INTRODUCING MEDIEVAL PHILOSOPHY TO FIRST-YEAR STUDENTS [Teaching document]
The term “Medieval philosophy” means the philosophical thinking between the 5th and the 15th century. It is preceded by the Ancient Philosophy (7th BC – 4th AC.), and it is followed by the Modern (16th – 18th century) and the Contemporary Philosophy (19th - 20th century).
It seems to me now important to underline that there is no definitive periodization of the History of Philosophy. Every split is the result of a particular view on the history of philosophy as a whole, depending from Frameworks and Methodology for Understanding of it. “How” you tell a story is crucial for the contents of the story itself. This also happens for the philosophy. The manner in which looks a philosopher also depends on the manner in which you approach the philosopher. We have three Frameworks and Methodology for Understanding Medieval Thought: the Neo-Scholasticism or Neo-Thomism, the Analytic Philosophy and the Hermeneutics. I will quickly introduce these approaches, in order to increase your critical conscience. This will be much useful to you, when you will read handbooks and textbook on Medieval Philosophy that I will recommend. First of all, Neo-Scholasticism. The Neo-Scolastic Historians believe the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as true even for the modern times. For this reason, in the last century, scholars like Étienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain and Karl Rahner have offered contributions both in the field of the Medieval Philosophy both in that of Contemporary philosophy. Many Neo-Thomists were also engaged in the dialogue with modern science (cf. the Hoger Instituut voor Wijsbegeerte at Leuven). Their studies have a systematic character and a conceptual framework. They played a significant role in the recent research for the promotion of the Critical editions of Medieval texts (not just from Aquinas). The second one is the Analitic approach. It is mainly identifiable as a philosophical style, that “tends to precision and thoroughness about a narrow topic and to deemphasize the imprecise or cavalier discussion of broad topics.” The Analitic scholars use the modern logic and the semantic analysis in order to better understand the medieval philosophers; their research centers are especially in the US and Canada (Toronto). There is a respectable part of analytic philosophy dedicated to rational theology. Some famous scholars are Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne and ”Analytic Thomism”, Elizabeth Anscombe and Anthony Kenny. The Hermeneutics is instead the European way. The basic idea of this approach is that for understanding a philosophical debate of the Middle Age the historical context has to be recognized and respected. The historian has to engage himself: you have to realize a fusion of your cultural horizons with those of the medieval philosophers. Being as such it offers an answer to the limitations of the analytic approach. In this year, I will try to be careful to emphasize the differences of these three approaches in the understanding of the same philosopher.
TOPICS, SOURCES AND BOUNDARIES
We can now give an overview of the main contents of the Medieval Philosophy. I will list them now, in order to offer you a panoramic perspective on the issues discussed in the Middle Age. Later this year it will be able to better explain the content of each field of study. An alarm that tell you, that you are in front of a Medieval Philosopher is if you found in his work a proof of the God's existence. It's typical of the Middle Age. Another relevant medieval issue is the debate on the Universals. I will show you specifically how this debate was born, and how it has been develops and in which new institutions of the 12th century. For the philosophy of mind, we have in the Middle Ages the confrontation between a view of man inspired by St. Augustine of Hippo and another to Aristotle. This problem also allows us to look to the Islamic and Jewish philosophy. With regard Metaphysics and Ethics, we have in the Middle Ages the elaboration of old problems on the unity and multiplicity, on the good and on the freedom, which are came from the Ancient Philosophy. Speaking about the ancient times, we list briefly the sources of medieval thought: Bible and Commentaries on Bible, Boethius, Porphyre, Dionysius the Areopagite, Calcidius, the same Augustine of Hippo, and finally, starting from 12th century, Aristotle. But the philosophers of the Middle Ages have often read these sources only in fragmentary form, or through the mediation of other philosophers. For example, Albert the Great in the 12th century has known the Neo-Platonic thought of Proclus through the Latin translation of the texts of the Arab philosophers, such as Avicenna. In fact, Avicenna cited the thinking of Proclus, so the Latins have known Proclus through Avicenna already in the 12th century. But the original versions of the works of Proclus was available for the Latin West only in the 15th century. This is a typical dynamic of the Texts transmission in the Middle Age. It was named “transfer of the studies” or translatio studiorum. In fact, we known that the Medieval Philosophy is the result of a unlimited series of transmission of the ideas and texts of Ancient thinkers from West to East and then from East to West. This dynamic determines the fact that the Medieval Philosophy has trans-cultural and trans-national roots. You cannot study the philosophy of the Latin Middle Ages if we do not consider the developments of the Arab philosophy in the East and then in the West. Or without considering the Jewish Philosophy. During the year I will introduce not only European-Latin philosophers of the Middle Age like Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Eriugena, Anselm of Canterbury, Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, but also Arab philosophers like Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi, Avicenna, Al-Ghazali, Averroes, and Jewish Philosophers as Solomon ibn Gabirol, Abraham Ibn Daud and Moses Maimonides.
Gilson, É. 1955. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. New York: Random House
De Libera, A. 2014 . La philosophie médiévale. Paris: PUF
Gracia, J.J.E. & Noone, T.B. 2002. A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Blackwell
Marenbon, J. 2007. Medieval Philosophy: An Historical and Philosophical Introduction. London: Routledge