HPS Colloquium-Richard Oosterhoff
The Wits of Idiots: Lay Knowledge of Nature in the Northern Renaissance
Before 'common sense' became a name for the untutored mind in the eighteenth century, renaissance intellectuals tempered their erudition by drawing on the 'idiota' as the source of immediate experience of God and nature. The 'idiota' became a central figure in late medieval devotional writing. Meanwhile, intellectuals picked up the 'idiota' as an example of immediate, self-taught knowledge, both to present a vision of wisdom outside traditional disciplines, and to ground natural knowledge in experience. This lecture will explore the theme of the 'idiota' in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries as a paradigm of immediate natural knowledge.