The Philosophy of the Middle Ages. Philosophia Medii Aevi. Η Φιλοσοφια του Μεσαιωνα

LA PHILOSOPHIE DU MOYEN ÂGE.  A FILOSOFIA DA IDADE MÉDIA. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE MIDDLE AGES. PHILOSOPHIA MEDII AEVI. Η ΦΙΛΟΣΟΦΙΑ ΤΟΥ ΜΕΣΑΙΩΝΑ. DIE PHILOSOPHIE DES MITTELALTERS. PROF. DR. DARCY CARVALHO. FEA-USP. SÃO PAULO. BRAZIL. 2019. STUDIES IN MEDIEVAL AND MODERN LATIN.

Medieval philosophy designates the philosophical speculation that occurred in Western Europe during the Middle Ages—i.e., from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries AD to the Renaissance of the 15th century. Philosophy of the medieval period was closely connected to Christian thought, particularly theology, and the chief philosophers of the period were churchmen.

The Middle Ages is an epoch, with rather indeterminate limits, which elapses between the dissolution of the Western Roman Empire and the formation of modern states. This interval of time, which goes from the sixth century until the Reformation, saw considerable efforts to realize the political and religious unity of the West: the Empire of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Empire, the Papacy, the union of all the Christian peoples in the expeditions of the Crusades, such are the great manifestations. From the point of view of the history of ideas, the limits of the Middle Ages are sufficiently well marked by the following circumstance: it is the time when, in the West at least, all the intellectual initiative returns to the Church; the sole heiress of the ancient schools, she teaches philosophy and science in monasteries, cathedral schools, and universities, as far as it seems necessary or permitted by its supernatural end. The Middle Ages began in the sixth century, after the great neo-Platonic oriental syntheses of the pagans Plotinus, Proclus and Damascius and Christian Denys the Areopagite, and after the great Western synthesis of St. Augustine. It ends in the 15th century with a transformation of culture where the Church no longer plays the essential role. Long neglected, the intellectual history of the Middle Ages, began to attract attention only long after political history. Since about thirty years, the work devoted to it is considerable; the publication of the Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters by Bauemker in Germany, the impulse given in France by the admirable works of Mr. Gilson, highlight the vitality of these studies, which are based on a documentation that is enriched every day by unpublished texts. Emile Brehier.

LE LATIN PENDANT LE MOYEN ÂGE.

"Pendent les siècles du  Moyen Âge, le latin se corrompt et disparaît comme langue vulgaire après le VIe siècle.  Les parlers qui naissent de lui ne sont pas employés comme langue écrite et cette répugnance du savant pour la langue vulgaire durera jusqu’au XVIe siècle ; la production intellectuelle n’a pu se rétablir avant que le latin fût de nouveau appris dans les écoles comme une langue morte : ce qui n’eut lieu que sous Charlemagne. 

Vers le XIe siècle encore, les chances d’avenir de l’Occident auraient peut être paru petites à qui l’aurait mis en regard avec l’éclatante civilisation de l’Islam. Avec leurs palais, leurs cités, leurs bains publics, les cités de l’Espagne islamique ressemblaient plus aux villes de l’empire romain qu’aux misérables groupes de bicoques de bois qui, en France et en Germanie, s’élevaient à l’abri de quelque abbaye ou de quelque forteresse féodale ; l’Islam débordait alors l’Occident jusqu’en Portugal et en Sicile ; aussi bien ce ne fut pas avant le XIIIe siècle, ce ne fut qu’après le temps des croisades et après la grande catastrophe des invasions mongoles que la civilisation de la chrétienté occidentale commença d’atteindre une position de relative égalité avec l’Islam.

