Pagans and Philosophers: The Problem of Paganism from Augustine to Leibniz

Pagans and Philosophers: The Problem of Paganism from Augustine to Leibniz

Language: English

Pages: 368

ISBN: 0691142556

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


From the turn of the fifth century to the beginning of the eighteenth, Christian writers were fascinated and troubled by the "Problem of Paganism," which this book identifies and examines for the first time. How could the wisdom and virtue of the great thinkers of antiquity be reconciled with the fact that they were pagans and, many thought, damned? Related questions were raised by encounters with contemporary pagans in northern Europe, Mongolia, and, later, America and China.

Pagans and Philosophers explores how writers--philosophers and theologians, but also poets such as Dante, Chaucer, and Langland, and travelers such as Las Casas and Ricci--tackled the Problem of Paganism. Augustine and Boethius set its terms, while Peter Abelard and John of Salisbury were important early advocates of pagan wisdom and virtue. University theologians such as Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, and Bradwardine, and later thinkers such as Ficino, Valla, More, Bayle, and Leibniz, explored the difficulty in depth. Meanwhile, Albert the Great inspired Boethius of Dacia and others to create a relativist conception of scientific knowledge that allowed Christian teachers to remain faithful Aristotelians. At the same time, early anthropologists such as John of Piano Carpini, John Mandeville, and Montaigne developed other sorts of relativism in response to the issue.

A sweeping and original account of an important but neglected chapter in Western intellectual history, Pagans and Philosophers provides a new perspective on nothing less than the entire period between the classical and the modern world.

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of some, but also three other views about what happened, all them involving the remission of his punishment: according to the first, punishment was suspended until the Day of Judgement (apparently following Aquinas); according to the second, attributed to John the Deacon, who is cited explicitly, he remains in Hell but does not feel its tortures; according to the third, ‘eternal punishment consists in two things, the punishment of the senses and the punishment of loss, which is being without the

probably also by him). 32  33  The Early Middle Ages • 67 Europe, which took place in three main stages. First, there was the acceptance of Catholic Christianity by the barbarians who, starting with the Visigoths in 376, followed by the Ostrogoths, Vandals, Burgundians and Franks, had entered the Roman Empire and started to settle and establish kingdoms there. This phase was complete by the end of the sixth century, by when the second stage had already begun: the evangelization, beginning in

Clement IV, whom Bacon had come to know before his elevation. In a way that has little to do with the subtle questions of doctrine which fascinated and divided professional theologians, and little connection with the Parisian controversies explored below, Bacon set out a scheme of knowledge including mathematics, optics, scientia experimentalis and what he called ‘moral philosophy’, designed especially to provide a way of converting all peoples to Christianity.5 Bacon’s missionary aims made the

rises in proportion to the divine intellect, which is the light and cause of all things’.30 Aristotle On the Soul III.5 (430a10–­17). De intellectu et intelligibili II.8; Albert the Great 1890–­99, IX, 515. 30  De intellectu et intelligibili II.9; Albert the Great 1890–­99, IX, 516; cf. de Libera 2005, 300–­311. 28  29  Aristotelian Wisdom • 137 Although, then, Albert distinguishes sharply between the spheres of natural science and revelation, he allows a genuine knowledge of God, and even a

absolute.2 The basis for this post-­Abelardian theory was the Roman Neoplatonist Macrobius’s discussion, in his Commentary on the Dream of Scipio, of the ‘political virtues’. Macrobius had made, following Plotinus, a division of levels of virtues. The lowest are political virtues: they enable humans to be political and social animals, as Aristotle had characterized them, and Macrobius goes on to describe them as the virtues by which the good of towns and commonwealths is preserved, and family and

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