Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Medieval Philosophy and Scholasticism


Osborne: 33-57
Kenny: 109-181
Penguin: as appropriate
Robinson: 40-47
Oxford: 55-105, 291-306
Supplemental Viewing:


St. Augustine (354-430)
Muhammad (570-632)
Abelard (1079-1144)
Maimonides (1135-1204)
St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
Roger Bacon (1215-1292)
William of Ockham (1285-1349)




Restricted Heaven to a realm where initially the gods (and later God) dwell. No belief in life with God after death—only the end of the biblical period.

a) ‘olam ha-zeh –the world as it is.

b) ‘olam ha-ba --the world to come. Associated with the messiah and a world in which peace and plenty were to be restored as a historical process.

c) These distinctions were transplanted into Christian and Islamic notions of Heaven.


Heaven is the domain of God, the angels, and ultimately all the redeemed, where they will receive eternal reward. Catholics: souls pass through purgatory to be purified, and then go to heaven to await resurrection.


a) Janna--“garden”

b) Firdaws—“paradise”

c) Also called “gardens of delight” and “gardens of Eden”

d) Details mentioned in the Koran include: the gates of paradise, its size, gardens, Huris (creatures of brilliant eyes and beautiful form), special gates for those who have practiced various forms of piety, such as fasting. Those who die in battle for Islam are assured immediate entry.



a) Contributing traditions and factors:

1) Manichees, Gnostics, Paul, Gospels, Christ, Essenes, Maccabees, Hellenisation, Jewish Diaspora, Jewish Captivity, Pentateuch (or “Torah,” the first five books of the Old Testament, Prophets, Moses, Plotinus and Neo-Platonism, Christian Platonists, Stoics, Cynics and Skeptics, Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoreans, Pre-Socratics, Orphic Mysticism.

2) The end of philosophical thought: By the year 300, Huns, Goths and Vandals wreck the Roman Empire. From the fall of Rome until the Renaissance, “free thought” was possible only if it was “Christian free thought.”

a) Hypatia, female professor of philosophy (Neo-Platonist) in Alexandria is murdered by a fanatical Christian mob at the instigation of their clergy in the year 415. Footnote to history: religion had replaced thought.

b) Edward Gibbons five reasons for the rise of Christianity:

1) The inflexible and intolerant zeal of the Christians—inherited from Judaism.

2) The idea of life after death (a future reward).

3) The miraculous powers ascribed to the Primitive Church (aided by superstition and hysterical reactions to natural disasters).

4) The pure and austere morals of the early Christians, which was very unusual at the time.

5) Unity and discipline of the developing Christian republic, which became a state-within-a-state in the Roman Empire.

c) Council of Nicea (325) unified the Christian Church: "Nicene Creed.”

d) Four Fathers (or Doctors) of the Church:

1) St. Ambrose: Roman lawyer who became Bishop of Milan (340-397). Taught the spiritual (and temporal) supremacy of the Church over the State.

2) St. Jerome: a) set up monasteries, which became an imperfect force for consolidating the Church’s power. b) Translated the Bible into Latin: The Vulgate (original texts were written in Hebrew: Torah; and Greek: Septuagint).

3) Gregory The Great (540-604, Pope 590-604).

a) increased papal authority.

b) enforced rules for clergy.

c) sponsored missionary expeditions.

4) St. Augustine (354-604):

St. Augustine (354 - 430)

Only “father” who could be described as a philosopher. Combines “old knowledge” and philosophy with new Christian belief.

a) Old knowledge: Rhetoric and Logic, Stoicism, Plotinus and neo-platonism, Skepticism of the late Academy, Aristotle, Manichean, 2 sect.


a) Spiritual autobiography discussing sin at length. Key point: Individual can sin, but the true Church, as an institution of God, could not.

b) Saw his conversion as a humbling of his intellectual pride & the dissolution of his will to the will of God. Faith + Reason.

a) Theology:

1) God is eternal and therefore outside of time. God has always existed in an Everlasting Present, which leads Augustine to conclude: Only the present truly exists. The past only exists as a present memory, and the future exists only as a present expectation.

2) God divides everyone up as either elect or reprobate.

City of God

a) Proposes two cities: 1) the City of God; 2) the City of the Devil. The City of God could only be known through the “infallible authority of the Church.” The state had to obey the Church if it wanted to part of the City of God.

b) In opposition to the Manicheans, who believed Evil, like Good, was an active principle, Augustine taught that God and all God created is essentially good. Evil is the absence of the good that ought to be.

