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Scholasticism is a term used to designate both a method and a system. It is applied to theology as well as to philosophy. Scholastic theology is distinguished from Patristic theology on the one hand, and from positive theology on the other. The schoolmen themselves distinguished between theologia speculativa sive scholastica and theologia positiva. Applied to philosophy, the word "Scholastic" is often used also, to designate a chronological division intervening between the end of the Patristic era in the fifth century and the beginning of the modern era, about 1450. It will, therefore, make for clearness and order if we consider:
I. The origin of the word "Scholastic";
II. The history of the period called Scholastic in the history of philosophy;
III. The Scholastic method in philosophy, with incidental reference to the Scholastic method in theology; and
IV. The contents of the Scholastic system.
The revival of Scholasticism in recent times has been already treated under the head NEO-SCHOLASTICISM.
Origin of the name "Scholastic"
There are in Greek literature a few instances of the use of the word scholastikos to designate a professional philosopher. Historically, however, the word, as now used, is to be traced, not to Greek usage, but to early Christian institutions. In the Christian schools, especially after the beginning of the sixth century, it was customary to call the head of the school magister scholae, capiscola, or scholasticus. As time went on, the last of these appellations was used exclusively. The curriculum of those schools included dialectic among the seven liberal arts, which was at that time the only branch of philosophy studied systematically. The head of the school generally taught dialectic, and out of his teaching grew both the manner of philosophizing and the system of philosophy that prevailed during all the Middle Ages. Consequently, the name "Scholastic" was used and is still used to designate the method and system that grew out of the academic curriculum of the schools or, more definitely, out of the dialectical teaching of the masters of the schools (scholastici). It does not matter that, historically, the Golden Age of Scholastic philosophy, namely, the thirteenth century, falls within a period when the schools, the curriculum of which was the seven liberal arts, including dialectic had given way to another organization of studies, the studia generalia, or universities. The name, once given, continued, as it almost always does, to designate the method and system which had by this time passed into a new phase of development. Academically, the philosophers of the thirteenth century are known as magistri, or masters; historically, however, they are Scholastics, and continue to be so designated until the end of the medieval period. And, even after the close of the Middle Ages, a philosopher or theologian who adopts the method or the system of the medieval Scholastics is said to be a Scholastic.
The Scholastic period
The period extending from the beginning of Christian speculation to the time of St. Augustine, inclusive, is known as the Patristic era in philosophy and theology. In general, that era inclined to Platonism and underestimated the importance of Aristotle. The Fathers strove to construct on Platonic principles a system of Christian philosophy. They brought reason to the aid of Revelation. They leaned, however, towards the doctrine of the mystics, and, in ultimate resort, relied more on spiritual intuition than on dialectical proof for the establishment and explanation of the highest truths of philosophy. Between the end of the Patristic era in the fifth century and the beginning of the Scholastic era in the ninth there intervene a number of intercalary thinkers, as they may be called, like ClaudianusMamertus, Boethius, Cassiodorus, St. Isidore of Seville, Venerable Bede etc., who helped to hand down to the new generation the traditions of the Patristic age and to continue into the Scholastic era the current of Platonism. With the Carolingian revival of learning in the ninth century began a period of educational activity which resulted in a new phase of Christian thought known as Scholasticism. The first masters of the schools in the ninth century Alcuin, Rabanus, etc., were not indeed, more original than Boethius or Cassiodorus; the first original thinker in the Scholastic era was John the Scot (see JOHN SCOTUS ERIUGENA). Nevertheless they inaugurated the Scholastic movement because they endeavoured to bring the Patristic (principally the Augustinian) tradition into touch with the new life of European Christianity. They did not abandon Platonism. They knew little of Aristotle except as a logician. But by the emphasis they laid on dialectical reasoning, they gave a new direction to Christian tradition in philosophy. In the curriculum of the schools in which they taught, philosophy was represented by dialectic. On the textbooks of dialectic which they used they wrote commentaries and glosses, into which. Little by little, they admitted problems of psychology, metaphysics, cosmology, and ethics. So that the Scholastic movement as a whole may be said to have sprung from the discussions of the dialecticians.
