If a drive to seek eternal truth, permanent universals, and order in things is the proper attribute of a philosopher, as it would seem to be, then Dante's claim to the cherished title is reasonable. Perhaps his first work, the Vita Nuova, is the most dramatic example of this precisely because, paradoxically, it is not a philosophical work at all. It is a love story of intimate and personal nature, grounded, it would seem, in historical fact but taking on the air of a spiritual parable; its immediate sources are not in works of philosophy but in the love cult of the Middle Ages.
Yet the construction and the apparatus betray a disciplined intent; the prose and poetry are mingled in a strict architectural pattern; and each of the poems is followed by an analysis composed in the tradition of Scholasticism. Digressions on the nature of personification and the meaning of certain terms are evidence of what one might fairly call the philosophical manner.
Beatrice herself becomes in the course of the confessional narrative something very close to a theological and thus a quasi-philosophical concept. It is, however, the Convivio that is the most purposefully "philosophical" of Dante's canon. It was inspired, the author tells us, by the reading of Cicero and Boethius, and Dante in fact seems to see himself as having much in common with the latter, also a victim of political injustice, and as turning to the same source for consolation.
It is noteworthy, too, that Dante, like Boethius, attempts — consciously, one suspects — to set philosophy free from its entanglement with Christian theology. His definition of philosophy in the third tractate goes back to Pythagoras, and in Book IV, in the course of enumerating the virtues appropriate to the successive ages of man, he turns to the pagans such as Aeneas and, very strikingly, Cato , to exemplify such virtues. All but startling is his eulogy: "And what earthly man was more worthy than Cato to signify God?
Truly none. In this connection the plan of the Convivio if it may be called a plan, for, unlike most of Dante's works, the book seems to have grown of itself is very revealing of the author's concept of the uses, if not the nature, of philosophy. The first tractate is highly personal, stating that the genesis of his interest was his need for consolation in his exile and his feeling that his "image" in Italy had suffered somewhat from the youthful and impassioned portrait that emerged from the pages of the Vita Nuova.
In the second tractate he avows that in effect philosophy, "the fairest and noblest daughter of the universe," is the new lady who has replaced Beatrice in his heart. In the third tractate he discusses the meaning of philosophy, which he finds to signify "love of and zeal for wisdom," adding that philosophy has "as its subject understanding and as its form an almost divine love of the thing understood. Of these branches the highest for any medieval theologian theology itself is in the empyrean, beyond the physical cosmos would be metaphysics, but it is significant that Dante brackets it with physics in the starry heaven and puts ethics in the loftiest physical sphere, the primum mobile, morality being "the science that disposes us rightly for the other sciences" even as the crystalline heaven sets in motion all the other spheres.
In fact, the largest part of the work, the fourth treatise, is given over to a study of true nobility, its source and its effects.
Additional entries offer comprehensive discussions of the Divine Comedy manuscript tradition; of the various editions of the work over the centuries; and of the early and Renaissance commentaries on the work. For just as a multitude of species must continually be generated to actualize the full potentiality of prime matter, so the full intellectual capacity of humanity cannot be realized at one time nor in a single individual [ Mon. We may also remark that Dante's concern for the good life on Earth does not desert him: The theory of the two "suns" necessary for the proper illumination of humankind reappears in the Purgatory ; the emperor is glorified a reserved seat awaits Henry VII in the celestial rose ; and certain cabalistic prophecies indicate Dante's hope for a dux who will lead the temporal world back to order and sanity. Louis: MCE Publishing, First Published
Dante finds this human excellence to be not the Aristotelian "inherited wealth and good manners" but rather a God-given grace, the nature of which is evident in its fruits. The fruits, which are enumerated in chronological order, are all of such a nature as to be properly called social virtues. Dante's ideal is not a mystic or a visionary but, in the best sense of the term, a man of the world, living in a community and serving it to the best of his ability — certainly an Aristotelian concept.
Only in the stage of "decrepitude" does Dante say that the good man's thoughts should turn to God and the afterlife, and even this passage, beautiful as it is, has about it a tone more pagan than Christian. It is noteworthy that all the men chosen to exemplify the appropriate virtues are men of action, in many cases pagans but also including such ambiguous characters as Lancelot and Guido da Montefeltro, the condottiere. Thus the Convivio , dedicated to the glorification of philosophy, ends by being a rule of good living, high-minded, to be sure, but practical as well.
Noteworthy too is the rather lengthy excursus of Book IV Chs. Dante finds historical correspondences between the empire and the church, affirms that Christ chose to come to Earth at the time the world was best governed and at peace that is, under Augustus , and concludes with a panegyric to Rome. This is the more interesting because some of his data are traceable to St. Augustine , whose view of imperial Rome was quite opposite. The De monarchia, developing the latent and the tentative attitudes of the Convivio, may well contain Dante's most original contribution to philosophical thought.
