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Philosophy

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Boethius teaching, from a 14th century Italian manuscript
Boethius teaching, from a 14th century Italian manuscript

Philosophy, until the advent of Christianism, along with myths and religions, tried to answer to those fundamental questions that man is aking about his own life, death, the Universe, or the world around. Christianism definitively brought an answer of authority to those. That brought to a whole attitude concerning, thence, the possibilities of the Christians to keep on questioning

From India to the Patristic

Above all, it's in the Western and Indo-European worlds (India, and Greece) that philosophy developed. Philosophy, on the other hand, holds a lesser importance among the people of the Middle East, the Arab world included. India, first, developed a firm system answering to the questions about the world, as it was based on thie idea of a unique being who was at the origin of all what occurs in the physical world. That was amplified through a whole corpus of metaphysics, cosmology, psychology and ethics. Buddhism, which is a pessimism, derived from hinduism only as it further combined, in China, with taoism and confucianism. Then came the Greek philosophers. They transitioned from a philosophy focusing unto thinking upon the physical workd (stability, change, etc.) to a questioning about man (morals, the Plato's idealism, with the ideas of men being the reflection of a superior world; Aristotle, who thinks that any data comes to man's consciousness through the senses only), and then to varied schools of thought based on morals (like the Stoicism, for example). Greek philosophy, at last, ends with the neo-platonists, in Alexandria, Egypt by the beginning of the Christian era. Those are developing a mysticism, with astrologial tendencies. When Christianity arises, the Church, concerning the philosophy, builds upon that the Fathers of the Patristic, albeit belonging to their Greek surroundings, where neo-Platonism is reigning, are getting distant from it throught the Christian idea that the world is due to a Creation and that any being has his identity. St. Augustine then, is melting intellectualism and the neo-Platonist mysticism. The neo-Platonism, as adapted to Christianism- is perpetuated further, in the 5th century, by the pseudo-Dyonisius. The Christian East, and Byzantium, as far as they are concerned, did yield few philosophers only

The Basic Question of the 'Universals'

In the West, then, Aristotle and Plato were lost until the 12th century, at the exception of some works of them, like the Logics of Aristotle. The main question, largely determining the whole history of thought in the Christian West, on the other hand, is the one of the 'universals', unfolding between the 9th and the 11th centuries. This basic question, in philosophy, resides into knowing whether the mental representation of one given object -which are allowing for a generalization of the real world- have any link -and what for a link- with the real objects of the real world (those objects having an individuality). For example, when one speaks of the flowers, generally, like a concept, what does that mean in terms of when one considers a flower in particular? That question was a classical one in philosophy, long before the Middle Ages, and, among the Greek philosophers, it had already gotten varied -mainly 4- answers. Platon did think that there was a correspondance between the world of concepts and the one of the real world and that both were identical in terms of generality, the objects of the real world being no less general than the concepts (that theory is called the 'Exaggerated Realism'); other philosophers, rallying about a theory called 'Nominalism', did think that the just inverted parallelism existed between the world of the concepts and of the one of the real world, as, at the opposite, both were marked with the quality of identity (bringing to that there was no any generality, but diversity instead, as far as the concepts were concerned). The Stoicism, as a current of thought, did think, on the other hand, that, as the concepts and ideas really had an existence, the relation they had with the real world were uncertain and nowhere to be known (that theory was called the 'Conceptualism'). Aristotle, at last, as far as he is concerned, thought -and that was of a more scientific character- that there reigned an harmony between the concepts giving a representation of the world -with their generality- and the objects of the real world -with their diversity (the theory of Aristotle was called the 'Moderate Realism')

Such that philosophical debate about the 'universals' was not without importance, and practical consequences. If one considers that any concept, any mental representation of the reality of the world, are impossible, this, eventually, leads to that any theoretical apprehension -thus any scientific approach- of the world is impossible -and even any metaphysics. This, ultimately, leads to a world filled with an infinite individualism and lacking any general idea, concept and representation! Thus any principe becomes impossible. In terms of religion, the denial of the universals might forbid any solid basis to any religion and dogma, submitting them to a perpetual variability, a relativism and to subjectivism