Method, contents, and conclusions were influenced by this origin. There resulted a species of Christian Rationalism which more than any other trait characterizes Scholastic philosophy in every successive stage of its development and marks it off very definitely from the Patristic philosophy, which, as has been said, was ultimately intuitional and mystic. With Roscelin, who appeared about the middle of the eleventh century, the note of Rationalism is very distinctly sounded, and the first rumbling is heard of the inevitable reaction, the voice of Christian mysticism uttering its note of warning, and condemning the excess into which Rationalism had fallen. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, therefore, Scholasticism passed through its period of storm and stress. On the one side were the advocates of reason, Roscelin, Abelard, Peter Lombard; on the other were the champions of mysticism, St. Anselm, St. Peter Damian, St. Bernard, and the Victorines. Like all ardent advocates, the Rationalists went too far at first, and only gradually brought their method within the lines of orthodoxy and harmonized it with Christian reverence for the mysteries of Faith. Like all conservative reactionists, the mystics at first condemned the use as well as the abuse of reason; they did not reach an intelligent compromise with the dialecticians until the end of the twelfth century. In the final outcome of the struggle, it was Rationalism that, having modified its unreasonable claims, triumphed in the Christian schools, without, however driving the mystics from the field.
Meantime, Eclectics, like John of Salisbury, and Platonists, like the members of the School of Chartres, gave to the Scholastic movement a broader spirit of toleration, imparted, so to speak, a sort of Humanism to philosophy, so that, when we come to the eve of the thirteenth century, Scholasticism has made two very decided steps in advance. First, the use of reason in the discussion of spiritual truth and the application of dialectic to theology are accepted with. out protest, so long as they are kept within the bounds of moderation. Second, there is a willingness on the part of the Schoolmen to go outside the lines of strict ecclesiastical tradition and learn, not only from Aristotle, who was now beginning to be known as a metaphysician and a psychologist, but also from the Arabians and the Jews, whose works had begun to penetrate in Latin translations into the schools of Christian Europe. The taking of Constantinople in 1204, the introduction of Arabian, Jewish, and Greek works into the Christian schools, the rise of the universities, and the foundation of the mendicant orders — these are the events which led to the extraordinary intellectual activity of the thirteenth century, which centered in the University of Paris. At first there was considerable confusion, and it seemed as if the battles won in the twelfth century by the dialecticians should be fought over again. The translations of Aristotle made from the Arabian and accompanied by Arabian commentaries were tinged with Pantheism, Fatalism, and other Neoplatonic errors. Even in the Christian schools there were declared Pantheists, like David of Dinant, and outspoken Averroists, like Siger of Brabant, who bade fair to prejudice the cause of Aristoteleanism.
These developments were suppressed by the most stringent disciplinary measures during the first few decades of the thirteenth century. While they were still a source of danger, men like William of Auvergne and Alexander of Hales hesitated between the traditional Augustinianism of the Christian schools and the new Aristoteleanism, which came from a suspected source. Besides, Augustinianism and Platonism accorded with piety, while Aristoteleanism was found to lack the element of mysticism. In time, however, the translations made from the Greek revealed an Aristotle free from the errors attributed to him by the Arabians, and, above all, the commanding genius of St. Albertus Magnus and his still more illustrious disciple, St. Thomas Aquinas, who appeared at the critical moment, calmly surveyed the difficulties of the situation, and met them fearlessly, won the victory for the new philosophy and continued successfully the traditions established in the preceding century. Their contemporary, St. Bonaventure, showed that the new learning was not incompatible with mysticism drawn from Christian sources, and Roger Bacon demonstrated by his unsuccessful attempts to develop the natural sciences the possibilities of another kind which were latent in Aristoteleanism.
