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History of medieval philosophy

illustration of Hortus Deliciarum(Dialectic and rhetoric are among the seven liberal arts (illustration of Hortus Deliciarum, v. 1180).)

The medieval philosophy of the West and the Middle East derive from the same current. It is the Muslim and Christian thinkers, then between Muslims themselves, who, seeking convincing arguments, will appeal to ancient philosophy. From the Middle East, mainly Muslim, will be born several schools of thought and method that will be repeated later in the West, while Muslim societies will eventually stifle the original ideas born during this period.

Medieval philosophy in the West is characterized by the encounter of Christianity and philosophy. Medieval philosophy is a Christian philosophy, both in its intention and by its representatives who are almost all clerics. A constant fundamental theme is from here also the relationship between faith and reason. But this does not mean that thought is now manifested in a dogmatic unity. The conflict of the philosophical directions between them on the one hand and the condemnation of theses by the ecclesiastical authorities on the other hand, show that the thought is deployed on very autonomous and divergent ways.

In spite of its great diversity and long period of development, however, there is a certain unity in the presentation of philosophical questions: discussion of the authors of the past, confrontation with the Sacred Scriptures and texts of the Church Fathers, in order to examine all the facets of the same problem, which at the end the author proposed the resolution.

The first period coincides with Antiquity: the Patristic (from the 2nd to the 7th century approximately) is characterized by the efforts of the Fathers of the Church (patres) to build the Christian doctrine with the help of the ancient philosophy, and thus to insure both against paganism and against gnosis. The most important and most influential representative of Christian philosophy in ancient times is St. Augustine. His work, influenced by Neoplatonism, is one of the main sources of medieval thought.

After the end of Antiquity, the transmitted texts are, for centuries, preserved and recopied in the monasteries. Paradoxically, however, philosophical thought loses its autonomy and its own strength. The symbolic date of 529 AD sees the closing of the Neoplatonic School of Athens ordered by Justinian. The masters of the Academy (Damascios, Simplicios of Cilicia, Priscian of Lydia, Eulamios of Phrygia, Hermias of Phenicia, Diogenes of Phenicia, Isidore of Gaza) decide to seek asylum at the court of the king of the Persians in Ctesiphon then to Harran where is maintained a philosophical-religious sect claiming neo-Platonism and Hermetism. The conversion of the philosophers of the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria to Christianity marks the disappearance of this school in 541 AD. AD

The period that opens from the ninth century is generally called scholasticism. The name Scholastics (scola equals school) refers to those who attend school of science, especially teachers who work in schools of dioceses or the court founded by Charlemagne, and later in the universities. But with the term scholastic, it is above all a method that is evoked. The questions are examined and resolved rationally according to pros and cons. What characterizes scholasticism is a return to ancient texts, their critical analysis and their message.

Universities, founded from the twelfth century, become the center of intellectual life. The development of knowledge in the following four basic faculties: philosophy (Septem artes liberales), theology, law, and medicine. The “Disputationes” that take place in the Universities followed the strict schema of the scholastic method. In the end, his formal sclerosis was the starting point for the criticism that was made in the Renaissance against this form of philosophy. The ancient sources to which scholasticism abuts are above all: St. Augustine; the Neoplatonic tradition (here with the writings of an unknown author named Denys the Areopagite); Boethius who transmits the Aristotelian logic; later, all the texts of Aristotle.

The following periods are distinguished:

  • during the first scholastic (eleventh to twelfth century) begins the development of the method properly scholastic. At this moment was spreading the quarrel of the Universals which is also the theme of the following century. The question is to know if to all the universal determinations (genera and species, for example the human species) corresponds a reality independent of the thought, or if they exist only in the thought in oneself. The influence of the Arab world is very important for the future development of philosophy. In the years 800-1200, Islamic culture allowed the transmission of Greek philosophy and science. In this way, more of the writings available to the Christian Middle Ages became accessible. This was the case of the complete works of Aristotle.
  • the new reception of Aristotle permeates the image of the high scholastic (about twelfth to thirteenth century). No thinker reaches a complete knowledge of the principles of Aristotle. It is on this point that the Franciscan thought, oriented towards Augustinism, and the Aristotelian thought of the Dominicans are opposed. Thomas Aquinas took over the vast systematic enterprise aimed at the union of Aristotelianism and Christian thought. The antinomian character of certain teachings of Aristotle with Christian dogma led, on the part of the Church, to a temporary prohibition of certain writings and the condemnation of a series of philosophical theses. With Master Eckhart, the tradition of medieval mysticism reached its peak; it is the path to inner contemplation and union with the divine.
  • the more distant representatives are Henri Suses, Jean Tauler and Jean Gerson in late scholasticism (XIVth century), which imposes itself with Guillaume d’Occam and the criticism of the metaphysical systems of the old schools (via antiqua). The new way (via moderna, also called nominalism) goes hand in hand with a flourishing of natural sciences (Nicolas d’Oresme, Jean Buridan) (Atlas of philosophy).

Translated from Wikipedia

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