 Au XVe siècle seulement, avec la Renaissance et la grande expansion maritime des États européens, l’Occident chrétien devait réussir à s’assurer cette primauté de civilisation que nous considérons aujourd’hui comme une sorte de loi de nature . Pourtant, dès l’abord, l’Occident présente un trait bien particulier ; tandis que, en pays d’Orient, toute l’activité intellectuelle, dès la fin de l’antiquité, chez les païens comme chez les chrétiens, semble avoir été accaparée par la science des choses divines, en Occident, il en est tout autrement ; un mince filet coule de connaissances positives qui, par leur nature et leur essence, échappent à la vie religieuse : ce sont d’abord les sept arts libéraux : grammaire, rhétorique, dialectique, arithmétique, géométrie, astronomie, musique ; c’est l’ensemble des connaissances géographiques et naturelles qui sont ramassées dans un ouvrage tel que celui de Pline l’Ancien ; c’est une morale rationnelle, telle qu’on la trouve dans le traité Des Devoirs de Cicéron, dans les oeuvres de Sénèque, dans la Pharsale de Lucain, dans la Consolation de la Philosophie de Boèce : grâce à toutes ces oeuvres, une certaine atmosphère humaniste se maintient, qui est propre à la latinité, et qui amènera la floraison du XIIe siècle. Il y a là une tradition purement occidentale, dont il faut souligner l’importance : elle se rattache à l’érudition romaine. Rome n’a pas engendré la science, mais elle a eu sa manière à elle de recevoir et de maintenir la science des Grecs : dès que l’hellénisme s’étend au Ier siècle avant Jésus-Christ, on trouve des hommes pour y faire ce qui était le plus nécessaire à leurs concitoyens qui ne possédaient pas la tradition des études, c’est-à-dire des ouvrages d’ensemble, des résumés, des collections ; Varron et Cicéron sont en tête de ce mouvement d’érudits : Varron avec ses Antiquités romaines et les oeuvres où il résumait la science grecque, Cicéron avec ses exposés de la philosophie des Stoïciens, des Épicuriens et des Académiciens ; plus tard vient l’Histoire naturelle de Pline l’Ancien, la vaste collection de cosmologie, de géographie, de zoologie, de botanique, de pharmacologie, de minéralogie, où il entasse toutes ses notes de lecture, le meilleur comme le pire. Ces auteurs furent, directement ou indirectement, les maîtres des sciences profanes en Occident. L’autorité de saint Augustin fit sans doute beaucoup pour maintenir cette tradition érudite : on ne trouverait nul autre père de l’Église dont les oeuvres contiennent des traités philosophiques comme le Contra Academicos ou le De Ordine, des manuels d’arts libéraux comme le De Musica, enfin de copieux extraits ou résumés des Antiquités romaines de Varron, surtout dans la Cité de Dieu." [...]

Medieval Philosophy

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Western-philosophy/Philosophy-of-nature

Medieval philosophy designates the philosophical speculation that occurred in western Europe during the Middle Ages—i.e., from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 4th and 5th centuries AD to the Renaissance of the 15th century. Philosophy of the medieval period was closely connected to Christian thought, particularly theology, and the chief philosophers of the period were churchmen. Philosophers who strayed from this close relation were chided by their superiors. Greek philosophy ceased to be creative after Plotinus in the 3rd century AD. A century later, Christian thinkers such as St. Ambrose (339–397), St. Victorinus (died c. 304), and St. Augustine (354–430) began to assimilate Neoplatonism into Christian doctrine in order to give a rational interpretation of Christian faith. Thus, medieval philosophy was born of the confluence of Greek (and to a lesser extent of Roman) philosophy and Christianity. Plotinus’s philosophy was already deeply religious, having come under the influence of Middle Eastern religions. Medieval philosophy continued to be characterized by this religious orientation. Its methods were at first those of Plotinus and later those of Aristotle. But it developed within faith as a means of throwing light on the truths and mysteries of faith. Thus, religion and philosophy fruitfully cooperated in the Middle Ages. Philosophy, as the handmaiden of theology, made possible a rational understanding of faith. Faith, for its part, inspired Christian thinkers to develop new philosophical ideas, some of which became part of the philosophical heritage of the West.

Toward the end of the Middle Ages, this beneficial interplay of faith and reason started to break down. Philosophy began to be cultivated for its own sake, apart from—and even in contradiction to—Christian religion. This divorce of reason from faith, made definitive in the 17th century by Francis Bacon (1561–1626) in England and René Descartes (1596–1650) in France, marked the birth of modern philosophy.