With Duns Scotus, a genius of the first order, but not of the constructive type, begins the critical phase, of Scholasticism. Even before his time, the Franciscan and the Dominican currents had set out in divergent directions. It was his keen and unrelenting search for the weak points in Thomistic philosophy that irritated and wounded susceptibilities among the followers of St. Thomas, and brought about the spirit of partisanship which did so much to dissipate the energy of Scholasticism in the fourteenth century. The recrudescence of Averroism in the schools, the excessive cultivation of formalism and subtlety, the growth of artificial and even barbarous terminology, and the neglect of the study of nature and of history contributed to the same result. Ockham's Nominalism and Durandus's attempt to "simplify" Scholastic philosophy did not have the effect which their authors intended. "The glory and power of scholasticism faded into the warmth and brightness of mysticism," and Gerson, Thomas à Kempis, and Eckhart are more representative of what the Christian Church was actually thinking in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries than are the Thomists, Scotists, and Ockhamists of that period, who frittered away much valuable time in the discussion of highly technical questions which arose within the schools and possess little interest except for adepts in Scholastic subtlety. After the rise of Humanism, when the Renaissance, which ushered in the modern era, was in full progress, the great Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese commentators inaugurated an age of more healthy Scholasticism, and the great Jesuit teachers, Toletus, Vasquez, and Francisco Suárez, seemed to recall the best days of thirteenth century speculation. The triumph of scientific discovery, with which, as a rule, the representatives of Scholasticism in the seats of academic authority had, unfortunately, too little sympathy, led to new ways of philosophizing, and when, finally, Descartes in practice, if not in theory, effected a complete separation of philosophy from theology, the modern era had begun and the age known as that of Scholasticism had come to an end.
The Scholastic method
No method in philosophy has been more unjustly condemned than that of the Scholastics. No philosophy has been more grossly misrepresented. And this is true not only of the details, but also of the most essential elements of Scholasticism. Two charges, especially, are made against the Schoolmen: First, that they confounded philosophy with theology; and second, that they made reason subservient to authority. As a matter of fact, the very essence of Scholasticism is, first, its clear delimitation of the respective domains of philosophy and theology, and, second, its advocacy of the use of reason.
Theology and philosophy
Christian thinkers, from the beginning, were confronted with the question: How are we to reconcile reason with revelation, science with faith, philosophy with theology? The first apologists possessed no philosophy of their own. They had to deal with a pagan world proud of its literature and its philosophy, ready at any moment to flaunt its inheritance of wisdom in the face of ignorant Christians. The apologists met the situation by a theory that was as audacious as it must have been disconcerting to the pagans. They advanced the explanation that all the wisdom of Plato and the other Greeks was due to the inspiration of the Logos; that it was God's truth, and, therefore, could not be in contradiction with the supernatural revelation contained in the Gospels. It was a hypothesis calculated not only to silence a pagan opponent, but also to work constructively. We find it in St. Basil, in Origen, and even in St. Augustine. The belief that the two orders of truth, the natural and the supernatural, must harmonize, is the inspiration of intellectual activity in the Patristic era. But that era did little to define the limits of the two realms of truth. St. Augustine believes that faith aids reason (credo ut intelligam) and that reason aids faith (intelligo ut credam); he is, however, inclined to emphasize the first principle and not the second. He does not develop a definite methodology in dealing with them. The Scholastics, almost from the first, attempted to do so.
John Scotus Eriugena, in the ninth century, by his doctrine that all truth is a theophany, or showing forth of God, tried to elevate philosophy to the rank of theology, and identify the two in a species of theosophy. Abelard, in the twelfth century, tried to bring theology down to the level of philosophy, and identify both in a Rationalistic system. The greatest of the Scholastics in the thirteenth century, especially St. Thomas Aquinas, solved the problem for all time, so far as Christian speculation is concerned, by showing that the two are distinct sciences, and yet that they agree. They are distinct, he teaches, because, while philosophy relies on reason alone, theology uses the truths derived from revelation, and also because there are some truths, the mysteries of Faith, which lie completely outside the domain of philosophy and belong to theology. They agree, and must agree, because God is the author of all truth, and it is impossible to think that He would teach in the natural order anything that contradicts what He teaches in the supernatural order. The recognition of these principles is one of the crowning achievements of Scholasticism. It is one of the characteristics that mark it off from the Patristic era, in which the same principles were, so to speak, in solution, and not crystallized in definite expression. It is the trait which differentiates Scholasticism from Averroism. It is the inspiration of all Scholastic effort. As long as it lasted Scholasticism lasted, and as soon as the opposite conviction became established, the conviction, namely, that what is true in theology may be false in philosophy, Scholasticism ceased to exist. It is, therefore, a matter of constant surprise to those who know Scholasticism to find it misrepresented on this vital point.
