Erasmus on Reason, Speech, and Friendship

“Man possesses a unifying principle in the fact that he is molded to the same figure and form and endowed with the same power of speech.  Whereas beasts differ in the variety of their shapes, man is identical with fellow man in possessing speech and reason.  His ability to speak enables him above all to cultivate friendship.  We find in him the seeds of all virtue, a ready disposition toward mutual benevolence, and a delight in helping others.  Yet he appears to have been corrupted and to be prone to fall to the very level of beasts.”

Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace in The Essential Erasmus, trans. John P. Dolan (New York 1964), p. 179.

Following Cicero and the Western tradition, Erasmus understands that human beings possess reason and language.  These allow human beings to become true friends, cultivate virtue, and act generously toward others.  Alas, Erasmus laments that corruption has led many human beings to act like beasts.

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