Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources

By Katerina Ierodiakonou | Go to book overview
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The Anti-Logical Movement in
the Fourteenth Century


The debate among Byzantine philosophers and theologians about the proper attitude towards ancient logic is just one episode in the turbulent history of the reception of ancient philosophy in Byzantine thought, but it certainly raises one of the most complicated and intriguing issues in the study of the intellectual life in Byzantium. For there are many Byzantine authors who explicitly praise and themselves make use of, to a lesser or greater extent, the ancient logical traditions; yet, at the same time, there are also many others who fiercely reject the logical doctrines of pagan philosophers and their use, especially in theology. What I am particularly interested in, here, is to examine how the Byzantine attitude towards ancient logic differs from one author to another and from one period to another, what exactly the arguments presented in favour and against relying on these ancient theories are, and to what extent ancient logic, or some more developed form of it, actually is used by Byzantine thinkers.

There is no doubt that ancient logic, and more specifically Aristotle’s syllogistic, was taught extensively throughout the Byzantine era as a preliminary to more theoretical studies. This is amply attested not only by biographical information concerning the logical education of eminent Byzantine figures, but also by the substantial number of surviving Byzantine manuscripts of Aristotle’s logical writings, in particular Aristotle’s Prior Analytics, and of the related Byzantine scholia, paraphrases, and logical treatises. In fact, the predominance in Byzantium of Aristotle’s logic is so undisputed that, even when Byzantine scholars suggest changes in Aristotelian syllogistic, or attempt to incorporate into it other ancient logical traditions, they consider these alterations only as minor improvements on the Aristotelian system. Nevertheless, Byzantine authors are not all unanimous as to the importance of the study of Aristotle’s logic, and more generally, as to the importance of any kind of logical training. There is plenty of evidence that, in different periods of Byzantine history, some Byzantine philosophers


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