The History of Psychology

The Renaissance

This period was characterized by an increased confidence in human ability and a focus on the value of the matters of living in this world.  This attitude (as distinguished from preparing for the afterlife, which dominated the former European mind) first appeared in Italy, then in France, and later in Britain and Germany.   



La Gioconda (Mona Lisa) Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

(The Louvre, Paris)



Fontainebleau, 1528 Gilles le Breton  - French Renaissance Architecture





Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (c 1525-1594) was one of the greatest of Italian Renaissance musical composers.  This artisan broke the bonds of earlier sacred musical restrictions by developing a systematic means of sounding several voices together at one time “polyphony” – the core of all modern western music. 


 Giovanni Pico della Mirandola's (1463-1494) Oration on the Dignity of Man (excerpt from Richard Hooker at Washington State University) is an early statement of “Humanism”, which is a singular issue which arises again in the Renaissance.  Many thinkers of this period began to question the denigration of humanity which is implicit in medieval writing (e.g. Augustine) and assert the ultimate goodness and prowess of human beings.  Although Mirandola (or Pico) affirmed God as the source of human  power, other writers will use this idea to undermine the political hold that the Church possessed throughout the first millennium. 


MachiavelliNiccolò Machiavelli’s (1469-1527)  The Prince (is the first great modern thesis on the use power.  Machiavelli describes in behavioral terms, unimpeded by the ethics of the Church or conscience, how a leader acts to maintain control.  Finally, the actions of the Prince are in the best interest of the society that he leads, but this end justifies practically any means.


Michel Eyguem De Montaigne’s (1533-1592)  Essays  (Oregon State University) reveal an introspective seeking of human nature.  He finds both the monstrous and the miraculous in his study of humanity and offers a cautionary tone to his portrayal of the human condition.    


Francis Bacon's (1561-1626) New Atlantis (University of Virginia),  Essays, and The Advancement of Learning represent this thinker's broad scope of interest and influence. Bacon is one of the earliest advocates for indeductive logic in the form of experimental science.



WS William Shakespeare 1564–1616 (thanks to Jeremy Hylton) the great poet and playwright was also a remarkably penetrating psychological thinker.  Although some have considered his view of humans as pessimistic, others see this marvelous thinker as a realist in his portrayal of the thoughts and actions of people. 



Blaise Pascal's (1623-1662) Pensees (Cyberlibrary) (thoughts for an unpublished book) explores the use of logic versus feeling in determining the human situation.  This great founder of probability theory (statistics) and formulator of truly elegant language concludes that intuition (feeling) is a viable facet of inquiry in relation to logic.