiavelli believed “human beings are selfish and out to advance their own interests… pessimistic view of humanity… for a man who… carry out only his professions of good will be… ruined… who are evil.. it is much more safe to be feared than to be loved when you have to choose between the two.. the sole test of a “good” effective whether the ruler increases his power” (McKay, 415) The ideas in comparison seem to have been completely different from what the “main” humanist ideas were portrayed to have. All his ideas really raise a question for me, how was he such a respected and famous humanist? Could it have been because it was different and made sense on different levels? Could being different with fresh new ideas have been so “out of the box” that it was cool in some ways? In my opinion, those could have been core reasons to why I MAY believe that could have been the reasons.

Within Christian Humanism, it was meant to be different way of looking at humanism or they wouldn’t have to have another category. The main ideas between the two were regular humanism talked more about humanity as a whole, and Christian ways focused more on how to make more of one person good at a time. “classical and Christian cultures should be combined…” (pg 416) When stated “classical and Christian cultures combined, scholars back during the time probably thought that Christian humanist should be the bigger picture, and all the ideas from “regular” humanist before should fit under that. “Christian humanists were interested in an ethical way of life… the power of human intellect to bring about moral and institutional reform” (pg 416) Here, they seemed to have been interested in the person within yourself, and morals/values one possesses. “although human nature had been corrupted by sin, it was fundamentally good and capable of improvement through education” (pg 416) But here though, they find that even if you are at a good potential that it can be up for improvement and anything can do better. All these points though seem to really contradict with each other.

With so many different ways to be a humanist, there really doesn’t seem to be one concrete way. Even with all these different teachings, all aspects of “human life” seemed to have been talked about, but with all that was said, what really is humanism & who was really a “good” humanist?



  1. cassandra2014

    Great Post Amanda! I really liked how you compared different reputable sources and different types of Humanism. The information that you compiled together really makes the reader think about how abstract Humanism really is! Overall it, I thought it was a thoughtful and interesting blog! ~Casey

  2. Nice Job Amanda, you had some really interesting ideas in here and I’m glad I chose to read it! I especially liked your thoughts at the end of how the two points of humanism seem to contradict each other, which they definitely seem to do! Great post!

    – Michael

  3. jisoo966

    Hi Amanda! I enjoyed reading your post! It was interesting to know that there are many different ways to be a humanist. You have a great thoughts about humanism! Your post made me think about what’s the real humanism.
    – Jisoo

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