AskDefine | Define scholasticism

Dictionary Definition



1 the system of philosophy dominant in medieval Europe; based on Aristotle and the Church Fathers
2 orthodoxy of a scholastic variety [syn: academicism, academism]

User Contributed Dictionary



scholastic + -ism


(US) IPA: /skəˈlæstɪˌsɪzəm/


  1. a tradition or school of philosophy, originating in the Middle Ages, that combines classical philosophy with Catholic theology

Extensive Definition

Scholasticism was the dominant form of theology and philosophy in the Latin West in the Middle Ages, particularly in the 12th, 13th, and 14th centuries. It was both a method and a system which aimed to reconcile the Christian theology of the Church Fathers with the Greek philosophy of Aristotle and his commentators.
The main figures of scholasticism were Peter Abelard, Albertus Magnus, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Bonaventure and, above all, Thomas Aquinas, whose Summa Theologica is an ambitious synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine. In the Renaissance, the deductive and a priori methods of scholasticism were superseded by the inductive reasoning of modern science, while its theological basis was challenged by humanism.
The word Scholasticism is derived from the Latin word scholasticus, the latinized form of the Greek σχολαστικός (scholastikos, "scholastic"), literally "devoting one's leisure to learning, learned man, scholar" (from σχολείον - scholeion, "school").


Early Scholasticism

The first significant renewal of learning in the West came when Charlemagne, advised by Peter of Pisa and Alcuin of York, attracted the scholars of England and Ireland, and by imperial decree in 787 A.D. established schools in every abbey in his empire. These schools, from which the name scholasticism is derived, became centres of medieval learning.
This period coincided with the growth of early Islamic philosophy (in the works of Alkindus, Alfarabi, Avicenna, Algazel and Averroes) and Jewish philosophy (especially in the case of Maimonides). From the Eighth Century, the Mutazilite school of Islam, compelled to defend their principles against the more orthodox Ash'ari school, looked for support in philosophy. They are among the first to pursue a rational theology, Ilm-al-Kalam, which can be seen as a form of scholasticism. Later, the philosophical schools of Avicennism and Averroism exerted great influence on Scholasticism (see Islamic contributions to Medieval Europe).
Anselm of Canterbury is sometimes misleadingly called the "Father of Scholasticism", owing to the prominence accorded to reason in his theology. Rather than establish a position by appeal to authority, he used argument to demonstrate why what he believed on authority must be so.
The period also saw the beginning of the 'discovery' of many Greek works which had been lost to the Latin West. As early as the 10th century, scholars in Spain had begun to gather translated texts, and in the latter half of that century began transmitting them to the rest of Europe. After the Reconquista of the 12th century, however, Spain opened even further for Christian scholars, who were now able to work in “friendly” religious territory. As these Europeans encountered Islamic philosophy, their previously-held fears turned to admiration, and from Spain came a wealth of Arab knowledge of mathematics and astronomy.
At the same time Anselm of Laon systematised the production of the gloss on Scripture, followed by the rise to prominence of dialectic (the middle subject of the medieval trivium) in the work of Abelard, and the production by Peter Lombard of a collection of Sentences or opinions of the Church Fathers and other authorities.

High Scholasticism

The 13th and early 14th centuries are generally seen as the high period of scholasticism. The early 13th century witnessed the the culmination of the recovery of Greek philosophy. Schools of translation grew up in Italy and Sicily, and eventually in the rest of Europe. Scholars such as Adelard of Bath travelled to Sicily and the Arab world, translating works on astronomy and mathematics, including the first complete translation of Euclid’s Elements. Powerful Norman kings gathered men of knowledge from Italy and other areas into their courts as a sign of their prestige. William of Moerbeke's translations and editions of Greek philosophical texts in the middle half of the thirteenth century helped in forming a clearer picture of Greek philosophy, and particularly of Aristotle, than was given by the Arabic versions they had previously relied on, and which had distorted or obscured the relation between Platonic and Aristotelian systems of philosophy. His work formed the basis of the major commentaries that followed.
The universities developed in the large cities of Europe during this period, and rival clerical orders within the church began to battle for political and intellectual control over these centers of educational life. The two main orders founded in this period were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The Franciscans were founded by Francis of Assisi in 1209. Their leader in the middle of the century was Bonaventure, a traditionalist who defended the theology of Augustine and the philosophy of Plato, incorporating only a little of Aristotle in with the more neoplatonist elements. Following Anselm, Bonaventure supposed that reason can only discover truth when philosophy is illuminated by religious faith. Other important Franciscan writers were Duns Scotus, Peter Auriol and William of Ockham.
By contrast, the Dominican order, founded by St Dominic in 1215 placed more emphasis on the use of reason and made extensive use of the new Aristotelian sources derived from the East, and Moorish Spain. The great representatives of Dominican thinking in this period were Albertus Magnus and (especially) Thomas Aquinas, whose artful synthesis of Greek rationalism and Christian doctrine eventually came to define Catholic philosophy. Aquinas placed more emphasis on reason and argumentation, and was one of the first to use the new translation of Aristotle's metaphysical and epistemological writing. This was a significant departure from the Neoplatonic and Augustinian thinking that had dominated much of early Scholasticism. Aquinas showed how it was possible to incorporate much of the philosophy of Aristotle without falling into the "errors" of the Commmentator Averroes.

