Sunday, September 2, 2007

William Turner's narrative

From the Catholic encyclopedia, at New Advent in an article on Scholasticism:

"With Duns Scotus, a genius of the first order, but not of the constructive type, begins the critical phase, of Scholasticism. Even before his time, the Franciscan and the Dominican currents had set out in divergent directions. It was his keen and unrelenting search for the weak points in Thomistic philosophy that irritated and wounded susceptibilities among the followers of St. Thomas, and brought about the spirit of partisanship which did so much to dissipate the energy of Scholasticism in the fourteenth century. The recrudescence of Averroism in the schools, the excessive cultivation of formalism and subtlety, the growth of artificial and even barbarous terminology, and the neglect of the study of nature and of history contributed to the same result. Ockham's Nominalism and Durandus's attempt to "simplify" Scholastic philosophy did not have the effect which their authors intended. "The glory and power of scholasticism faded into the warmth and brightness of mysticism," and Gerson, Thomas à Kempis, and Eckhart are more representative of what the Christian Church was actually thinking in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than are the Thomists, Scotists, and Ockhamists of that period, who frittered away much valuable time in the discussion of highly technical questions which arose within the schools and possess little interest except for adepts in Scholastic subtlety. After the rise of Humanism, when the Renaissance, which ushered in the modern era, was in full progress, the great Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese commentators inaugurated an age of more healthy Scholasticism, and the great Jesuit teachers, Toletus, Vasquez, and Francisco Suárez, seemed to recall the best days of thirteenth century speculation. The triumph of scientific discovery, with which, as a rule, the representatives of Scholasticism in the seats of academic authority had, unfortunately, too little sympathy, led to new ways of philosophizing, and when, finally, Descartes in practice, if not in theory, effected a complete separation of philosophy from theology, the modern era had begun and the age known as that of Scholasticism had come to an end."

I've seen articles by this Turner fellow floating around on abebooks for ages, but this is the first I have read. Not terribly surprising for its time (1912). it is influenced by the historiography of the day, which essentially taught that the 14th century was one of decline. Even now, nearly one hundred years later, the scholarship has advanced little. We have here myths that are still with us: Scotus is a destructive not a constructive thinker; Scotus set out explicitly to attack Thomas Aquinas; scholastic discourse was obssessed with trivialities. The contrast between "mysticism" and scholastic thought and the claim that the former is representative of its time is new to me, but not surprising. Soon after this article Anneliese Meier was to begen to write, devoting her life to 14th century scholastic natural philosophy; one of her interesting claims is that the 14th century developed its own natural philsophy, neither making the moves necessary for modern science nor being excessively devoted to Aristotle. It is different than both. She does say, however, that the principle of omne quod movetur ab alio movetur was the major notion that kept the scholastics from developing a more modern natural philosophy (I might add, it was the voluntarists Henry of Ghent and Duns Scotus who rejected this, unlike the intellectualist St. Thomas).

Gerson: a nominalist like his master D'ailly, bitterly opposed to Scotisim. Durandus: I've never heard of this simplification; he seems as or more complex than Scotus. Barbarous terminology: the usual complaint of the humanists against the scholastics in general.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Even before his time, the Franciscan and the Dominican currents had set out in divergent directions.

What an understatement! This whole thing is rather ludicrous, unfortunately.

Even now, nearly one hundred years later, the scholarship has advanced little.

Lucky for us? At least it gives us something to do. It's sadly true that nearly everything really useful for my dissertation was written at least fifty years ago, and much of it seventy or eighty years ago. There was a period when all those Frenchmen were interested in rooting out the truth about all this--what happened? People stopped caring, apparently.

I spent a lot of time today reading Zavalloni on Richard of Middleton and the plurality of forms. Worth your time if you were to check it out.

one of her interesting claims is that the 14th century developed its own natural philsophy, neither making the moves necessary for modern science nor being excessively devoted to Aristotle

What I've read suggests that the 14th century Oxonians continued the work of opening the path to experimental science that had been started by Bacon and Albert; they were a necessary transitional stage. Certainly those "Renaissance" guys didn't invent the idea out of whole cloth, despite what they might have preferred to think.