Christian culture 基督教文化学刊

Renaissance Magic: Contemplation or Operation? ——A Perspective of Yates Thesis from Pico Mirandola's Magic Theory

Author:WU Gongqing, School of Philosophy, Renmin University of China



In her representative work Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, British historian of science Frances Yates suggests that unlike ancient Greek philosophy or medieval theology, Renaissance magic for the first time advocated human operation and domination over the world, which itself gave birth to modern natural science. Yates’ research changed the understanding of the Renaissance in western philosophical and scientific history circles, and her theory of Hermeticism, known as the “Yates Thesis,” had a far-reaching influence. Yet Yates’ thesis has also been criticized by various scholars, especially by philosophical historians represented by Copenhaver and Farmer, who strongly opposed her idea of magic. In their view, Renaissance magic was essentially contemplation rather than operation, and therefore does not possess the characteristics of modern natural science. This paper takes Pico Mirandola`s theory of magic as its starting point, and attempts to combine his cosmology and theory of human nature. It shows that although Renaissance magic had the tendency and intention of contemplation, its intrinsic characteristics and manifestations were still operative. Farmer and Copenhaver put too much emphasis on the theological background and purpose of magic and neglected the operation of magic in the theological landscape, a move that can be seen to be theoretically unsustainable.



Yates thesis, Pico della Mirandola, Renaissance Magic, Operation, Contemplation


Full Text (International Version):

WU GongqingSCN JSCC.pdf


Full Text (Simplified Chinese Version): 

WU GongqingSCN JSCC.pdf