Late Scholasticism


Scholastic method

The scholastics would choose a book (say, the Bible) by a renowned scholar, auctor (author), as a subject for investigation. By reading it thoroughly and critically, the disciples learned to appreciate the theories of the auctor. Other documents related to the book would be referenced, such as Church councils, papal letters and anything else written on the subject, be it ancient or contemporary. The points of disagreement and contention between multiple sources would be written down in individual sentences or snippets of text, known as sententiae.
Once the sources and points of disagreement had been laid out through a series of dialectics, the two sides of an argument would be made whole so that they would be found to be in agreement and not contradictory. This was done in two ways.
The first was through philological analysis. Words were examined and argued to have multiple meanings. It was also considered that the auctor might have intended a certain word to mean something different. Ambiguity could be used to find common ground between two otherwise contradictory statements.
The second was through logical analysis, which relied on the rules of formal logic to show that contradictions did not exist but were subjective to the reader.

Scholastic instruction

Scholastic schools had two methods of teaching. The first was the lectio: a teacher would read a text, expounding on certain words and ideas, but no questions were permitted; it was a simple reading of a text: instructors explained, and students listened in silence.
The second was the disputatio, which goes right to the heart of scholasticism. There were two types of disputationes: the first was the "ordinary" type, whereby the question to be disputed was announced beforehand; the second was the quodlibetal, whereby the students proposed a question to the teacher without prior preparation. The teacher advanced a response, citing authoritative texts such as the Bible to prove his position. Students then rebutted the response, and the quodlibetal went back and forth. Someone took notes on what was said, so the teacher could summarise all arguments and present his final position the following day, riposting all rebuttals.


scholasticism in Arabic: مدرسية (فلسفة)
scholasticism in Bosnian: Skolastika
scholasticism in Bulgarian: Схоластика
scholasticism in Catalan: Escolàstica
scholasticism in Czech: Scholastika
scholasticism in Danish: Skolastik
scholasticism in German: Scholastik
scholasticism in Estonian: Skolastika
scholasticism in Modern Greek (1453-): Σχολαστικισμός
scholasticism in Spanish: Escolástica
scholasticism in Esperanto: Skolastikismo
scholasticism in French: Scolastique
scholasticism in Western Frisian: Skolastyk
scholasticism in Galician: Escolástica, Filosofía
scholasticism in Korean: 스콜라 철학
scholasticism in Croatian: Skolastika
scholasticism in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Scholasticismo
scholasticism in Icelandic: Skólaspeki
scholasticism in Italian: Scolastica
scholasticism in Hebrew: סכולסטיקה
scholasticism in Kara-Kalpak: Orta a'sir sxolastikası
scholasticism in Latvian: Sholastika
scholasticism in Lithuanian: Scholastika
scholasticism in Hungarian: Skolasztikus filozófia
scholasticism in Dutch: Scholastiek
scholasticism in Japanese: スコラ学
scholasticism in Norwegian: Skolastikk
scholasticism in Polish: Scholastyka (filozofia)
scholasticism in Portuguese: Escolástica
scholasticism in Romanian: Scolastică
scholasticism in Russian: Схоластика
scholasticism in Slovak: Scholastika
scholasticism in Serbo-Croatian: Skolastika
scholasticism in Finnish: Skolastiikka
scholasticism in Swedish: Skolastik
scholasticism in Vietnamese: Triết học kinh viện
scholasticism in Turkish: Skolastik felsefe
scholasticism in Ukrainian: Схоластика
scholasticism in Chinese: 经院哲学
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