Belonging to the Encyclopedia MSN Encarta:
Humanism, in philosophy, attitude that emphasizes the dignity and worth of the individual. A basic premise of humanism is that people are rational beings who possess within themselves the capacity for truth and goodness. The term humanism is most often used to describe a literary and cultural movement that spread through western Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. This Renaissance revival of Greek and Roman studies emphasized the value of the classics for their own sake, rather than for their relevance to Christianity.
The humanist movement started in Italy, where the late medieval Italian writers Dante, Giovanni Boccaccio, and Francesco Petrarch contributed greatly to the discovery and preservation of classical works. Humanist ideals were forcefully expressed by another Italian scholar, Pico della Mirandola, in his Oration on the dignity of man. The movement was further stimulated by the influx of Byzantine scholars who came to Italy after the fall of Constantinople (present-day İstanbul) to the Ottomans in 1453 and also by the establishment of the Platonic Academy in Florence. The academy, whose leading thinker was Marsilio Ficino, was founded by the 15th-century Florentine statesman and patron of the arts Cosimo de’ Medici. The institution sought to revive Platonism and had particular influence on the literature, painting, and architecture of the times.
The collection and translation of classical manuscripts became widespread, especially among the higher clergy and nobility. The invention of printing with movable type, around the mid-15th century, gave a further impetus to humanism through the dissemination of editions of the classics. Although in Italy humanism developed principally in the fields of literature and art, in central Europe, where it was introduced chiefly by the German scholars Johann Reuchlin and Melanchthon, the movement extended into the fields of theology and education, and was a major underlying cause of the Reformation.
One of the most influential scholars in the development of humanism in France was the Dutch cleric Desiderius Erasmus, who also played an important part in introducing the movement into England. There humanism was definitely established at the University of Oxford by the English classical scholars William Grocyn and Thomas Linacre, and at the University of Cambridge by Erasmus and the English prelate John Fisher. From the universities it spread throughout English society and paved the way for the great flourishing of Elizabethan literature and culture.