Best Medieval Thought in 2022


Medieval Thought

While modern thinkers might appreciate Plato's ideas and the neo-Platonists, the medievals did not. Their only knowledge of Aristotle was Boethius' Latin translations and his categories. In the 1200s, many of his works were translated into Latin, including the complete canon. Some of these translations are still in use today, especially by Boethius, James of Venice, William of Moerbeke, and Michael Scot.

The influence of Platonic and neo-Platonic ideas

Platonism - or Platonic philosophy as it is commonly called - was an important philosophical tradition that began in Athens about 550 BCE and continued into the Middle Ages. In modern terms, Neoplatonism traces its roots to Plotinus, who translated Plato's works into Latin and wrote numerous commentaries. This philosophy grew out of the Hellenistic syncretism that had been introduced to Greek intellectual circles through the Septuagint, a translation of the Jewish Scriptures.

Renaissance philosophers reappropriated Platonic and neo-Plastic ideas and critiqued Aristotelianism in the process. Similarly, Renaissance thinkers reexamined the intellectual foundations of medieval Scholastic learning and questioned the nature of truth. In their quest for knowledge, Renaissance thinkers looked for answers to the questions of how we can know what we are saying and why.

The early medieval philosophers were surrounded by philosophical attacks. Proponents of religious faith felt that philosophers' claims about reason were false. Because of this, they had to defend their philosophy from first principles. Hence, medieval texts are rich and complex. Moreover, major philosophical works allow for multiple interpretations. As a result, the development of the computer led to the emergence of a logical language.

The early medieval philosophers also linked Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas with Christian theology. For example, Pseudo-Dionysius synthesised Platonic ideas with Christian theology. The ideas of Pseudo-Dionysius influenced medieval mysticism and the rise of Renaissance Humanism.

The rise of empiricism

One of the most important developments in western philosophy has been the rise of empiricism. Empiricism is a fundamental philosophical concept that rejects the idea of innate dispositions, non-sensory influences, and other unobservable entities. It holds that the mind forms beliefs based on association and reasoning, rather than on reason. This philosophy is a key element of the modern science of epistemology.

Early empiricists were skeptical of the notion of illumination. Aquinas argued that the human mind needs illumination only for matters beyond its natural powers. Only a divine revelation could provide such illumination. Duns Scotus, in Henry of Ghent, also criticized this teaching. While empiricism may seem modern, it was rooted in an ancient perspective. Hence, medieval thought is a fertile ground for understanding the history of empiricism.

Empiricism became an important philosophical concept in medieval times, influencing the development of science. Philosophers such as Roger Bacon stressed the importance of empirical knowledge in the world, anticipating the Renaissance's Francis Bacon. William of Ockham, a contemporary of Francis Bacon, advanced systematic empiricism and held that knowledge in nature is acquired a priori. Hegelianism later became one of the most influential philosophers of the nineteenth century.

The rise of empiricism in ancient and medieval philosophy was characterized by a shift away from a purely speculative approach to thinking. Earlier philosophers had accepted the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge but had rejected the idea that ideas were derived from observation. In the 16th century, the logical framework of Aristotle's theory was attacked and the role of observation was stressed.

The influence of Christianity

In the Middle Ages, the Church maintained two distinct levels of Christianity, a more elite culture dominated by clergy, and a lower social level populated by peasants, who were still influenced by pagan beliefs. The Church also consolidated its power by encouraging priests to punish those who practiced heterodox beliefs and practices. Despite these pressures, peasants continued to practice animistic practices and folk magic.

In addition to the cosmological and philosophical implications of this shared worldview, the influence of Christianity on medieval thought is reflected in the development of the philosophy of human nature. Medieval philosophers would be hard-pressed to imagine Locke's famous discussion of "personal identity" in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding without the influence of medieval ideas regarding "nature" and "person." These concepts were central to addressing the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.

As time went on, the church began to separate itself from the body of believers, resulting in greater distinctions between the clergy and the faithful. The social history of the Middle Ages also reveals that the essence of Christian belief varied from place to place. Despite the official legitimacy of Christianity, many people used the relics of saints to create their own beliefs. Protestant reformers began to question patterns of dealing with God in the Middle Ages.

During the Middle Ages, the pope became the leading spokesman for faith in Western Christendom. In addition, the Church interacted with Muslims and Jews to their mutual benefit. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Church was more dominant in people's lives, and began to exert greater control over the way they thought and felt. This led to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century CE. But this influence of Christianity on medieval thought was not limited to Western Europe.

The influence of Boethius

Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius was an ancient Roman philosopher who deeply influenced western medieval culture. Boethius's short theological treatises applied Greek philosophical concepts to Christian doctrine. His masterpiece The Consolation of Philosophy combines Stoic and Aristotelian philosophy with Neoplatonic philosophy. His works influenced generations of humanists. Whether his work is cited as a source for logical theory or simply considered a masterpiece, he has had a profound effect on western medieval culture.

The influence of Boethius on medieval thinking is difficult to gauge. While Boethius's work is a classic example of medieval philosophy, there are some important differences between his work and his contemporaries. While Boethius wrote to educated Christians, he was also teaching a figure from pagan philosophy. This is a problem, because Boethius proposes positions that would have been considered dubious by most Christians.

In his time, Boethius lived a privileged lifestyle and spent most of his life translating and commenting on philosophical texts. During his lifetime, the aristocracy of Roman society had already become thoroughly Christian. Boethius also got involved in ecclesiastical disputes, largely in the schism between the Greek and Latin Churches. In the end, Boethius' writings helped shape medieval thought.

The influence of Boethius on medieval philosophy is often overlooked. His opuscula sacra, a ninth-century theological treatise, is often considered the foundation for medieval philosophy. Boethius was also an early influence on Abelard's first theological work. The influence of Boethius on medieval thought is a key factor in the development of modern philosophical theory.

The influence of Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus, a major figure in the High Middle Ages, is one of the most influential philosophers and theologians of his day. Though a member of the Franciscan order, he spent most of his professional life at Oxford, Paris, and Cologne. Regardless of his religious affiliation, he left his mark on philosophical debates on such topics as human freedom, the nature of the universe, and the distinction between the two.

Duns Scotus is considered a realist on the question of universals and a major opponent of William of Ockham's theory of nominalism. Although Ockham's theory favored the independence of essences, Duns Scotus defended the notion of common natures and the indivisible nature of things. In addition, he argued that natures are real prior to any act of intellect.

The early life of Duns Scotus was complicated by controversy. While he was a member of the Franciscan Order, he was born in the southern province of Scotland and was a descendent of a landowning family heavily influenced by English institutions. His father Ninian Duns held an estate near Maxton in Roxburghshire. John Duns received his early education in Haddington and entered a Franciscan convent in Dumfries about twelve77. The Pope was not happy with this development, and the Roman Catholic Church protested against it.

Among his many accomplishments, Duns Scotus is considered the most influential Franciscan theologian of the High Middle Ages. He was the founder of the school known as Scholastic theology and an early adherent of Voluntarism. His followers included Haymo of Faversham, Alexander of Hales, and Cardinal Matthew of Aquasparta. He died in 1308.


Becky Watson

Commissioning Editor in Walker’s “6+” team. I work on books across the different children’s genres, including non-fiction, fiction, picture books, gift books and novelty titles. Happy to answer questions about children's publishing – as best I can – for those hoping to enter the industry!

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