331. Literary Criticism: Lorenzo Valla

Posted on 8 September 2019

Lorenzo Valla launches a furious attack on scholastic philosophy, favoring the resources of classical Latin.

Further Reading

• G.W. Bowersock (ed. and trans.), Valla: On the Donation of Constantine (Cambridge MA: 2007).

• B.P. Copenhaver and L. Nauta (ed. and trans.), Lorenzo Valla: Dialectical Disputations, 2 vols (Cambridge MA: 2012).


• S.I. Camporeale, Lorenzo Valla, umanesmo e teologia (Florence: 1972).

• S.I. Camporeale, Christianity, Latinity, and Culture: Two Studies on Lorenzo Valla, ed. and trans. P. Baker and C.S. Celenza (Leiden: 2014).

• M. Laffranchi, Dialettica e filosofia in Lorenzo Valla (Milan: 1999).

• P. Mack, Renaissance Argument: Valla and Agricola in the Traditions of Rhetoric and Dialectic (Leiden: 1993).

• L. Nauta, In Defense of Common Sense: Lorenzo Valla’s Humanist Critique of Scholastic Philosophy (Cambridge MA: 2009).

Stanford Encyclopedia: Lorenzo Valla


Kenneth Cavness 14 September 2019

Normally I wouldn't say anything, but Valla didn't "point out the problem with the movie Minority Report". Predestination and knowledge of the future is literally the entire issue Minority Report addresses and works with. It was just such a jarring thing to say that I couldn't stop myself!

Otherwise, love your podcast and have listened to every episode!

Peter Adamson 14 September 2019

In reply to by Kenneth Cavness

Oh but HEAR ME OUT on this.

(spoiler alert, don't read if you haven't seen the movie and may want to)

To be fair it was a long time ago that I saw the movie but I remember at the time being very disappointed that they bailed at the end on the whole premise by having Tom Cruise not do the thing he has been precognitively seen to do, which, if I am remembering rightly, was at no point flagged as a possibility - like, you just solve the foreknowledge problem by saying that hey, sometimes foreknowledge is wrong. But the whole point of the foreknowledge problem is that the foreknowledge isn't wrong: that you are known in advance to do something, raising the question whether you can still do it freely. So my point was that Valla saw that if, as in the movie, someone tells you what the prediction is, that could foul things up, which is why the plot of the movie goes off the rails and has to undermine its own central premise.

Someone over on Facebook told me that the book version is much better on this point actually.

Kenneth Cavness 17 September 2019

In reply to by Peter Adamson

I guess I forgive the movie a bit on this point, since, from what I have listened to you over the years, predestination has been an issue for philosophy since basically the Stoics. It's like Time Travel and Star Trek: It'll just give you a headache.

Peter Adamson 17 September 2019

In reply to by Kenneth Cavness

Fair point. The only time travel movie I have ever been really impressed by at a conceptual level was "Primer", and I didn't fully understand what was going on in that which probably helped.

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