The Discourse on the Dignity of Man (1486) by Pico della Mirandola (1463-1494) is considered the "Manifesto of the Renaissance." Indeed, it exalts the human creature for his/her freedom and capacity to know and to dominate reality as a whole. Far from being simply that, however, the Discourse deals with the vocation of the human creature who, possessing no determinate image, is urged to pursue its own perfection. Such a pursuit begins with moral self-discipline, passes through the familiar, multifarious world of images and fields of knowledge, and strives toward that most lofty goal which defies representation. Pico believes that this paradigm, by virtue of the fact that it is to be found in every tradition, is universal.
The Discourse merits attention today precisely on account of its affirmation that human nature, which is in itself indeterminate and weak, comes alive and obtains its identity through the plurality of human cultures, each representing customs that, though distinct, are (in their essence, structure and function) essentially identical. Hence the possibility of harmony and grounds for "peace" among cultures.
The Discourse speaks to us from a very distant world. Pico knew neither the Reformation nor the New World and was in a certain sense a man with one foot in the Middle Ages and the other in the Renaissance. His philosophical and linguistic knowledge was exceptionally broad-ranged but his relationship to his sources is very different from that of modern philology. The language of the Discourse is the highly refined Latin of Humanism and herein lie the difficulties of a modern reading.
The Pico Project makes accessible a complete resource for the reading and interpretation of the Discourse within its own context, from an initial encounter through direct contact with the original text, presented here in its first printed edition (Bologna 1496) of which there exist no extant manuscripts.
The electronic apparatus permits the user to take one step further, beyond the written text, towards the fullest realization of the anti-esoteric attitude which inspired Pico to publish his 900 theses and to present them for public discussion.
The international community of collaborators, affiliated with the University of Bologna and Brown University, has as one of its principal objectives the rejuvenation of the humanistic model of holistic knowledge which, rather than relying on specialized areas of concentration, takes shape from a wide breadth of experience. Their endeavor, likewise, is not realized through individual efforts of specialists but by a community of scholars who are responsible for all aspects of those sections of the text assigned to them. In this fashion, the success of the project depends upon the unrestricted circulation of information among the project's members and upon the notion that every portion of the text reflects the work as a whole and in a certain way contains it.