Scholasticism sprang from the study of dialectic in the schools. The most decisive battle of Scholasticism was that which it waged in the twelfth century against the mystics who condemned the use of dialectic. The distinguishing mark of Scholasticism in the age of its highest development is its use of the dialectical method. It is, therefore, a matter, once more, for surprise, to find Scholasticism accused of undue subservience to authority and of the neglect of reason. Rationalism is a word which has various meanings. It is sometimes used to designate a system which, refusing to acknowledge the authority of revelation, tests all truth by the standard of reason. In this sense, the Scholastics were not Rationalists. The Rationalism of Scholasticism consists in the conviction that reason is to be used in the elucidation of spiritual truth and in defence of the dogmas of Faith. It is opposed to mysticism, which distrusted reason and placed emphasis on intuition and contemplation. In this milder meaning of the term, all the Scholastics were convinced Rationalists, the only difference being that some, like Abelard and Roscelin, were too ardent in their advocacy of the use of reason, and went so far as to maintain that reason can prove even the supernatural mysteries of Faith, while others, like St. Thomas, moderated the claims of reason, set limits to its power of proving spiritual truth, and maintained that the mysteries of faith could not be discovered and cannot be proved by unaided reason.
The whole Scholastic movement, therefore, is a Rationalistic movement in the second sense of the term Rationalism. The Scholastics used their reason; they applied dialectic to the study of nature, of human nature and of supernatural truth. Far from depreciating reason, they went as far as man can go — some modern critics think they went too far — in the application of reason to the discussion of the dogmas of Faith. They acknowledged the authority of revelation, as all Christian philosophers are obliged to do. They admitted the force of human authority when the conditions of its valid application were verified. But in theology, the authority of revelation did not coerce their reason and in philosophy and in natural science they taught very emphatically that the argument from authority is the weakest of all arguments. They did not subordinate reason to authority in any unworthy sense of that phrase. It was an opponent of the Scholastic movement who styled philosophy "the handmaid of theology", a designation which, however, some of the Schoolmen accepted to mean that to philosophy belongs the honourable task of carrying the light which is to guide the footsteps of theology. One need not go so far as to say, with Barthélemy Saint Hilaire, that "Scholasticism, in its general result, is the first revolt of the modern spirit against authority." Nevertheless, one is compelled by the facts of history to admit that there is more truth in that description than in the superficial judgment of the historians who describe Scholasticism as the subordination of reason to authority.
Details of Scholastic method
The Scholastic manner of treating the problems of philosophy and theology is apparent from a glance at the body of literature which the Schoolmen produced. The immense amount of commentary on Aristotle, on Peter Lombard, on Boethius, on Pseudo-Dionysius, and on the Scriptures indicates the form of academic activity which characterizes the Scholastic period. The use of texts dates from the very beginning of the Scholastic era in philosophy and theology, and was continued down into modern times. The mature teacher, however, very often embodied the results of his own speculation in a Summa, which, in time became a text in the hands of his successors. The Questiones disputatae were special treatises on the more difficult or the more important topics, and as the name implied, followed the method of debate prevalent in the schools, generally called disputation or determination. The Quodlibeta were miscellanies generally in the form of answers to questions which as soon as a teacher had attained a widespread renown, began to come to him, not only from the academic world in which he lived, but from all classes of persons and from every part of Christendom. The division of topics in theology was determined by the arrangement followed in Peter Lombard's "Books of Sentences" (see SUMMAE), and in philosophy it adhered closely to the order of treatises in Aristotle's works. There is a good deal of divergence among the principal Scholastics in the details of arrangement, as well as in the relative values of the sub-titles, "part", "question", "disputation", "article", etc. All, however, adopt the manner of treatment by which thesis, objections, and solutions of objections stand out distinctly in the discussion of each problem. We find traces of this in Gerbert's little treatise "De rational) et ratione uti" in the tenth century, and it is still more definitely adopted in Abelard's "Sic et non". It had its root in Aristotelean method, but was determined more immediately by the dialectical activity of the early schools, from which, as was said, Scholasticism sprang.
