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Adelard's Questions and Ockham's Razor:
Connections between Medieval Philosophy and Modern Science

(Released November 2008)

  by Carolyn Scearce  


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The Rediscovery of Aristotle


Arabic learning reached its climax, just as the simultaneous revival of learning in the west created a receptive audience for the fruits of Arabic scholarship. In the latter part of the 11th century Christian scholars got the first real taste for the intellectual wealth housed in Arabic libraries as the Christian re-conquest of Spain opened the doors to libraries housed in Spanish cities such as Toledo (Rubenstein, 2003). A second translation effort commenced as Arabic texts were translated into Latin. As more texts became available, scholars attempted to absorb the material into the university curriculum. It fell to the 13th century scholars to try to assimilate the new learning.

Aristotle & Plato
Aristotle and Plato in Raphael's "School of Athens." Aristotle's hand symbolizes his realistim, Plato's his mysticism view
Among the texts rediscovered during the 12th and 13th centuries were many by Aristotle. The depth and breath of Aristotle's works left his new audience breathless. In a phrase coined by Dante in the 14th century, Aristotle was "the master of those who know." To others he was simply known as The Philosopher (Rubenstein, 2003). The study of Aristotle's logic that had remained continuous throughout the Middle Ages had to a certain extent prepared scholars for his work. The intellectual trend towards an Aristotelian reasoning could already be seen in the work of philosophers and theologians such as Peter Abelard. Working from just the logical texts, Abelard had attracted quite an enthusiastic audience to his lectures regarding the application of logic to the authoritative texts of the Christian fathers (Williams, 2007).

The expansion of the Aristotelian corpus both stimulated and troubled Christian scholars. The focus on reason attracted intellectuals. However, propositions of Aristotle, such as the eternity of the universe, conflicted with accepted Christian theology. Scholars who attempted to incorporate Aristotelian ideas into contemporary philosophy sometimes found themselves in opposition to the Catholic Church. In 1277 the Bishop of Paris issued a condemnation of 219 propositions regarding the Faculty of Arts at the University of Paris. Primarily, theologians resented the Faculty of Arts teaching aspects of Aristotle's philosophy without any regard to how it might conflict with the accepted theology (Luscombe, 1997). For some time after the condemnation, intellectuals had to be circumspect about their use of Aristotelian philosophy. Nonetheless, the rediscovery of Aristotle's works left a lasting impression on philosophy, as it revolutionized the natural philosophy and theology of the middle ages.

Go To Naturalism in Medieval Natural Philosophy

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