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Relations to other Intellectual RealmsMedieval And Renaissance

Given the authority assigned to Aristotle's arguments on a wide variety of philosophical and scientific questions, it became apparent to many that what he had to say about such pressing topics as the origins of the world, the nature of the soul, and the final end of human life were at variance with the strictures of revealed biblical teaching. Some thirteenth-century theologians such as Albertus Magnus (c. 1200–1280), St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1224–1274), and St. Bonaventure (1217–1274) advocated the use of aspects of Aristotelian philosophy, supplemented and corrected by the "higher truths" of revelation. Other thinkers, though—especially members of the Arts Faculty of the University of Paris, the so-called Latin Averroists—attempted to balance Aristotelian philosophy in its own right over against Christian revelation by arguing that a distinction could be enunciated between philosophical teaching and theological truth. In short, they proposed a theory that looked to their opponents and generations of more impartial scholars as a theory of "double truth," according to which something might be true in philosophy, such as Aristotle's well-known cosmological theory of the eternity of the world, yet false in theology and vice versa.

As medieval scholarship has long pointed out, the Latin Averroists, most notably Siger de Brabant (1240–between 1281 and 1284) and Boethius, did not themselves argue for a theory of double truth; rather, they reserved the term truth in an ultimate sense for revealed doctrine and never claimed the possibility that there could ever be two equally true contradictory truths specific to the competing requirements of theological and philosophical discourse. Nonetheless, they did recognize that reason rightly used could reach conclusions that did not agree with revealed doctrine, or else placed the veracity of certain biblical statements in question. Such was the hostility to their views in theological circles that Bishop of Paris Stephen Tempier issued condemnations of propositions associated with their work in 1270 and 1277.

In the later Middle Ages, yet another element was added to the general debate about the relationship of philosophy to theology by the nominalists and Scotists, followers of John Duns Scotus (c. 1266–1308): they contended that rationally deducible concepts and theological systems do not necessarily stand in any pertinent relationship to one another. The issue here is not one of duplex veritatis but rather one of a radical diastasis between philosophical or, in a Scotist dispensation, specifically metaphysical argument and the claims and requirements of theology. Some scholars have argued that this late medieval perspective underlies a good deal of the early Reformers' rejection of philosophy in their initial attempts to codify their emerging theological positions. The problem set in motion by late medieval Scotism was further complicated by a shared proclivity among many Lutheran and Reformed theologians to embrace an Augustinian view of how the effects of original sin corrupt and deprave an individual's powers of reasoning and the exercise of will.

The issue of double truth also appears in sixteenth-century philosophy in the writings of the Renaissance thinker Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525). He turned the medieval discussion on its head by arguing for the superiority of philosophical over theological truth. As an Aristotelian philosopher whose principal work was the exposition and analysis of the pages of Aristotle for the sake of developing a modern Peripatetic philosophy, Pomponazzi addressed the issue of the immortality of the soul and argued that the question could only be clarified and resolved philosophically. His conclusion was that the soul was indeed capable of discovering knowledge of higher things, especially the eternal truths of the universe, but he also indicated that such knowledge was restricted temporally to the life of the individual. The mind cannot survive the death of the body and cannot exist in a disembodied state. All of this Pomponazzi argued from the perspective of (Aristotelian) philosophy, while at the same time acknowledging that Scripture is without error and the doctrine of the immortality of the soul can be proved from it. More so than the much-maligned Siger de Brabant and Boethius of Dacia, Pomponazzi began to trespass into the territory of duplex veritatis, and can be said to have reasserted the traditional claim of philosophy to be the final tribunal in any dispute of reason.

One consequence of the protracted and sophisticated medieval debate on the relationship of philosophy to theology—a discussion that can be said to have continued in different guises, albeit with slightly altered terms of references, in the polemical disputations of the Renaissance and Reformation—was to initiate by the end of the sixteenth century a willingness on the part of philosophers to assert their independence from the theologians. In the time of the ancients, philosophers had enjoyed preeminence among the cognoscenti, yet with the advent of biblical monotheism and the rapid expansion of Islamic and Christian civilization, the place of philosophy had been relegated in importance next to theology. In addition to this, the developing system of university education that was established in Western Europe supported subjects such as medicine and law, each of which claimed their own unique intellectual status and professional structure. For the medieval tradition, philosophy (which included logic and the natural sciences) was at best the handmaid of theology, a valuable intellectual training that prepared the able minded for the dizzy heights of speculation on the truths of the bible and the mystery of the Godhead. While many of the most important and enduring achievements of high scholastic theology are framed within philosophical terms of reference (e.g., the use of the language of Aristotelian metaphysics to describe issues concerning the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Eucharist), for the authors of these works these discussions were theological, pertaining to sacra doctrina, and not philosophy.

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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