Nicolaus of Autrecourt, a Study in 14th Century Thought

Nicolaus of Autrecourt, a Study in 14th Century Thought

Nicolaus of Autrecourt, a Study in 14th Century Thought

Nicolaus of Autrecourt, a Study in 14th Century Thought

Excerpt

We are often told that Truth never dies, and it is to be hoped that it is so. It is certain, however, that error is capable of repeated resurrection. Only thus can the recent attempt to revive Aristotelian epistemology and metaphysics be described. For the claims that Aristotelian philosophy made for natural knowledge were subjected to annihilating criticism in the fourteenth century by Nicolaus of Autrecourt and in the eighteenth century by David Hume. Apologists can make a specious case against Hume by urging that his climate of opinion and his temperament rendered him incapable of a correct understanding of Aristotle. It is impossible to make a similar case against Nicolaus of Autrecourt who, we may be sure, lived in a period of intellectual history that was steeped in Aristotelian conceptions and procedures. Hence, it is of importance for us to realize that a successful refutation of Aristotle occurred in the scholastic period itself. For only in this way can we judge the rather extravagant claims currently urged in behalf of a return to Aristotelian modes of thought.

The time and circumstances in which Nicolaus' critique was written assures us that its author had the benefit of a more complete understanding of medieval Aristotelianism than any modern thinker could have had. The arguments he urged against Aristotelianism may be safely allowed to speak for themselves. This, then, is one reason for a careful study of the philosophy of Nicolaus of Autrecourt.

There is another reason also for studying the philosophy of Nicolaus. His condemnation by the Avignon Curia in 1346 was as important an event in the intellectual history of the fourteenth century as was the condemnation of Averroism in 1277 in that of the thirteenth. The condemnation of 1346 marks a climax in the internal conflict of forces in medieval thought which ushered in a somewhat new and very radical change in philosophic method and outlook. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that this conflict occurred within the confines of scholasticism, and that Nicolaus'

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