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Conscience in Renaissance moral thought: a concept in transition?

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This paper focuses on a neglected aspect of the history of the discussion of conscience in late fifteenth-century Europe. It seeks to explain how Adrian of Utrecht (1459–1523), a prominent scholastic theologian at Louvain, pondered the more subjective dimensions of conscience, and how his arguments can be appraised from the perspective of a wide-ranging discussion of the nature and function of moral cognition and judgement that took place in humanist and philosophical circles. Adrian's work is especially interesting for reason that he has important things to say about ‘moral integrity’, and ‘convictions of the heart’– ideas that bring into focus how highly personalized aspects of moral reflection impinge upon the activities of conscience. Having outlined Adrian's concerns, his description of the machinations of our moral conscience will then be set in context by comparing his account to that of a leading philosopher of his age, Marsilio Ficino (1433–1499). In addition to this, the thoughts of the celebrated ‘Christian humanists’ John Colet (1467–1519) and Desiderius Erasmus (1466/9–1536) will also be enlisted so that a richer picture of Renaissance ideas of conscience can emerge.
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Keywords: Adrian of Utrecht; Erasmus; John Colet; Marsilio Ficino; conscience; moral cognition

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of PhilosophyCatholic University of Leuven

Publication date: September 1, 2009

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