Past Event

Columbia Renaissance Seminar: Richard Blum (Loyola–Baltimore)

October 9, 2018
5:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Columbia University Faculty House

“Two Dominicans on Slavery: Las Casas and Campanella”

Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484-1566) attacked the oppression of the Amerindians with his Apologia [In defense of the Indians]. This is a work of philosophical anthropology, as he attacks the distortion of legal, theological and philosophical sources to “defame those greater parts of humanity, which the will of divine providence has spread across this vast area of the Indians.” In drawing attention to the local population’s fundamental humanity he changes the perspective from the political-legal argument to theology. It is not for the conqueror but for God to settle all members of humanity as such.

Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), in his The City of the Sun, states that there are no slaves in this utopia and contrasts that with the reality in Naples at his time, where one sixth of the population did all the work. This suggests that Campanella has a functional perspective on society and economy, which can be supported with his description of labor, service, and dominion in analogy to parts of the organic body. Those observations are supported by his theological and ethical understanding of human interaction on the personal and on the societal level.

We have two Dominican friars opposing slavery, and it is worth raising the question, to what extent are they continuing a tradition of Aristotelianism as heralded by the Dominican Thomas Aquinas?


You are cordially invited to the dinner at Faculty House at 7:00 PM, where you will be able to continue the conversation with the speaker and the other Seminar members. If you plan to attend the dinner, please make your check of $30 payable to Columbia University.

Please contact the Rapporteur, Charles Pletcher (, at least ten days prior to the event, if you plan to attend the talk and, especially, if you plan to stay for the dinner. There is no need to contact the Rapporteur if you will not be attending.

In one of the most evocative frescoes of the Renaissance, Raphael juxtaposes Plato and Aristotle. The pairing would seem obvious, since the two thinkers had been for centuries symbols of philosophy and wisdom. But only the recent revival of Plato, begun in the mid-fifteenth century, had allowed Latin West to gain a better understanding of Platonic philosophy and therefore to compare Plato’s doctrines directly to those of Aristotle. Were master and disciple in harmony? And if not, which of the two should be favored? Such questions were less innocent than one might think, and the answers to them had implications for scholastic philosophy, theology, and speculation on the natural world, among a wide range of topics. A preferred vehicle for confronting these issues were works expressly conceived as comparisons between the two philosophers: the comparationes. The comparatiobetween Plato and Aristotle – a legacy from late antiquity – was initially recovered as a genre by Greek authors such as Pletho, George of Trebizond and Bessarion, and eventually appropriated by Latin authors, from Pico to Fox Morcillo, from Champier to Camutius. Driven by philosophical, apologetic and even political concerns, comparationes between Plato and Aristotle were still being composed even at the end of the seventeenth century, as the genre served as a flexible tool for different intellectual agendas. This talk will outline, on the basis of new archival and bibliographic research, some significant episodes in the history of this genre, focusing on its application in the university world, where it served both as a didactic instrument and a cultural manifesto.