The early Middle Ages

The early medieval period, which extended to the 12th century, was marked by the barbarian invasions of the Western Roman Empire, the collapse of its civilization, and the gradual building of a new, Christian culture in western Europe. Philosophy in these dark and troubled times was cultivated by late Roman thinkers such as Augustine and Boethius (c. 470–524), then by monks such as St. Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109). The monasteries became the main centres of learning and education and retained their preeminence until the founding of the cathedral schools and universities in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Augustine

During these centuries philosophy was heavily influenced by Neoplatonism; Stoicism and Aristotelianism played only a minor role. Augustine was awakened to the philosophical life by reading the Roman statesman Cicero (106–43 BC), but the Neoplatonists most decisively shaped his philosophical methods and ideas. To them he owed his conviction that beyond the world of the senses there is a spiritual, eternal realm of Truth that is the object of the human mind and the goal of all human striving. This Truth he identified with the God of Christianity. Human beings encounter this divine world not through the senses but through the mind—and, above the mind, through the intelligible light. Augustine’s demonstration of the existence of God coincides with his proof of the existence of necessary, immutable Truth. He considered the truths of both mathematics and ethics to be necessary, immutable, and eternal. These truths cannot come from the world of contingent, mutable, and temporal things, nor from the mind itself, which is also contingent, mutable, and temporal. They are due to the illuminating presence in the human mind of eternal and immutable Truth, or God. Any doubt that humans may know the Truth with certainty was dispelled for Augustine by the certitude that, even if they are deceived in many cases, they cannot doubt that they exist, know, and love.

Augustine conceived of human beings as composites of two substances, body and soul, of which the soul is by far the superior. The body, nevertheless, is not to be excluded from human nature, and its eventual resurrection from the dead is assured by Christian faith. The soul’s immortality is proved by its possession of eternal and unchangeable Truth.

Augustine’s Confessions (c. 400) and De Trinitate (400–416; On the Trinity) abound with penetrating psychological analyses of knowledge, perception, memory, and love. His De civitate Dei (413–426; The City of God) presents the whole drama of human history as a progressive movement of humankind, redeemed by God, to its final repose in its Creator.

Boethius

One of the most important channels by which Greek philosophy was transmitted to the Middle Ages was Boethius. He began to translate into Latin all the philosophical works of the Greeks, but his imprisonment and death by order of Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, cut short this project. He finished translating only the logical writings of Porphyry and Aristotle. These translations and his commentaries on them brought to the thinkers of the Middle Ages the rudiments of Aristotelian logic. They also raised important philosophical questions, such as those concerning the nature of universals (terms that can be applied to more than one particular thing). Do universals exist independently, or are they only mental concepts? If they exist independently, are they corporeal or incorporeal? If incorporeal, do they exist in the sensible world or apart from it? Medieval philosophers debated at length these and other problems relating to universals. In his logical works Boethius presents the Aristotelian doctrine of universals: that they are only mental abstractions. In his De consolatione philosophiae (c. 525; Consolation of Philosophy), however, he adopts the Platonic notion that they are innate ideas, and their origin is in the remembering of knowledge from a previous existence. This book was extremely popular and influential in the Middle Ages. It contains not only a Platonic view of knowledge and reality but also a lively treatment of providence, divine foreknowledge, chance, fate, and human happiness.

The age of the Schoolmen

Robert Grosseteste and Roger Bacon

The newly translated Greek and Arabic treatises had an immediate effect on the University of Oxford. Its first chancellor, Robert Grosseteste (c. 1175–1253), commented on some of Aristotle’s works and translated the Nicomachean Ethics from Greek to Latin. He was deeply interested in scientific method, which he described as both inductive and deductive. By the observation of individual events in nature, human beings advance to a general law, called a “universal experimental principle,” which accounts for these events. Experimentation either verifies or falsifies a theory by testing its empirical consequences. For Grosseteste, the study of nature is impossible without mathematics. He cultivated the science of optics (perspectiva), which measures the behaviour of light by mathematical means. His studies of the rainbow and comets employ both observation and mathematics. His treatise De luce (1215–20; On Light) presents light as the basic form of all things and God as the primal, uncreated light.

