Wednesday, August 18, 2010
The Fifteenth-Century Shift
Another philosophical shift, though much more pernicious than Levering's. From Zenon Kaluza, "Late Medieval Philosophy 1350-1500" in Medieval Philosophy, ed. Marenbon, p. 443:
"... Indeed, strange to say, round about the year 1400 philosophers decided that they would no longer do philosophy on their own account and no longer take any personal responsibility for their philosophical positions. Rather, they spent the whole of the fifteenth century fighting among themselves, with prescriptions and prohibitions as their weapons, not in order to impose on everybody their own thought, but that of their distant models: Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, Duns Scotus, Giles of Rome and Buridan. Universities passed statutes to remove undesirables and to close themselves to new ideas. None of these decisions rose above the level of factional in-fighting.
This upholding of traditions and the related and unceasing conflicts (especially in the German universities) were institutional rather than doctrinal in their basis. Historians describe them by the German word Wegenstreit. Sometimes by their violence and length these conflicts turned universities into a battleground where scholars fought to re-establish one of the old schools, whether realist or nominalist. The courses in these universities were limited to the revival of the thought of one or another great master of the past. Likewise, the practice of teaching centered on the great names of the past. In England, Wyclif was attacked in the name of St. Thomas. In Paris, a predominantly Thomist realism became the established doctrine by the last quarter of the century. In Germany, the choice of doctrine was regulated by the statutes of the different universities. Since this return to old scholasticism was the first of a series of such deliberate returns, it is certainly right to call it the first neoscholasticism. In Italy alone this type of institutional conflict had no place: there philosophers at once followed the English tradition of 1300-50 and the Parisian traditions of Averroism and Buridanism, as well as the traditions of Thomas Aquinas and Duns Scotus.