Realists and Nominalists

Realists and Nominalists

Realists and Nominalists

Realists and Nominalists

Excerpt

The brief studies that follow are intended to be an introduction to some of the great stages of thought that lie between the disruption of the Roman Empire in the West and the period of the Renaissance. I am well aware that the passages that have been selected for discussion are mere fractions torn from a vast and intricate history, but I hope they will serve some inquirers who wish to reconnoitre the frontiers of a new country. Students of philosophy are still apt to flit from the theories of classical Greece to the scientific assumptions of the seventeenth century without bestowing more than a hasty glance at the intervening eras of speculation. To say the least, this is an unhistorical procedure. The bond that unites the ancient outlook with the new is the persistence of Greek principles within the context of Christian doctrine. And the new conceptions, despite their loud rejection of Scholasticism, were deeply indebted to the medieval methods and are inexplicable without some appreciation of them.

Philosophers of the modern era concentrated their attention upon problems relating to the scope and validity of human knowledge. Such questions were assuredly not the primary concern of medieval thinkers. Yet in their immense and subtle inquiries into the rational order of existence they were necessarily led to investigate the nature of reason. It is this aspect of medieval thought that I have selected for description here. Although this approach is not the normal path to the understanding of the great scholastics, it allows the student to compare their treatment of questions that became prominent in later thought with modern discussions of these questions. And this aspect of Latin Christian philosophy brings us into touch with one of the central debates of the medieval era, the dispute over the status of general ideas, or universals.

In a limited survey simplification is inevitable. But instead of attempting to range over the vast field in a general manner I have sought to bring the reader close to the method and quality of scholastic argument by collecting the opinions of four representative figures. St. Augustine exercised a cardinal influence on all speculation from the earliest to the latest phase of medieval thought. From him, more than from any other authority, sprang the pronounced Realism that persisted into modern times. In the eleventh century there appeared a new view of knowledge that . . .

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