ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

116. Scholastic Philosophy Defined by its Relation to Ancient Philosophy (cf. 227). -- (1) Scholasticism and Aristotelianism. -- An old prejudice, born of the Renaissance, would see in scholastic philosophy a mere servile imitation of the peripatetic philosophy. If this were true, to define the one would be to define the other.

It is incontestible that the scholastics gave their allegiance to Aristotle, not only in the thirteenth century, but even in the earlier Middle Ages. John of Salisbury calls him "The Philosopher," just as Rome was "The City," par excellence (Polycrat., vii., 6). For Albertus Magnus, Aristotle is the "archidoctor philosophiae" (De propriet. element., 1, i., tr. 1, c. 1). And, what is more, the scholastics had a knowledge of Aristotle that many of our moderns might envy.

But the Aristotelianism of the scholastics is entirely free from the reproach of servility that has been so long and so readily cast at it. The scholastics as a rule attached little weight to the argument from authority, regarding it in fact as the weakest of all arguments in matters of philosophy. On this point we have numerous testimonies. And, as a matter of fact, many of Aristotle's theories were rejected by the scholastics; while of those that were adopted by them some were perfected, others corrected and all alike submitted to an independent examination on their merits, and incorporated into a new setting that was the genuine and original creation of the medieval scholastics. What we have to say in the sequel will, we hope, bear out this sufficiently to bring conviction to the mind of the reader.

Besides, the accusation of servility cannot stand before the fact that scholasticism draws on quite a number of other antecedent systems besides that of Aristotle.

(2) Scholasticism and Neo-Platonism. -- Through the Fathers of the Church and Pseudo-Denis, and in the thirteenth century through the Liber de Causis, the writings of Proclus and the Arabian philosophers, many Neo-Platonic theories were imported into scholasticism. But in the process they were stripped of all elements of pantheism and emanation, that is to say, of the very soul of Neo-Platonism. Hence we must hold as false the contention of M. Picavet, that Plotinus was "the real father of scholasticism".{1}

(3) Scholasticism, Platonism and Augustinism. -- Plato and St. Augustine excited an admiration as enthusiastic as that of which Aristotle was at any time the object. St. Augustine especially, the greatest and best known of the Fathers of the Church, did in truth deeply inspire scholasticism: down to the close of the twelfth century his influence on scholastic thought was distinctly preponderant. And even in the thirteenth century which saw the triumph of peripateticism, an important group of scholastics clung steadily to the Augustinian tradition.

(4) Scholasticism and the other systems of Grecian and Patristic philosophy. -- Pythagorism, the Atomism of Democritus, Epicureanism and Stoicism occupy a place, secondary indeed but for a long time entirely ignored, in the philosophical controversies of the Western Middle Ages.

To sum up: What guided the scholastics in their borrowing from the past was not the blind cult of a few figures of history, but the pursuit of truth for its own sake. Scholasticism sought light from all the philosophies that went before it, but to none of them did it become a slave.

{1} PICAVET, Esquisse d'une histoire générale et comparée des philosophies médiévales, 1907, ch. v.

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