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Are You Alone Wise?The Search for Certainty in the Early Modern Era$
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Susan Schreiner

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195313420

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195313420.001.0001

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Questions and Debates in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries

(p.2) (p.3) 1 Beginnings
Are You Alone Wise?

Susan E. Schreiner

Oxford University Press

This chapter seeks to examine a number of issues, including the current debate about the beginning of modernity. Scholars have struggled to find a unified interpretive scheme for explaining the years from 1400 to 1600. While no such explanation will ever fully suffice, it is argued that the unifying theme of this period was that of certainty. Whereas most scholars point to the late Renaissance or, more typically, the 17th century as a time preoccupied with the quest for certainty, it was primarily in the Reformation and developments within the 16th century that we find the first early modern search for certitude. But the 16th century did not merely bequeath the problem of certainty to the 17th century when Descartes and Pascal tried to find the answers. The 16th century was itself a time of “clanging, clashing certitudes”. In short, this century both expressed the overwhelming need for certitude and supplied its own answers or certainties. This chapter also analyzes precedents in the 14th and 15th centuries that contributed to or presaged this concern with certainty, including those in epistemology, the controversy between humanists and scholastics, the role of rhetoric, and the growing interest in perspective.

Keywords:   modernity, certitude, certainty, Reformation, 14th century, 15th century, rhetoric, perspective

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