Monday, January 2, 2012

A Definition of Scholasticism

From L. M. de Rijk.  Scholasticism is an

“approach, which is characterized by the use, in both study and teaching, of a constantly recurring system of concepts, distinctions, proposition analyses, argumentative techniques and disputational methods.”[i]

[i] L.M. de Rijk, Middeleeuwse wijsbegeerte: Traditie en vernieuwing, 2nd edn. (Assen/Amsterdam: Van Gorcum, 1988), 25.

Quoted here.


Edward Ockham said...

Hmm. It is certainly is a method. But could you escape without saying that it was also the form which both philosophy, and to a large extent theology, took in the middle ages. Could you have scholastic psychiatry, e.g.?

And is it not also a system which aimed to reconcile the Christian theology of the Church Fathers with the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and his commentators? Could you have a scholastic form of Hegelianism, e.g.?

Edward Ockham said...

PS I just looked up Tim's essay 'Scholasticism' in the Blackwell Companion, and I think it would be hard to beat his 3 distinguishing features, namely

1. The analytic and argumentative method, as above.

2. The reference to the authority of Aristotle and other classical authors

3. The program (or 'system') of reconciling philosophy/science and theology.

Edward Ockham said...

ratio, auctoritas, concordia.

Michael Sullivan said...

I agree that the definition is too vague and could apply to lots of intellectual domains. You can't leave out the relationship to a particular tradition, i.e. the intersection of classical philosophy and the biblical-patristic corpus. A Hegelian or Indian scholasticism could be so-called only equivocally or by paying attention only to the most superficial features. The "schools" of scholastism are not the academy or the stoa or some generic formal institution of learning, but Catholic schools. But I wouldn't want to admit that the middle ages is an essential part of the definition, since scholasticism and scholastics can and have existed beyond the period.

I'm also not sure that there couldn't be a scholastic psychiatry. The scholastics contributed to physics and to "mixed" sciences like optics, in accordance with the Aristotelian urge to unify and systematize all knowledge. They certainly contributed to theoretical psychology and some of them were interested in anatomy and medicine. I see no particular reason why psychiatry couldn't be drawn into the fold, so to speak, as a "mixed" (combining theoretical and general with practical and individual elements) and subsidiary science.

I'm also not sure if the reconciling program is a necessary part of the definition. Historically, of course, it is, but many scholastic works and projects are unrelated to it. We can recognize scholastic logic or physics as such even when there's no reference to revealed theology at all. One can imagine - are there instances of? - clearly scholastic thinkers who never engage in theologizing.