Much has been said both in praise and in blame of Scholastic terminology in philosophy and theology. It is rather generally acknowledged that whatever precision there is in the modern languages of Western Europe is due largely to the dialectic disquisitions of the Scholastics. On the other hand, ridicule has been poured on the stiffness, the awkwardness, and the barbarity of the Scholastic style. In an impartial study of the question, it should be remembered that the Scholastics of the thirteenth century—and it was not they but their successors who were guilty of the grossest sins of style—were confronted with a terminological problem unique in the history of thought. They came suddenly into possession of an entirely new literature, the works of Aristotle. They spoke a language, Latin, on which the terminology of Aristotle in metaphysics psychology etc., had made no impression. Consequently, they were obliged to create all at once Latin words and phrases to express the terminology of Aristotle, a terminology remarkable for its extent, its variety, and its technical complexity. They did it honestly and humbly, by translating Aristotle's phrases literally; so that many a strange-sounding Latin phrase in the writings of the Schoolmen would be very good Aristotelean Greek, if rendered word for word into that language. The Latin of the best of the Scholastics may be lacking in elegance and distinction; but no one will deny the merits of its rigorous severity of phrase and its logical soundness of construction. Though wanting the graces of what is called the fine style, graces which have the power of pleasing but do not facilitate the task of the learner in philosophy, the style of the thirteenth-century masters possesses the fundamental qualities, clearness, conciseness, and richness of technical phrase.
The contents of the Scholastic system
In logic the Scholastics adopted all the details of the Aristotelean system, which was known to the Latin world from the time of Boethius. Their individual contributions consisted of some minor improvements in the matter of teaching and in the technic of the science. Their underlying theory of knowledge is also Aristotelean. It may be described by saying that it is a system of Moderate Realism and Moderate Intellectualism. The Realism consists in teaching that outside the mind there exist things fundamentally universal which correspond to our universal ideas. The Moderate Intellectualism is summed up in the two principles:
all our knowledge is derived from sense-knowledge; and
intellectual knowledge differs from sense-knowledge, not only in degree but also in kind.
In this way, Scholasticism avoids Innatism, according to which all our ideas, or some of our ideas, are born with the soul and have no origin in the world outside us. At the same time, it avoids Sensism, according to which our so-called intellectual knowledge is only sense-knowledge of a higher or finer sort. The Scholastics, moreover, took a firm stand against the doctrine of Subjectivism. In their discussion of the value of knowledge they held that there is an external world which is real and independent of our thoughts. In that world are the forms which make things to be what they are. The same forms received into the mind in the process of knowing cause us not to be the object but to know the object. This presence of things in the mind by means of forms is true representation, or rather presentation. For it is the objective thing that we are first aware of, not its representation in us.
The Scholastic outlook on the world of nature is Aristotelean. The Schoolmen adopt the doctrine of matter and form, which they apply not only to living things but also to inorganic nature. Since the form, or entelechy is always striving for its own realization or actualization, the view of nature which this doctrine leads to is teleological. Instead, however, of ascribing purpose in a vague, unsatisfactory manner to nature itself, the Scholastics attributed design to the intelligent, provident author of nature. The principle of finality thus acquired a more precise meaning, and at the same time the danger of a Pantheistic interpretation was avoided. On the question of the universality of matter the Schoolmen were divided among themselves, some, like the Franciscan teachers, maintaining that all created beings are material, others, like St. Thomas, holding the existence of "separate forms", such as the angels, in whom there is potency but no matter. Again, on the question of the oneness of substantial forms, there was a lack of agreement. St. Thomas held that in each individual material substance, organic or inorganic, there is but one substantial form, which confers being, substantiality and, in the case of man, life, sensation, and reason. Others, on the contrary, believed that in one substance, man, for instance, there are simultaneously several forms, one of which confers existence, another substantiality, another life, and another, reason. Finally, there was a divergence of views as to what is the principle of individuation, by which several individuals of the same species are differentiated from one another. St. Thomas taught that the principle of individuation is matter with its determined dimensions, materia signata.