Grosseteste’s pupil Roger Bacon (c. 1220–1292) made the mathematical and experimental methods the key to natural science. The term experimental science was popularized in the West through his writings. For him, human beings acquire knowledge through reasoning and experience, but without the latter there can be no certitude. Humans gain experience through the senses and also through an interior divine illumination that culminates in mystical experience. Bacon was critical of the methods of Parisian theologians such as St. Albertus Magnus (c. 1200–1280) and Aquinas. He strove to create a universal wisdom embracing all the sciences and organized by theology. He also proposed the formation of a single worldwide society, or “Christian republic,” that would unite all humankind under the leadership of the pope.

William of Auvergne

At the University of Paris, William of Auvergne (c. 1180–1249) was one of the first to feel the impact of the philosophies of Aristotle and Avicenna. As a teacher and then as bishop of Paris, he was concerned with the threat to the Christian faith posed by pagan and Islamic thought. He opposed the Aristotelian doctrine of the eternity of the world as contrary to the Christian notion of creation. His critique of Avicenna emphasized the latter’s conception of God and creation. Against the God of Avicenna, who creates the universe eternally and necessarily through the mediation of 10 intelligences, William defended the Christian notion of a God who creates the world freely and directly. Creatures are radically contingent and dependent on God’s creative will. Unlike God, they do not exist necessarily; indeed, their existence is distinct from their essence and accidental to it. God has no essence distinct from his existence; he is pure existence. In stressing the essential instability and temporality of the world, William attributed true existence and causality to God alone. Although a follower of Augustine, William, like others of his time, was compelled to rethink the older Augustinian notions in terms of the newer Aristotelian and Avicennian philosophies.

Bonaventure

The Franciscan friar St. Bonaventure (c. 1217–1274) reacted similarly to the growing popularity of Aristotle and his Arabic commentators. He admired Aristotle as a natural scientist, but he preferred Plato and Plotinus, and above all Augustine, as metaphysicians. His main criticism of Aristotle and his followers was that they denied the existence of divine ideas. As a result, Aristotle was ignorant of exemplarism (God’s creation of the world according to ideas in his mind) and also of divine providence and government of the world. This involved Aristotle in a threefold blindness: he taught that the world is eternal, that all men share one agent intellect (the active principle of understanding), and that there are no rewards or punishments after death. Plato and Plotinus avoided these mistakes, but because they lacked Christian faith, they could not see the whole truth. For Bonaventure, faith alone enables one to avoid error in these important matters.

Bonaventure did not confuse philosophy with theology. Philosophy is knowledge of the things of nature and the soul that is innate in human beings or acquired through their own efforts, whereas theology is knowledge of heavenly things that is based on faith and divine revelation. Bonaventure, however, rejected the practical separation of philosophy from theology. Philosophy needs the guidance of faith; far from being self-sufficient, it is but a stage in a progression toward the higher knowledge that culminates in the vision of God.

For Bonaventure, every creature to some degree bears the mark of its Creator. The soul has been made in the very image of God. Thus, the universe is like a book in which the triune God is revealed. His Itinerarium mentis in Deum (1259; The Soul’s Journey into God) follows Augustine’s path to God, from the external world to the interior world of the mind and then beyond the mind from the temporal to the eternal. Throughout this journey, human beings are aided by a moral and intellectual divine illumination. The mind has been created with an innate idea of God so that, as Anselm pointed out, humans cannot think that God does not exist. In a terse reformulation of the Anselmian argument for God’s existence, Bonaventure states that if God is God, he exists.

Albertus Magnus

The achievement of the Dominican friar Albertus Magnus was of vital importance for the development of medieval philosophy. A person of immense erudition and intellectual curiosity, he was one of the first to recognize the true value of the newly translated Greco-Arabic scientific and philosophical literature. Everything he considered valuable in it he included in his encyclopaedic writings. He set out to teach this literature to his contemporaries and in particular to make the philosophy of Aristotle, whom he considered to be the greatest philosopher, understandable to them. He also proposed to write original works in order to complete what was lacking in the Aristotelian system. In no small measure, the triumph of Aristotelianism in the 13th century can be attributed to him.

Albertus’s observations and discoveries in the natural sciences advanced botany, zoology, and mineralogy. In philosophy he was less original and creative than his famous pupil Aquinas. Albertus produced a synthesis of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism, blending together the philosophies of Aristotle, Avicenna, and Ibn Gabirol and, among Christians, Augustine and Pseudo-Dionysius.

