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Thinking Philosophically in the Middle Ages: The Case of Early Franciscans

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThinking: A Philosophical History
PublisherRoutledge
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020

King's Authors

Abstract

The Middle Ages are often perceived as a time when there was no stark separation between philosophy and theology. To think philosophically was already to think theologically. This article sets out to show that the medievals had a relatively straightforward understanding of the relationship between the two disciplines: theology deals with God and philosophy with things that are ‘not God.’ The constant interaction between them is owing to the medieval assumption that all things other than God nonetheless derive their existence and purpose from him. The medievals developed a wide array of theories based upon this assumption. These became subject to increasing philosophical complexity following the translation of major Greek and Arabic sources into Latin. During the first fifty years of the existence of the first university at Paris, it is not often recognized that Latin thinkers drew more heavily on Arabic sources like Avicenna than Greek philosophers like Aristotle. As a Neo-Platonist of sorts, Avicenna presented a wholly original take on Aristotelian topics which Latin thinkers relied upon to interpret not only Aristotle but also their own Neo-Platonic sources like Augustine. This approach was facilitated by the scholastic method, which involved invoking authorities to argue for the scholastic author’s own opinions. The paper will illustrate how this method was used through some case studies in Franciscan psychology, which show how Aristotle and Augustine were reconciled through the use of spurious sources that allowed their views to be conflated with those of Avicenna. Ultimately, it highlights the creativity of scholastic authors who deployed sources to their own ends.

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