The work is divided into three parts: in the first Dante shows the necessity for the rule of one monarch in temporal affairs; in the second he argues that for historical reasons such a monarch should be the Roman emperor; and in the third he defends the thesis that the emperor, although he owes deference to the pope, should not be subordinate to the pontiff in temporal matters. It is the first book that is the most fascinating to the student of Dante the philosopher. Briefly, the main argument is that peace is a necessity if humanity is to actualize its potential intellect in the highest degree; and there can be no assurance of peace, national rivalries being what they are and greed being as strong as it is, unless the world is governed by one prince, supreme above all nations and beyond the temptations of cupiditas.
This massive but highly readable reference work can be used often by educators and general readers alike it has remarkable consistency of style, content, and. The Dante Encyclopedia, edited by Richard Lansing, is a reference book for the life and works of Dante, especially the Divine Comedy. Originally published in.
In the course of defining the collective potential intellect, Dante invokes the name of Averroes, thus laying himself open to a charge of heresy and indeed the De monarchia was solemnly burned and remained on the Index for many years. Gilson, however, has well made the point that the collective potential intellect of humanity as conceived by Dante was not a "being," as was the "possible intellect" or kind of oversoul of Averroes, but rather a "community.
Conceding the superiority of contemplation over action and, by inference, of the spiritual over the temporal, he nevertheless stresses the importance of the machinery necessary to perfect the fulfillment of man's proper endowment in the active life and his happiness in this world. So too at the end he readily concedes that the emperor owes the pope the respect of a younger brother, but while thus indicating that the spiritual life is superior, he seems also to imply that it is separate and independent; both pope and emperor would, in his theory, derive their authority directly from God.
The result is in fact a kind of political facet of the Averroistic double truth, as contemporary critics were quick to point out. Gilson, for whom Dante is no Averroist, nevertheless commends him for seeing clearly "that one cannot entirely withdraw the temporal world from the jurisdiction of the spiritual world without entirely withdrawing philosophy from the jurisdiction of theology" and adds that Dante's perception of this fact gives him "a cardinal position in the history of mediaeval political philosophy.
It has been argued by some critics that the Divine Comedy is in essence a repudiation of the secular and independent Convivio and De monarchia and is evidence of a kind of "Conversion" of the poet, resulting either from some inner crisis or from his despair at the defeat of Henry VII. Such felicity is of course circumscribed by our mortality, and the Dante who celebrates philosophical understanding as a quasi-mystical union with God also maintains that true union can be granted only through grace to a soul made receptive by the infusion of the theological virtues which wholly transcend the workings of rational, natural virtue.
But for Dante, as for Thomas Aquinas, the modus essendi of the soul joined to the body differs from that of the soul in separation: though they are the same in nature, the separated soul understands, not by means of sensory images, but through species in which it participates by virtue of the divine light [cf. To desire what is beyond the capacity of our intellectual nature would be ethically and rationally incoherent, a desire for imperfection rather than perfection of understanding. But the Convivio continually strains against these same limits that it claims are appropriate to the proper scope of human knowledge in our temporal condition.
For Dante, first and foremost a poet of love, the experience of acquiring philosophical understanding has an important psychological component. By enabling us to analyze the processes of perception, philosophy brings us into contact with the true nature of things, and for Dante, as Kenelm Foster observes, the slightest such contact could have a metaphysical value:. It did not in one sense matter to Dante what the particular object of his knowing might be, since the joy of knowing it was already a foretaste of all conceivable knowledge and all joy; and this precisely because, in knowing, the mind seized truth…once intelligence, the truth-faculty, had tasted truth as such, that is, its own correspondence with reality, it could not help desiring truth whole and entire, that is, its correspondence with all reality.
At this point, knowledge and the joy of possessing it combine to prepare the ground for faith. And here our good faith has its origin; from which comes hope, which is desire for what is foreseen; and through this arises the act of charity. Through these three virtues one ascends to philosophize in that celestial Athens, where the Stoics and Peripatetics and Epicureans, by the light of eternal truth, in a single will, concur in total concord one with the other. Philosophy thus conceived can still be regarded as the handmaid of theology, but as Dante develops his philosophical ideal metaphorically in terms of the beauty of the donna gentile , it assumes a religious value of its own.
But having provided this caution, Dante seems to ignore it, as if unable to resist the conviction that philosophy satisfies our desire in a manner proper to itself. Thomas, Exp. But philosophy, as embodied in the donna gentile , is not just the consummation of natural understanding.