1) Moral Evil is a consequence of freewill.

2) Physical evil results from imperfection.

b) Fall, Original Sin, Predestination

1) Man’s original endowment was lost by the fall of Adam, and we all suffer because of Adam’s sin.

2) The human race is/can only be saved by the grace of God and not through Good Works, as the Pelagians argued. (Pelagianism: a person can come to salvation by his or her own efforts apart from God’s Grace; or in co-operation with Grace.)

3) Since God knows what he intends to do, Augustine is a predestinarian, which will influence Calvin and other Reformers (Luther was an Augustinian monk).

Boethius (480-524)

Boethius intended to translate Plato and Aristotle but was executed before he could get very far with this work. Emperor Theodoric condemned Boethius to his death. Boethius had wanted to turn Theodoric into Plato’s “Philosopher-King.”

The Consolation of Philosophy

Written in prison. Boethius does not find consolation in Christian belief, but instead in his guardian “Philosophy” who appears in his prison cell and promises to “lead him to true happiness.”


Charlemagne (c. 742-814)

a) Crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas day, 800. Charlemagne wanted to:

1) Recreate the imperial rule of the Casesars.

2) Build St. Augustine’s City of God.


Mohamed (570-632)

Arab Philosophers


a) Translated Plotinus’ “Ennends” and called it The Philosophy of Aristotle.

Avicenna (980-1036)

a) Created a synthesis of Islam, Plato & Aristotle.

b) Wrote of medicine and psychology.

c) Had passions for wine, women and travel

d) Wrote an encyclopedia that was widely read in the West.

e) Invented a new Aristotelian phrase: “Thought brings about the generality of forms.”

f) Argued that the essence of God entails/necessitates his existence. The “Self-evident Argument.”

Averroës (1126-1198)

a) Lived in Cordova until he was exiled by the Caliph.

b) Gave Aristotle the status of a prophet.

c) Argued (as Aquinas would later) that God’s existence could be proven by reason alone.

d) Argued, like Aristotle, against the immortality of the soul.

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204)

a) Jewish philosopher who worked as court physician in Egypt.

b) Wrote: Guide for the Perplexed. Resolved philosophy and faith by showing how scripture could be interpreted both literally and spiritually.

c) Wrote commentary on the Mishnah: commentary on the Torah, or Mishneh Torah (The repetition of the Law).

d) “All Attributes ascribed to God are attributes of his acts, and do not imply that God has any qualities.”


a) Emerges in 11th century.

b) Represented growing strength in learning and culture, and the newfound interest in ancient philosophy, especially Aristotle.

c) New orders of monks appeared that worked like reforming political parties within the Church.

d) What is Scholasticism?

1) An acceptance of the prevailing Catholic orthodoxy.

2) Within this orthodoxy, as acceptance of Aristotle as a greater thinker than Plato.

3) A recognition that Aristotle and Plato disagreed about the notions of universals—and that this was a vital question to resolve.

4) Gave prominence to “dialectical” thinking and syllogistic (deductive) reasoning.

5) An acceptance of the distinction between “natural” and “revealed” theology (reflecting an older distinction between reason and revelation).

6) A tendency to dispute everything at length (some people call it wordplay, but it was an important training ground for the dialectic that was to emerge during the Renaissance).

Peter Abelard (1079-1142)

a) Brought the dialectic back into fashion. The dialectic—apart from the Scriptures—was the road to the truth, and was good for the mind.

b) Wrote on Logic and Ethics.

c) God can act and refrain from acting only in the manner and at the time that he actually does act and refrain from acting, and in no other way.” This implies of course that there are things God can’t do, like change the past, or change his own actions. (See St. Peter Damien)

St. Anselem (1093-1109)

a) Archbishop of Canterbury.

b) Last philosopher to remain in the Platonic tradition.

c) Proslogian: Developed the “Ontological Argument” for God’s existence. The very concept of God proves that he exists.

d) On the Grammarian: reflected on the interface between grammar and logic.

e) Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man).

St. Peter Damien (1007-1072)

On Devine Omnipotence: argued against the dialectic, and claimed that God could do anything—even change the past.

