The Italian philosopher Pico della Mirandola was born on this day in 1463. His “Oration on the Dignity of Man” has been described as the “Manifesto of the Renaissance” in that it articulates the spirit of humanist endeavor. In the excerpt below, Mirandola’s “Supreme Maker” describes Man’s central position and unique capabilities:
I have placed you at the very center of the world, so that from that vantage point you may with greater ease glance round about you on all that the world contains. We have made you a creature neither of heaven nor of earth, neither mortal nor immortal, in order that you may, as the free and proud shaper of your own being, fashion yourself in the form you may prefer. It will be in your power to descend to the lower, brutish forms of life; you will be able, through your own decision, to rise again to the superior orders whose life is divine.
Contemporary discussions of human dignity eschew the lofty Renaissance idealism for more limited goals — some consensus on human rights or bioethics, some guidelines for euthanasia or conflict resolution. Among books in the latter category is Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity. Born and raised in extreme poverty in Jabalia Refugee Camp, Abuelaish became an internationally educated doctor and academic, and the first Palestinian physician to work at an Israeli hospital. His book opens bleakly:
Most of the world has heard of the Gaza Strip. But few know what it’s like to live here, blockaded and impoverished, year after year, decade after decade, watching while promises are broken and opportunities lost.
But even after three of his children were killed in an Israeli air raid, Abuelaish has continued to work for reconciliation and mutual respect, and a simple goal: “Let us build a new generation, one that believes that advancing human civilization is a shared project among all peoples and that the holiest things in the universe are freedom and justice.”
Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.