For Dante, as for Aristotle, the human intellect as such is somehow more than human, and he is at times similarly unclear on the question of whether human beings can attain happiness through the exercise of virtue, and to what extent it is a gift of the gods [Foster , —]. Repeatedly he draws a distinction between merely human happiness and that attainable through grace, only to seemingly disregard it in subsequent discussion. Since certain things—God, eternity, and primal matter are named—exceed the capacity of our intellect, our natural desire to know must remain unfulfilled in this life [3.
Dante answers this by affirming, as noted above, that the natural desire for perfection is always proportionate to our capacity to attain it; for to desire the unattainable would be to desire our imperfection [3. Yet philosophy offers the promise of more. When the human mind is fully informed by philosophy, it would appear, it becomes virtually one of the intelligenze , who know both what is above them and what is below, God as cause and the created universe as effect [3.
The Liber de causis says that each cause infuses into its effect the goodness it receives from its own cause, or, in the case of the soul, from God [ Conv. When in gazing on the body of the donna gentile we are perceiving the effect of a cause which is ultimately God, and thus, Dante asserts [3. And so it is demonstrated by this appearance that, beyond the due of our nature which is most perfect in her, as was stated above , this lady is favored by God and made a noble thing.
Thus in effect the donna gentile is the perfection we desire. Through her we experience the divine goodness, by an outflowing, a discorrimento , which Dante glosses with a further reference to the Liber de Causis [3.
In the quasi-continuous series of gradations that descends from angel to brute animal, there is no intervening grade between man and angel, so that some human beings are so noble as to be nothing less than angels [Aristotle, NE 7. Such is the donna gentile ; she receives divine virtue just as the angels do [3. She is a thing visibilmente miraculosa , ordained from eternity by God in testimonio de la fede for us [3.
Thomas, SCG 1. She has assumed the status of Wisdom, sapientia , the divine mind as expressed in the order and harmony of creation. Like the separate substances and God Himself, her beauty can only be described in terms of its effects. And it is in such terms that Dante ends his account of philosophy-as-wisdom.
Oh, worse than dead are you who flee her friendship! Open your eyes and look; for, before you were, she loved you, preparing and ordering the process that created you; and once you were made, to show you the way she came to you in your likeness. The fourth treatise of the Convivio seems to have been written later than the first three, and it is markedly different in orientation. The principal theme of its canzone is the true nature of nobility.
So, since this lady of mine had slightly altered her sweet expressions toward me, above all where I investigated and researched whether the prime matter of the elements was comprehended by God—because of which I refrained for a while from being the presence of her face—living more or less without her, I started to reflect on the human defect related to the above-mentioned error [i.
That God is the creator of prime matter was an article of faith, and Thomas had dealt decisively with the role of divine will and intellect in the creative act [SCG 2. That Dante should admit to having entertained doubts about such a question is perhaps a way hedging against or concealing the heterodox implications of his claims in book 3 [Ardizzone ]. The anger of the donna gentile would then express his sense of a corresponding loss of focus, a failure to affirm her unique and transcendent role in the expression of the divine will.
Or perhaps Dante had come to regard the metaphysical exposition of books 2 and 3 as incidental to what he regarded as a more significant philosophical theme that emerges in book 4. Whatever the precise nature of the dilemma to which Dante alludes, the fourth treatise is marked by a noticeable shift away from metaphysics in the direction of ethics and rhetoric. Philosophical knowledge is redirected to the purposes of social and political life, and the treatise, while punctuated like the others by numerous digressions, pursues a single sustained argument.
Dante begins by explaining that social order is a necessary condition for human happiness and that it requires a single governor whose authority embraces that of all particular governors and directs their several efforts to a single end [4. The gesture nicely epitomizes the project of the Convivio , a vernacular discourse which defines for its lay audience the limits of political and scholastic authority and affirms the autonomy and potential dignity of individual human reason.
The later portions of the fourth treatise are grounded in another Aristotelian definition of nobility, as the perfection of a thing according to its nature [ Conv.
The human expression of this perfection is virtue, moral and intellectual. Electing to address the moral virtues, as more accessible to a lay understanding, Dante begins by describing how nobility is implanted in the nascent soul as the seed of virtue, from which spring the two branches of the active and the contemplative life. The final chapters of the Convivio show how the virtues that stem from nobility can direct the natural appetite of the mind, enabling it to evolve through love of them to the happiness which is the end of virtue [ Conv.
The Contra gentiles may seem an odd choice of model. Bruno Nardi considers that Dante had at most a superficial knowledge of this work at the time when he wrote the Convivio , and it is certainly the case that he is fundamentally at odds with Thomas over such specific matters as the origin of the soul, the role of the celestial intelligences in creation, and, more important, in claiming for philosophy the power to fulfil the human desire for knowledge in this life [Nardi , 28—29]. On all of these matters, Dante is closer to the position of Albert.