Thomas Aquinas

Albertus Magnus’s Dominican confrere and pupil Thomas Aquinas shared his master’s great esteem for the ancient philosophers, especially Aristotle, and also for the more recent Arabic and Jewish thinkers. He welcomed truth wherever he found it and used it for the enrichment of Christian thought. For him reason and faith cannot contradict each other, because they come from the same divine source. In his day, conservative theologians and philosophers regarded Aristotle with suspicion and leaned toward the more traditional Christian Neoplatonism. Aquinas realized that their suspicion was partly due to the fact that Aristotle’s philosophy had been distorted by the Arabic commentators, so he wrote his own commentaries to show the essential soundness of Aristotle’s system and to convince his contemporaries of its value for Christian theology.

Aquinas’s own philosophical views are best expressed in his theological works, especially his Summa theologiae (1265/66–1273; Eng. trans., Summa theologiae) and Summa contra gentiles (1258–64; Summa Against the Gentiles). In these works he clearly distinguished between the domains and methods of philosophy and theology. The philosopher seeks the first causes of things, beginning with data furnished by the senses; the subject of the theologian’s inquiry is God as revealed in sacred scripture. In theology, appeal to authority carries the most weight; in philosophy, it carries the least.

Aquinas found Aristotelianism and, to a lesser extent, Platonism useful instruments for Christian thought and communication; but he transformed and deepened everything he borrowed from them. For example, he adopted Aristotle’s proof of the existence of a primary unmoved mover, but the primary mover at which Aquinas arrived is very different from that of Aristotle; it is in fact the God of Judaism and Christianity. He also adopted Aristotle’s teaching that the soul is the human being’s form and the body his matter, but for Aquinas this does not entail, as it did for the Aristotelians, the denial of the immortality of the soul or the ultimate value of the individual. Aquinas never compromised Christian doctrine by bringing it into line with the current Aristotelianism; rather, he modified and corrected the latter whenever it clashed with Christian belief. The harmony he established between Aristotelianism and Christianity was not forced but achieved by a new understanding of philosophical principles, especially the notion of being, which he conceived as the act of existing (esse). For him, God is pure being, or the act of existing. Creatures participate in being according to their essence; for example, human beings participate in being, or the act of existing, to the extent that their humanity, or essence, permits. The fundamental distinction between God and creatures is that creatures have a real composition of essence and existence, whereas God’s essence is his existence.

Averroists

A group of masters in the faculty of arts at Paris welcomed Aristotle’s philosophy and taught it in disregard of its possible opposition to the Christian faith. They wanted to be philosophers, not theologians, and to them this meant following the Aristotelian system. Because Averroës was the recognized commentator on Aristotle, they generally interpreted Aristotle’s thought in an Averroistic way. Hence, in their own day they were known as “Averroists”; today they are often called “Latin Averroists” because they taught in Latin. Their leader, Siger de Brabant (c. 1240–c. 1281), taught as rationally demonstrated certain Aristotelian doctrines that contradicted the faith, such as the eternity of the world and the oneness of the intellect. The Latin Averroists were accused of holding a “double truth”—i.e., of maintaining the existence of two contradictory truths, one commanded by faith, the other taught by reason. Although Siger never proposed philosophical conclusions contrary to faith, other members of this group upheld the right and duty of the philosopher to follow human reason to its natural conclusions, even when they contradicted the truths of faith.

This growing rationalism confirmed the belief of theologians of a traditionalist cast that the pagan and Islamic philosophies would destroy the Christian faith. They attacked these philosophies in treatises such as Errores philosophorum (1270; The Errors of the Philosophers) by Giles of Rome (c. 1243–1316). In 1277 the bishop of Paris condemned 219 propositions based on the new trend toward rationalism and naturalism. These included even some of Aquinas’s Aristotelian doctrines. In the same year, the archbishop of Canterbury made a similar condemnation at Oxford. These reactions to the novel trends in philosophy did not prevent the Averroists from treating philosophical questions apart from religious considerations. Theologians, for their part, were increasingly suspicious of the philosophers and less optimistic about the ultimate reconciliation of philosophy and theology.