St. Bonaventure (c. 1217-1274)

a) Franciscan monk.

b) The Journey of the Mind in God.

c) Mystical theory of knowledge. All human wisdom was folly in comparison to the mystical illumination God sheds on the faithful Christian. Bonaventure favors revealed knowledge over reason.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

a) Aristocratic Italian who became a Dominican monk.

b) Like Aristotle, tried to organize all branches of knowledge into a system. Writings:

1) Summa contra Gentiles

2) Summa Theologiae

c) His full system would become the approved philosophy of the Church. The purpose of his system was to put to rest some heated and divisive debates taking place in the monasteries. At the heart of his system lies the distinction between Natural Theology and Revealed Theology.

1) Natural Theology: Activity of reason from sense experience.

2) Revealed Theology: Activity of reason from faith, divine grace, and the scriptures.

d) But rather than putting the debates to rest, the overlap of these two areas produced yet more problems….

e) Aquinas’ system shattered the identity of:

1) God and the World.

2) Knowledge and Reality.

3) Faith and Reason.

f) Meanwhile: Taken at face value, Aquinas proved the importance of Christianity and the existence of God, rejecting the 1) Self-Evident Argument; and 2) Ontological Argument.

g) Aquinas’ five arguments for the existence of God (Quinque viae):

1) The Argument from Change: Change is everywhere. Someone causes it---so there must be a God like Aristotle’s “Unmoved Mover.”

2) The Argument form Causation: Who causes causes? Is there a first cause, itself uncaused? There is. God is the original Uncaused Cause.

3) The Argument from Contingency: How do we account for contingency in nature? Only by a Necessary Being beyond contingency.

4) The Argument from Degrees of Excellence: We notice degrees of excellence in nature. This implies the notion of perfection, which in turn implies what we might call a Perfect Being.

5) The Argument form Harmony: Everywhere we look is “adaptation” or “accord.” Fish need to swim so they have fins and tails. Dogs need to chew bones so they have strong teeth. These are evidence of design—the manifestation (evidence/existence) of an Intelligence that organizes things.


Roger Bacon (1214-1294)

a) Wrote on geography, alchemy, mathematics, perspective.

b) Suggested one could learn from the heathen, in particular Arabs.

c) Was thrown into prison for 14 years for openly attacking clerical ignorance.

d) Four causes of ignorance:

1) Appeals to an unsuited authority.

2) The undue influence of custom.

3) The opinions of the unlearned crowd.

4) Displays of wisdom that simply covered up ignorance.

Duns Scotus (1270-1308)

a) Held there were three classes of things that can be known without proof:

1) Principles known by themselves.

2) Things known by experience.

3) Our actions themselves.

William of Ockham (1290-1349)

a) Argued for more democracy and less secular (governing/state) power for the church. 1328 is excommunicated.

b) Embroiled in an argument between the Fransciscans and Pope John XXII.

1) The historical question whether Christ and the Apostles had lived in absolute poverty (this argument is portrayed in The Name of The Rose).

2) The practical question of ownership of property by contemporary Franciscans.

c) Fled from Avignon to Munich and the protection of Holy Roman Emperor, Ludwig of Bavaria, where according to legend Ockham said: “Emperor, defend me with your sword and I will defend you with my pen.”

d) Contributions to Logic:

1) Logic is the analysis of scientific terms.

2) William treats universals and is concerned with terms and concepts, not physical states. Draws a distinction between the language of science and actual science.

3) Shows that science itself is about things; clarifies the difference between things and the language we use to talk about things.

e) Set the philosophical stage for the collapse of the Medieval system.

f) Ockham’s Razor: The explanation of any given fact should appeal to the smallest number of factors required to explain the fact in question: “It is futile to do with more what can be done with fewer” or “plurality should not be assumed without necessity.”


Defender of the Peace

a) Argued for Separation of church and State

b) Argued for separation/balance of powers: Executive and legislative branches of government.

John Wycliffe (1320-1384)

a) Professor at Oxford.

b) Righteousness alone conferred the right to property and power; therefore, corrupt, rich ecclesiastics (Bishops) had no right to property and power (Wycliffe was providing reasons for Henry VIII to take the Church’s property).

c) Christ and his apostles had no property; therefore, the clergy should not have any either.

d) English government of course liked the idea and protected Wycliffe. The bishops tried to condemn Wycliffe at a trial, but Henry and the masses protected him.

e) The king was God’s vicar and therefore the church should be subject to the king.

f) The church should concentrate on spiritual matters.

g) And, moreover, the Pope was the Anti-Christ!

h) Wycliffe translated the Vulgate (Latin Bible) into English.


Penguin Dictionary of Philosophy
Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church
Oxford Dictionary of World Religions 
Richard Osborne. Philosophy for Beginners

No comments:

Post a Comment