The thinkers and scholars, during the Early Middle Ages, as they were perpetuating the philosophical thinking, did not have however the mental and intellectual tools for such subtile debates. The question however remains in the thinking of the time, likely feeding most of the struggle between dogma and heretics. Most numerous authors of the time -in the Carolingian times, for example- are of the schools which thinks that the universals did really exist as any real world object come from that. Those scholars are termed 'Realists', like (Fredugisus, Rémy d'Auxerre, or John Scotus Eriugena), working on the basis of an author named Porphyry, and on Boethius. This dominating school of though of the era, with likely a tendency to neo-Platonism. The opposed thinkers are termed 'Nominalists', or 'anti-Realists': they do think that the real objects only have any existence, as concepts don't -which are theoretical only. Those thinkers, as far as they are concerned, likely, thus, are tending to a form of Materialism. That solution given by those anti-Realists, on the other hand, is generally considered like being what allowed for the evolution of the early medieval thought towards the apogee of the scholasticism in the 13th century. After those debates yielded heretic positions of a pantheistic type, or of the Albigenses. Then, through Abélard (about 1100 A.D.), who theorized the role of abstraction, and then John of Salisbury (in the 12th century, as part of the struggle of the pontife for the rights of the Church), scholasticism eventually, once an expurgated Aristotle (from the errors in translation of Averroes and Avicenna) admitted by the Church, in the 13th century, to build a definitive, and moderate solution to that question of the 'universals'! That's called the 'Aristotlean-Thomist moderate realism'. The revival of the Arab and Byzantine thinkers, by the end of the 12th century, first had brought a strong opposition to scholasticism (like Siger of Brabant, in Paris). At the reverse, in the 13th century, a current of neo-Platonist did still was extant (like Roger Bacon, or Lull)

For scholasticists, objects of our intellectual notions, or the famed Platonician 'ideas,' did not exist apart from individual data of sense but were considered the same reality. That reality altogether reveals itself under an abstract, universal, static aspect to the intellect, and under a concrete, manifold, dynamic aspect to the senses. The problem posed, in terms of the Christian religion, by such ultimate philosophical truths is that they lie partly along and partly beyond the confines of natural human knowledge as they eventually deeply question a men's life and apprehension of themselves and the world around. Men can reach some explanation only -or wisdom- through reasoning as the latter is of no more use when some point(s) is or are reached. That then necessarily leads to limits posed or to that metaphysics becomes necessary. As Christian Revelation had definitively come to give a answer to those fundamental questionings, Church always considered any independent philosophical endeavours like a questioning of herself

The Philosophical School of Thoughts After the Scholasticism

As the question of the universals, which had come from the Antiquity, and which through the Early Middle Ages had found its solution with the moderate realism of the Scholastic school of thought of the 13th century, it kept thus defining all the ensuing schools of thoughts as far as philosophy is concerned. When thinkers, on the one hand, did wander from the moderate realism on the side of the Conceptualism and Nominalism (of them the people thinking like the Stoicists), they just came to Scepticism and Agnosticism, and thence to a radical questioning of any religion and, eventually too, to Empiricism and to the Materialism. On the other side, thinkers which headed to the Exaggerated Realism in the Platonist style, did come to a false Idealism and to Pantheism

The end of the Middle Ages saw struggles opposing varied schools of thought, like the Scholastics, the Scottists (from Dun Scott), the Occamians (from William of Occam, defending a strict Conceptualism -with the concepts existing albeit not in nature and through a representation of the mind only, being useful for the mind only), the Averroists, etc. Then the Renaissance had appearing a whole of miscellaneous currents of thought, like the humanist dialecticians (Valla, Vivès), the revival of currents of the Antiquity (Platonism, Aristotelicism, Stoicism), naturalists like Giordano Bruno or Campanella, or thinkers who theorized about the natural, or social, laws (Thomas More, or Grotius). The only common ground for all of those is that they were all bound against the scholasticism and the Roman catholicism. All the schools of thought of the Renaissance, thus, are negativist ones, developing a 'posture against'. The scholasticism, as far as it is concerned, did survive in Spain, during the 16th century only as the scholars there, unluckily did not really master the concepts anymore, and it eventually disappear during the 17th century

The Renaissance, destructive stance, was continued, in the 17th century through the emancipative stances towards the dogma, and through the individualism, with Descartes (a spiritualism bases on data coming through consciousness), Malbebranche, Spinoza, Leibniz, and the Sensualism of Francis Bacon (where data of knowledge are apprehended through the senses only). That Sensualism became the dominant philosophy in the 18th century, and for the philosophy of the Enlightenments, like for Hobbes, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Condillac, the Encyclopedists, or Voltaire. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, eventually, would generalize that philosophy among the masses. All such developments led to a definitive undermining of the Roman Catholicism and, eventually, to the great liberal revolutions of the time. Kant, on the other hand, was the next main modern philosophical current, with his 'critical philosophy', where anything is bringing back to the structure of the mind. From him, are appearing Fichte, Hegel, pantheists, Schopenhauer, or individualist thinkers. Kantianism, mainly, is a conceptualism, stating that there is no link between concepts and the real world. Kant, eventually, in England, during the 19th century, was forgotten to the benefit of the Positivism (Auguste Comte, Hume, Mill, Taine), which is a nominalism

