Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457) ranks among the greatest scholars and thinkers of the Renaissance. He secured lasting fame for his brilliant critical skills, most famously in his exposure of the “Donation of Constantine,” the forged document upon which the papacy based claims to political power. Lesser known in the English-speaking world is Valla’s work in the philosophy of language―the basis of his reputation as the greatest philosopher of the humanist movement.
Dialectical Disputations, translated here for the first time into any modern language, is his principal contribution to the philosophy of language and logic. With this savage attack on the scholastic tradition of Aristotelian logic, Valla aimed to supersede it with a new logic based on the actual historical usage of classical Latin and on a commonsense approach to semantics and argument. Valla provides a logic that could be used by lawyers, preachers, statesmen, and others who needed to succeed in public debate―one that was stylistically correct and rhetorically elegant, and thus could dispense with the technical language of the scholastics, a “tribe of Peripatetics, perverters of natural meanings.” Valla’s reformed dialectic became a milestone in the development of humanist logic and contains startling anticipations of modern theories of semantics and language.
Volume 1 contains Book I, in which Valla refutes Aristotle’s logical works on the categories, transcendentals, and predicables, with excursions into natural and moral philosophy and theology.
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Brian P. Copenhaver is Professor of History and Philosophy and Director of UCLA’s Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.
Lodi Nauta is Professor of the History of Philosophy, University of Groningen, the Netherlands.
Copenhaver and Nauta have found precisely Valla’s inimitable voice. Throughout their Dialectical Disputations, the reader can hear the utterly infectious immediacy with which Valla read the works of the ancient world. The glowing gift of the Renaissance was its refusal to think of those works as dead―buoyed by the ongoing re-discovery of manuscripts and armed with a revived knowledge of Greek and Latin, scholars and bookworms like Valla embarked on entirely new ways of reading, and our translators perfectly capture how personal an endeavor it was... Readers seeking lively, challenging company can’t do much better than Valla, and now they have his greatest work in an English language version he would have loved. (Steve Donoghue Open Letters Monthly 2012-08-25)
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