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Relations to other Intellectual RealmsAfter Plato

These ideas found repeated expression, albeit in different forms, throughout the course of ancient philosophy. Aristotle, although he made enduring contributions to most forms of human knowledge (especially the natural sciences), was mindful of the differences between more rarefied forms of intellectual speculation, such as metaphysics and theology, and prosaic methods of taxonomy and description that belonged to the sciences of physics and what we could now term biology. Aristotle can be said to preserve the spirit if not the letter of Platonic teaching, especially in his insistence that the goal of human life is gratuitous contemplation of the divine.

In the schools of the Hellenistic period and late antiquity, the writings of adherents to Stoicism, Epicureanism, Cynicism, and Skepticism demonstrate a similar commitment to preserve a conception of philosophy as an autonomous discipline that can authenticate a reflective way of life. While individual members of these schools all emphasized the need to preface philosophical study by securing a sound knowledge of other fields of human enquiry, they held firm to the belief that the study of subjects such as physics, mathematics, or rhetoric is but a preface to the more challenging regime of philosophy. Even in certain Neoplatonic schools, where the view that theology is the goal of any genuine intellectual quest had gained momentum, there is little evidence to suggest that philosophers were prepared to characterize their subject, or at least to specify its difference from other branches of intellectual enquiry, in a manner that radically departed from the views of Socrates and Plato. Seen thus, an important aspect of the intellectual legacy of the ancients was the idea that philosophy stands apart from all other abstract and cerebral pursuits. Philosophy is not a physical science concerned with the description of natural phenomena; it is not a form of poetical discourse or artistic endeavor; it is not civic religion; philosophy is about critical reflection on the nature and conditions of human life leading to the development and practice of wisdom.

Although the idea that philosophy enjoyed a unique position in the scheme of human knowledge and was thereby unanswerable to anything but itself did not go unchallenged in antiquity, when ancient philosophy came into contact with biblically-based monotheistic religions of the Judeo-Christian tradition, it met with a thorough reappraisal of its claim to dominance. While Jewish and Christian thinkers such as the Alexandrians, Philo Judaeus (20 B.C.E.–45 C.E.), St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150–between 211 and 215), and Origen of Alexandria (185?–?254), all endeavored to make sense of doctrinal issues by appropriating philosophical insights, a growing and increasingly vocal constituency, especially in Christian circles, argued that philosophy ought to be subservient to the claims of revealed religious teaching.

From the advent of the common era, a discussion was set in place that aimed to clarify the exact relations between philosophy and theology or sacred teaching (sacra doctrina). At its simplest, this debate sought to posit clear lines of demarcation that would distinguish the nature of philosophy and remit it from the province of theology. The debate sought to arrive at a view of how philosophy might or might not contribute to the path of individual salvation as that idea had been set down by Jewish, Christian, and from the seventh century onwards, Islamic teaching. The debate between "Athens and Jerusalem," so famously instituted by Tertullian (c. 160–c. 220), was in part a discussion as to how ancient philosophy might or might not be arrogated by the theological doctrines of a biblically-grounded monotheism. A by-product of this discussion would be its detailed consideration of the relationship of philosophy to other fields of intellectual activity.

In their distinctive ways, Christian thinkers as dissimilar as the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430), Boethius (c. 480–c. 524), and Gregory I (c. 540–604); early medieval thinkers such as John Scotus Erigena (c. 810–c. 877), Peter Abelard (1079–?1144), and St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033 or 1034–1109); and the scholastics of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries all attempted to clarify the relationship of philosophy to theology. For these thinkers, the subject of "philosophy" amounted to the scientific teaching and ethical wisdom of the ancients (specifically Aristotelian learning conjoined to aspects of the Neoplatonic tradition and trace elements of Stoicism), while prevailing ideas of "theology" were distilled from ongoing attempts to codify the requirements of revealed teaching by means of ideas of tradition and authority. In different guises and with very different exigencies, these efforts were replicated by thinkers in the Jewish and Islamic traditions. One of the more pressing questions confronted by all who attempted to gauge the relationship between philosophy and theology was the issue of duplex veritatis or "double truth," a problem that was debated in earnest from the thirteenth century onwards following the reintroduction of the corpus Aristotelicum to the Latin West.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Philosophy of Mind - Early Ideas to Planck lengthPhilosophy - Relations to other Intellectual Realms - After Plato, Medieval And Renaissance, Early Modern, Modern Times, Bibliography