The conciliation of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle represents one of the most important
debates of the 15th century. This debate concerned many different aspects of the two Greek
philosophers’ thought: from individual ethics to political government; from the essence and destiny
of the soul to the nature of metaphysical first principles.
Metaphysics was at the centre of a major controversy that broke out in Florence in 1491. The
protagonists of that controversy were Marsilio Ficino – the first translator of the Platonic corpus in
its entirety – and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola – trained in university Aristotelianism, but
interested in Platonic contaminations. The importance of this controversy was such that there are
echoes of it throughout the 16th century, up to the Second Scholasticism.
The theoretical crux of this debate lies in the semantics of the terms One and Being. Plato, in the
dialogue Parmenides, conceived of these two terms as ontological realities, and identified them with
the first principles of the created universe (the so-called ‘hypostases’). Aristotle, on the other hand,
attributed a purely predicative function to the two terms: one and being are the most general
predicates that the intellect can form of a thing (a thing is, exists; a thing is one).
The aim of the seminar is to analyse how this methodological opposition between Plato and
Aristotle on first metaphysical principles is handled in Renaissance philosophical thought. Giovanni
Pico, in fact, proposed an interesting solution of conciliation between the two ancient doctrines, and
defended it in his treatise De ente et uno. This compromising solution had the defect of displeasing
both pure Platonists (such as Ficino) and philosophers with a purely Aristotelian orientation (e.g.
Antonio Cittadini da Faenza). To better understand the development of the debate and the positions
in the field, the Seminar will work on four specific points:
1) Which ancient, late antique and medieval sources did the protagonists of the debate know?
How did they interpret them?
2) What semantic function should we attribute to the main terms of this debate (Unum, Esse,
3) How is Pico’s argument to reconcile Plato and Aristotle structured? What arguments are
4) What remains of Plato, and what of Aristotle, in Giovanni Pico’s compromising solution?