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

139. Two Groups of Extreme Realists. Medieval Realism and Platonic Realism. -- The scholastic realists of the first four centuries of the Middle Ages fall into two great groups. Some attribute to each species and each genus a universal essence (subsistentia), shared by all the subordinate individuals. Others go farther, confounding all realities in one single being of the most various and diverse forms. Indeed pantheism is the logical and necessary outcome of extreme realism; for, if the attributes of real objects are modelled on the attributes of conceived objects, the most abstract of all our concepts, -- that of "being," in its widest sense, -- must have its correlative "being's in the order of external Nature: and as all our concepts are determinations of this widest concept, so would all realities be mere determinations of this one real being.

If, therefore, we were to attend, not to the theories themselves as they were actually formulated, but to the remoter consequences involved in them, these statements of extreme realism would lead to the very negation of scholasticism. But with the exception of John Scotus Eriugena, the realists of the ninth, tenth and eleventh centuries, never went so far. Many of them even expressly repudiate pantheism and try to reconcile their realism with individual human personality, with the doctrine of creation and with the dogmas of the Church. Hence we believe that this earliest form of extreme realism ought not to be classified historically as anti-scholastic. Halting and defective as it is, it has its sufficient apology in the express reservations with which its exponents qualified it, and in the feeble and tentative character of all the speculative efforts of this period (126, 3; 142). On the other hand, another form of realism, openly pantheistic, formed one of the most dangerous teachings of anti-scholasticism. It will be examined in the next article.

When, finally, we compare medieval realists, whether pantheistic or not, with the founder of the Greek Academy, we must not lose sight of an important difference between their theories and the Platonic "dialectic". For Plato the Ideas have an existence apart from the world of sense (22). For the medieval realists the (universal) essence remains wholly in the individual sense world.

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