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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY

 

 

Any attempt to define 'medieval philosophy' runs the risk of over-simplification and distortion. We shall assume here that it began with the thought of Augustine, the greatest 'patristic' philosopher, in the fourth century — though there is certainly some overlap between the writings of the early Church fathers and the final period of post-Aristotelian philosophy. Proclus, for example, although born later than Augustine, has been included above under Greek Neoplatonism. Generally we can say that from Augustine to John Scotus Eriugena in the ninth century philosophy is characterized primarily by attempts to utilize the insights of Plato (via Neoplatonism), and to a lesser extent of Aristotle, in support of their Christian beliefs. However, Aristotle became increasingly important from the middle of the twelfth century as more of his works became available in the West in Latin translations from Greek and Arabic. Full use was now made, within the newly emerging schools and universities, of dialectic disputation, which employed Aristotelian techniques of argument, and which had been revived in the previous century. Moreover while most philosophers were still mainly concerned to use the writings of the two major Greek thinkers to articulate and support one or other of the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, throughout the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, they tended also increasingly to engage in studies of specifically philosophical issues independent of theological presuppositions — though, as far as possible, not inconsistent with them. Medieval philosophy is usually considered as having ended with William of Ockham whose nominalism and anti-realist epistemology undermined metaphysics and natural theology, with the consequence that Christianity once again became a matter of faith alone and largely inaccessible to reason.

 

READING

General introductions

D. Knowles, The Evolution of Medieval Thought .

J. Marenbon, Early Medieval Philosophy 480-1150); Later Medieval Philosophy.

A. S. McGrade (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy.

Primary texts

[Note that many of the Profiles contain further specific listings of primary sources.]

P. Aspell (ed). Readings in Medieval Western Philosophy.

E. R. Fairweather (ed.), A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham .

R. McKeon (ed.), Selections from Medieval Philosophers.

J. F. Wippel and A. Wolter (eds), Medieval Philosophy.