Medieval Philosophy: A Beginner's Guide (55+)

Does religion have room for philosophy? Are reason and faith fundamentally at odds? The great medieval thinkers would have been bewildered by such questions, believing that faith lent itself to rational examination. St. Paul and St. Augustine were among the early Christian theologians who relied on Plato and Aristotle to elucidate, defend or even criticize the new faith. Theology was part of the debate for sure, but there were also heated arguments over semantics, logic and grammar.

We will trace the history of faith versus reason from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance, examining key figures, concepts and vocabulary.

Note: This course is available twice in the spring 2019 term.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1:

The 2nd-century theologian Tertullian challenged any need for philosophical reasoning in faith-based Christianity. We will examine responses from the neoplatonists, especially Augustine.

Week 2:

Under 4th-century Roman emperors Constantine and Theodosius, Christianity became the official religion of the Empire. We will trace the philosophical ramifications of the transition from polytheism to monotheism.

Week 3:

The dominant philosophical movement for much of the medieval period was scholasticism, based on Aristotelian logic.  We will focus on the movement’s most important figure, Thomas Aquinas.

Week 4:

Arabic philosophy was so pervasive from the 9th to the 12th centuries that Aquinas could refer to the Arabic thinker Averröes simply as “The Commentator”. We will consider the intellectual importance of medieval philosophers beyond western Europe.

Week 5:

The question of faith versus reason was essentially a debate within Catholicism, i.e., a “monk versus monk” debate. We will meet some of the noted radicals, including Peter Abelard and Martin Luther.

Week 6:

Beginning in the late 16th century, great discoveries in science finally separated faith and reason. Or did they? Isaac Newton firmly believed that his laws of motion and gravity explained the Creation. Our final class will revisit the faith versus reason debate at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

Reading material (if applicable) will be available in class. Some course materials may be available online.

If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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