Intellectual standards and competence

03 Oct 1994 12:01

How well have people thought in different places and times? What are the standards by which thought has been judged?

For instance: Pico della Mirandola's Oration on the Dignity of Man is obviously the product of a very bright and well-read man; but if I got it from one of my students, I'd say he had the critical sense of a magpie, and an appalling habit of twisting other people's words to fit his outlandish notions. (I was rather like that myself as a freshman, being under the influence of Joseph Campbell.) Yet this work was extremely well-received at the time, and seems - based on my admittedly limited exposure to Renaissance humanism --- at least par for the course. Did nobody notice? Did nobody care? Is there something I'm missing?