The late Middle Ages

The late Middle Ages

In the late Middle Ages earlier ways of philosophizing were continued and formalized into distinct schools of thought. In the Dominican order, Thomism, the theological and philosophical system of Thomas Aquinas, was made the official teaching, though the Dominicans did not always adhere to it rigorously. Averroism, cultivated by philosophers such as John of Jandun (c. 1286–1328), remained a significant, though sterile, movement into the Renaissance. In the Franciscan order, John Duns Scotus (c. 1266–1308) and William of Ockham (c. 1285–c. 1347) developed new styles of theology and philosophy that vied with Thomism throughout the late Middle Ages.

John Duns Scotus

John Duns Scotus opposed the rationalists’ contention that philosophy is self-sufficient and adequate to satisfy the human desire for knowledge. In fact, he claimed that a pure philosopher, such as Aristotle, could not truly understand the human condition because he was ignorant of the Fall of Man and his need for grace and redemption. Unenlightened by Christian revelation, Aristotle mistook humankind’s present fallen state, in which all knowledge comes through the senses, for its natural condition, in which the object of knowledge would be coextensive with all being, including the being of God. The limitation of Aristotle’s philosophy was apparent to Duns Scotus in the Aristotelian proof of the existence of God as the primary mover of the universe. More adequate than this physical proof, he contended, is his own very intricate metaphysical demonstration of the existence of God as the absolutely primary, unique, and infinite being. He incorporated the Anselmian argument into this demonstration. For Duns Scotus, the notion of infinite being, not that of primary mover or being itself, is humankind’s most perfect concept of God.

In opposition to the Greco-Arabic view of the government of the universe from above by necessary causes, Duns Scotus stressed the contingency of the universe and its total dependence on God’s infinite creative will. He adopted the traditional Franciscan voluntarism, elevating the will above the intellect in human beings.

Duns Scotus’s doctrine of universals justly earned him the title “Doctor Subtilis.” Universals, in his view, exist only as abstract concepts, but they are based on common natures, such as humanity, which exist, or can exist, in many individuals. Common natures are real, and they have a real unity of their own distinct from the unity of the individuals in which they exist. The individuality of each individual is due to an added positive reality that makes the common nature a specific individual—e.g., Socrates. Duns Scotus calls such a reality an “individual difference,” or “thisness” (haecceitas). It is an original development of the earlier medieval realism of universals.

William of Ockham

In the late 14th century, Thomism and Scotism were called the “old way” (via antiqua) of philosophizing, in contrast to the “modern way” (via moderna) begun by philosophers such as William of Ockham. Ockham, no less than Duns Scotus, wanted to defend the Christian doctrine of the freedom and omnipotence of God and the contingency of creatures against the necessitarianism of Greco-Arabic philosophy. But for him the freedom of God is incompatible with the existence of divine ideas as positive models of creation. God does not use preconceived ideas when he creates, as Duns Scotus maintained, but he fashions the universe as he wishes. As a result, creatures have no natures, or essences, in common. There are no realities but individual things, and these have nothing in common. They are more or less like each other, however, and on this basis human beings can form universal concepts of them and talk about them in general terms.

The absolute freedom of God was often used by Ockham as a principle of philosophical and theological explanation. Because the order of nature has been freely created by God, it could have been different: fire, for example, could cool as it now heats. If God wishes, he can give us the sight, or “intuitive knowledge,” of a star without the reality of the star. The moral order could also have been different. God could have made hating him meritorious instead of loving him. It was typical of Ockham not to put too much trust in the power of human reason to reach the truth. For him, philosophy must often be content with probable arguments, as in establishing the existence of the Christian God. Faith alone gives certitude in this and in other vital matters. Another principle invoked by Ockham is that a plurality is not to be posited without necessity. This principle of economy of thought, later stated as “beings are not to be multiplied without necessity,” is called “Ockham’s razor.”

