The Dynamics of Natural Philosophy in the Aristotelian Tradition (and Beyond): Doctrinal and Institutional Perspectives

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To understand why natural philosophy played such a fundamental role in medieval intellectual life, we must view it in the context within which it was born in Western Europe. Before the introduction in the twelfth century of Aristotle’s works, which formed the solid foundation on which medieval natural philosophy was built, natural philosophy was a marginal activity based upon two-thirds of Plato’s Timaeus, Calcidius’s commentary on that treatise, and what relevant works might be available from a few Roman authors and one or more of the Latin encyclopedists: Boethius, Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Isidore of Seville, Cassiodorus, and a few others. With such an intellectual fare, Western Europe would not have gone far. But even before the introduction of Aristotle’s natural philosophy, Western Europe was already undergoing a momentous transformation, one that was destined to shape its attitude toward the world until the present day, and that will continue to shape its outlook into the foreseeable future. I speak about the conscious desire of many scholars to follow the path of reason, as opposed to authority. In a Christian society founded upon faith and revealed truth, the new attitude was startling.


Grant's lecture is one of five inaugural lectures delivered on August 16, 1999 introducing the Conference on "The Dynamics of Natural Philosophy in the Aristotelian Tradition (and Beyond): Doctrinal and Institutional Perspectives" held in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, August 16-20.


John Scotus Eriugena, Peter Abelard, John Buridan, natural philosophy, Aristotle, Medieval, Religion, Theology, Isaac Newton, Science



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