The Question of the Relation Between Philosophy and Religion

After that philosophers in India had linked religion and philosophy and that the Greeks had variously solved that question (with Socrates tending to be independent from religion, Plato coming back to it and Aristotle mainly back to independency, with God just the 'first motor of the world'), and that the neo-Platonism, as the religion had become a fashion again during 300 B.C. and 300 A.D., again melted the philosophy into religion (as philosophy had to aim to unite the soul with God, through mystical practices), Christianity, eventually determined a whole new logics. Christianity does bring the fundamental answers to those questions that the philosophers had asked until then as, technically, it's not a philosophy. Thus the main turn in the history of throught is brought in, with the Fathers of the Church -being Greek- influenced by neo-Platonism and a strong link between philosophy and religion but with philosophy now just a way to meet polemic needs, allowing for the defense of Christianity during the main ideological struggles against the heretics. Such a view thence remained the one of the Early Middle Ages, that is the one of the neo-Platonism serving religion (to what even Eriugena would rally

Although Boethius had made known the categories attributed to philosophy by Aristotle (of them the one of the sciences of theory), the Early Middle Ages, mostly, did not know anything else, in that matter, but the divisions of Plato (in fact of neo-Platonism) instead, logics, ethics, and physics that is. As it had been theoretically summarized like the science of dialectics only, forming one of the 7 liberal arts, philosophy soon came to crown those, and even becoming a fashion during the Carolingian times -up to the point to side becoming a pure technique- as some thinkers (like Gottschalk, for example) even give it an attribute value and eventually fall into heresy. Some theological questions, on the other hand are leading, necessarily, to philosophical ones (like the question of the transsubstantiation leading to the question of substance). Theology, however, in those times, is of course remaining the fundamental field of thinking with philosophy and sciences then included into Church and religion only (the question of the 'universals' however was treated as a question for itself however, for example, likely for cause of a question of theoretical tools). Intellectual struggles do occur, since the end of the 11th century, between those who oppose to the dialecticains (like Pierre Damian, or the reformers of the monastic orders) and those who still dare to use the tools of the philosophical reasoning like a help for the theological one (like Lanfranc, or St. Anselm of Canterbury). Scholasticism reaching its apogee in the 13th century did definitively define the relations which must exist between philosophy and religion, as the reasoning is just secondary and used just like a support of second level to a truth defined as such from a theological, and authoritative point of view first. The arguments of authority are defined first, and then possibly further demonstrated through reasoning. This was meaning a strict and obvious return to the time of the apologetics of the early Fathers. The fact that Aristotle hold such a large role in that apogee of the Church in the 13th century certainly is due to that the Greek philosopher was giving the first place, among his philosophical categories, to metaphysics. The great theological 'summae' of the time technically are theological treaties, and not philosophical works. That precise statement, of a pure St. Augustine nature, was softened however as the Scholastics did accept that philosophy has a form of a independent value, allowing it to be studied for itself. That led to that were distinguished between the scholastical theology (the science of the religious dogma as based on Scriptures) and the scholastical philosophy (the science like based on rational investigation). For the Church, philosophy is a science which must dig its object, its principles and method from its own ressource only, and not from any other science. That the mainstream current of the realistic, moderate stance of the Church

How did the things evolve then (with, for example, Dun Scott or William of Occam) brought on an increase of the independency of the philosophy in regard to the religion. Such a school of thought, like the 'Latin Averroists', in the 13th and 14th centuries, had even perpetuated an Averroistic Aristotelism, further stressing that independency, to the limit of unrespecting theology (those scholars however did remain far behind the original, Arab Averroists who, for example, did think that the Islamic religion was just good enough for the masses only). The Renaissance eventually destroyed completely that delicate bond that the Middle Ages had finely crafted between philosophy and religion. That was made through theism, a form of naturalism applied even to religion, through a kind of ill-understood first oecumenism, or through the indifferentism which even was adopted by the Roman Catholics of the time, from the Protestants. That indifferentist stance in the Renaissance, in turn, eventually triggered, in the 17th and the 18th century, an active contempt against the Church, which was brought through theism and deism (with that sense that an innate religion allowed to build a 'natural religion' as limited to the idea of the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. Bayle, a scholar, in France, added to that a real hatred towards the Church, and then Voltaire). All that brought to atheism and to the liberal revolutions of the modern era

Supplemental Some Basic Notions About non-Western Philosophies

The Western world, mostly through the trade routes, likely took contact into varied ideas or concepts belonging to the schools of thought of the other regions in the world. Here are following some basics:

Website Manager: G. Guichard, site Learning and Knowledge In the Carolingian Times / Erudition et savoir à l'époque carolingienne, http://schoolsempire.6te.net. Page Editor: G. Guichard. last edited: 8/1/2016. contact us at geguicha@outlook.com