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The Conception of Man in the Works of John Amos Comenius

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Jan Čížek

This book maps the entire development of Comenius’s considerations on man, from his earliest writings to his philosophical masterwork. Although this book primarily offers an analysis and description of the conception of man in Comenius’s work, it may also serve the reader as a more general introduction to his philosophical conception. The author shows that, in spite of the fact that Comenius has received no small amount of academic attention, funded studies or monographs in English language remain in single figures. Thus, a range of Comenius’s remarkable ideas are still unknown to the wider public.

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7. The conception of man in the works of John Amos Comenius

Extract

If we are to summarise our findings about Comenius’s philosophical-theological view of man, we ought to point out that the works written in the pre-pansophic (preparatory) period, and for that matter, the pansophic period do not contain much in the way of a fixed and comprehensive anthropological conception. Such a conception can be found only in the panorthotic work, namely in Comenius’s masterpiece, De rerum humanarum emendatione consultatio catholica. Works from the pre-pansophic period are based on the view of man as the image of God and the pinnacle of creation, whose nobility is, nevertheless, of a lower order than that of angels. Perhaps the most characteristic feature of these works is their striking anthropological pessimism. Man’s knowledge does not serve to broaden his horizons, enhance his will or inspire his activity; on the contrary, it leads him to an understanding that his existence is futile. The works uniformly stress the importance of reason as the defining feature of man’s nature; the will – if mentioned at all – is pushed into the background. This is evident, for example, from the short treatise Listové do nebe [Letters to Heaven], in which Comenius maintains that man’s destiny is entirely contingent on God’s will (as opposed to man’s own self-creative actions). Man is seen, using the term that Comenius uses to describe the human being in all his preparatory works, as a futility in the hands of God. Comenius’s early works are already plagued by the terminological confusion that would beset all of the...

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