Ockhamism was censured by a papal commission at Avignon in 1326, and in 1474 it was forbidden to be taught at Paris. Nevertheless, it spread widely in the late Middle Ages and rivaled Thomism and Scotism in popularity. Other Scholastics in the 14th century shared Ockham’s basic principles and contributed with him to skepticism and probabilism in philosophy. John of Mirecourt (flourished 14th century) stressed the absolute power of God and the divine will to the point of making God the cause of human sin. Nicholas of Autrecourt (c. 1300–c. 1350) adopted a skeptical attitude regarding matters such as the ability of human beings to prove the existence of God and the reality of substance and causality. Rejecting Aristotelianism as inimical to the Christian faith, he advocated a return to the atomism of the ancient Greeks as a more adequate explanation of the universe.

Meister Eckehart

The trend away from Aristotelianism was accentuated by the German Dominican Meister Eckehart (c. 1260–c. 1327), who developed a speculative mysticism of both Christian and Neoplatonic inspiration. Eckehart depicted the ascent of the soul to God in Neoplatonic terms: by gradually purifying itself from the body, the soul transcends being and knowledge until it is absorbed in the One. The soul is then united with God at its highest point, or “citadel.” God himself transcends being and knowledge. Sometimes Eckehart describes God as the being of all things. This language, which was also used by Erigena and other Christian Neoplatonists, leaves him open to the charge of pantheism (the doctrine that the being of creatures is identical with that of God); but for Eckehart there is an infinite gulf between creatures and God. Eckehart meant that creatures have no existence of their own but are given existence by God, as the body is made to exist and is contained by the soul. Eckehart’s profound influence can be seen in the flowering of mysticism in the German Rhineland in the late Middle Ages.

Nicholas of Cusa

Nicholas of Cusa (1401–64) also preferred the Neoplatonists to the Aristotelians. To him the philosophy of Aristotle is an obstacle to the mind in its ascent to God because its primary rule is the principle of contradiction, which denies the compatibility of contradictories. But God is the “coincidence of opposites.” Because he is infinite, he embraces all things in perfect unity; he is at once the maximum and the minimum. Nicholas uses mathematical symbols to illustrate how, in infinity, contradictories coincide. If a circle is enlarged, the curve of its circumference becomes less; if a circle is infinite, its circumference is a straight line. As for human knowledge of the infinite God, one must be content with conjecture or approximation to the truth. The absolute truth escapes human beings; their proper attitude is “learned ignorance.”

For Nicholas, God alone is absolutely infinite. The universe reflects this divine perfection and is relatively infinite. It has no circumference, for it is limited by nothing outside of itself. Neither has it a centre; the Earth is neither at the centre of the universe nor is it completely at rest. Place and motion are not absolute but relative to the observer. This new, non-Aristotelian conception of the universe anticipated some of the features of modern theories.

Thus, at the end of the Middle Ages, some of the most creative minds were abandoning Aristotelianism and turning to newer ways of thought. The philosophy of Aristotle, in its various interpretations, continued to be taught in the universities, but it had lost its vitality and creativity. Christian philosophers were once again finding inspiration in Neoplatonism. The Platonism of the Renaissance was directly continuous with the Platonism of the Middle Ages.

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La Filosofia nel Medioevo > Presentazione e periodizzazione

Il periodo denominato ’Medioevo’ copre un intero millennio, dal 500 al 1500 d.C., per convenzione unanimemente accettata dagli storici. L’ampio arco temporale comprende il verificarsi di numerose e profonde trasformazioni della civiltà occidentale, quella in cui la filosofia si era formata e diffusa in Grecia e a Roma: la caduta dell’impero romano con la separazione dell’impero d’oriente a Bisanzio, la formazione dei regni romano-barbarici e la rinascita dell’impero ad opera di Carlo Magno nel IX sec.; la diffusione del cristianesimo e, nel VII sec., la nascita della religione islamica; l’evoluzione istituzionale della chiesa come centro di potere politico e il conflitto con il potere laico a partire dal X sec.; la rinascita demografica, economica e politica dopo il Mille, ed il movimento comunale nelle città; il riformarsi di un’ampia rete commerciale e lo sviluppo dell’economia monetaria; le lotte contro l’Islam per il predominio nel Mediterraneo; la formazione degli stati nazionali.  Accanto a questi sviluppi di ordine geo-politico e ad essi strettamente connesso, il mutamento linguistico con l’evoluzione dal basso latino verso le lingue romanze e l’innesto delle lingue volgari di ceppo germanico, celtico, anglo-sassone.

Lo sviluppo del pensiero filosofico nel millennio medievale si scandisce in base a due tipi di impulso: l’uno esterno, extra scientifico, "sociologico", legato alla concreta disponibilità dei testi ed alle forme istituzionali della loro fruizione; l’altro interno, l’evoluzione dell’organizzazione delle discipline e lo sviluppo dottrinale propriamente detto, teologico, filosofico e scientifico.  Fino alla metà dell’XI sec. appare come motivo predominante il fattore esterno; dopo questa data si crea uno spazio di autonomia per il pensiero che permette il rinnovamento culturale dei secoli XI e XII, cui offre un apporto determinante il contatto con la cultura islamica ed ebraica e le traduzioni; infine, nel periodo che va dal 1200 alla fine del Medioevo, la nascita delle università determina condizioni esteriori estremamente favorevoli all’evoluzione interna e alla diffusione e produzione del pensiero filosofico e scientifico in altri contesti e in lingue diverse dal latino, permettendo l’accelerazione e l’articolazione degli sviluppi dottrinali della Scolastica.

A partire dal XIV sec., contemporaneamente all’evoluzione delle diverse correnti filosofiche scolastiche, ha inizio il movimento di pensiero denominato ’Umanesimo’, che si sviluppa al di fuori delle università ed è caratterizzato da una posizione fortemente polemica nei confronti della filosofia e della teologia in esse elaborate. Pertanto, negli ultimi due secoli cronologicamente appartenenti al medioevo, una parte del pensiero filosofico conosce un’evoluzione che è già ’moderna’.  D’altra parte la Scolastica sopravvive nell’insegnamento universitario fin dentro l’età moderna propriamente detta, nei secc. XVI e XVII (seconda Scolastica). Università di Siena - Facoltà di lettere e filosofia. Manuale di Filosofia Medievale on-line.

Philosophy in the Middle Ages> Presentation and periodization.The period known as the Middle Ages covers an entire millennium, from 500 to 1500 AD, by convention unanimously accepted by historians. The long time span includes the occurrence of numerous and profound transformations of Western civilization, one in which philosophy was formed and spread in Greece and Rome: the fall of the Roman Empire with the separation of the Eastern Empire in Byzantium, the formation of the Roman-Barbarian kingdoms and the rebirth of the empire by Charlemagne in the IX century; the spread of Christianity and, in the 7th century, the birth of the Islamic religion; the institutional evolution of the church as a center of political power and the conflict with secular power from the 10th century; the demographic, economic and political revival after the year 1000, and the municipal movement in the cities; the reform of a wide commercial network and the development of the monetary economy; the struggles against Islam for predominance in the Mediterranean; the formation of national states. Alongside these closely related geo-political developments, the linguistic change with the evolution from the low Latin to the Romance languages and the grafting of the vulgar languages of Germanic, Celtic, Anglo-Saxon stock.The development of philosophical thought in the medieval millennium is articulated on the basis of two types of impulse: the external one, extra scientific, "sociological", linked to the concrete availability of the texts and to the institutional forms of their use; the other internal, the evolution of the organization of the disciplines and the doctrinal development proper, theological, philosophical and scientific. Until the mid-11th century the external factor appears as the predominant motive; after this date a space of autonomy is created for the thought that allows the cultural renewal of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, to which the contact with Islamic and Jewish culture and translations offers a decisive contribution; finally, in the period from 1200 to the end of the Middle Ages, the birth of universities determines external conditions that are extremely favorable to internal evolution and to the diffusion and production of philosophical and scientific thought in other contexts and in languages other than Latin, allowing for acceleration and the articulation of doctrinal developments of Scholasticism.Beginning in the 14th century, at the same time as the various scholastic philosophical currents evolved, the thought movement called 'Humanism' began, which developed outside the universities and was characterized by a highly polemical position towards philosophy and theology elaborated in them. Therefore, in the last two centuries chronologically belonging to the Middle Ages, a part of philosophical thought knows an evolution that is already "modern". On the other hand, Scholasticism survives in university teaching right up until the modern age proper, in the 16th century. XVI and XVII (second Scholastica). University of Siena - Faculty of Literature and Philosophy. Manual of Medieval Philosophy online


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Darcy Carvalho,
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