In regard to the nature of man, the first Scholastics were Augustinians. Their definition of the soul is what may be called the spiritual, as opposed to the biological, definition. They held that the soul is the principle of thought-activity, and that the exercise of the senses is a process from the soul through the body not a process of the whole organism, that is, of the body animated by the soul. The Scholastics of the thirteenth century frankly adopted the Aristoteleandefinition of the soul as the principle of life, not of thought merely. Therefore, they maintained, man is a compound of body and soul, each of which is an incomplete substantial principle the union being, consequently, immediate, vital, and substantial. For them there is no need of an intermediary "body of light" such as St. Augustine imagined to exist. All the vital activities of the individual human being are ascribed ultimately to the soul, as to their active principle, although they may have more immediate principles namely the faculties, such as intellect, the senses, the vegetative and muscular powers. But while the soul is in this way concerned with all the vital functions, being, in fact, the source of them, and the body enters as a passive principle into all the activities of the soul, exception must be made in the case of immaterial thought-activities. They are, like all the other activities, activities of the individual. The soul is the active principle of them. But the body contributes to them, not in the same intrinsic manner in which it contributes to seeing, hearing, digesting etc., but only in an extrinsic manner, by supplying the materials out of which the intellect manufactures ideas. This extrinsic dependence explains the phenomena of fatigue, etc. At the same time it leaves the soul so independent intrinsically that the latter is truly said to be immaterial.
From the immateriality of the soul follows its immortality. Setting aside the possibility of annihilation, a possibility to which all creatures, even the angels are subject, the human soul is naturally immortal, and its immortality, St. Thomas believes, can be proved from its immateriality. Duns Scotus, however, whose notion of the strict requirements of a demonstration was influenced by his training in mathematics, denies the conclusive force of the argument from immateriality, and calls attention to Aristotle's hesitation or obscurity on this point. Aristotle, as interpreted by the Arabians, was, undoubtedly, opposed to immortality. It was, however, one of St. Thomas's greatest achievements in philosophy that, especially in his opusculum "De unitate intellectus", he refuted the Arabian interpretation of Aristotle, showed that the active intellect is part of the individual soul, and thus removed the uncertainty which, for the Aristoteleans, hung around the notions of immateriality and immortality. From the immateriality of the soul follows not only that it is immortal, but also that it originated by an act of creation. It was created at the moment in which it was united with the body: creando infunditur, et infundendo creatur is the Scholastic phrase.
Scholastic metaphysics added to the Aristotelean system a full discussion of the nature of personality, restated in more definite terms the traditional arguments for the existence of God, and developed the doctrine of the providential government of the universe. The exigencies of theological discussion occasioned also a minute analysis of the nature of accident in general and of quantity in particular. The application of the resulting principles to the explanation of the mystery of the Eucharist, as contained in St. Thomas's works on the subject, is one of the most successful of all the Scholastic attempts to render faith reasonable by means of dialectical discussion. Indeed, it may be said, in general, that the peculiar excellence of the Scholastics as systematic thinkers consisted in their ability to take hold of the profoundest metaphysical distinctions, such as matter and form, potency and actuality, substance and accident, and apply them to every department of thought. They were no mere apriorists, they recognized in principle and in practice that scientific method begins with the observation of facts. Nevertheless, they excelled most of all in the talent which is peculiarly metaphysical, the power to grasp abstract general principles and apply them consistently and systematically.
So far as the ethics of Scholasticism is not distinctly Christian, seeking to expound and justify Divine law and the Christian standard of morals, it is Aristotelean. This is clear from the adoption and application of the Aristotelean definition of virtue as the golden mean between two extremes. Fundamentally, the definition is eudemonistic. It rests on the conviction that the supreme good of man is happiness, that happiness is the realization, or complete actualization, of one's nature, and that virtue is an essential means to that end. But what is vague and unsatisfactory in Aristotelean Eudemonism is made definite and safe in the Scholastic system, which determines the meaning of happiness and realization according to the Divine purpose in creation and the dignity to which man is destined as a child of God.
In their discussion of the problems of political philosophy the philosophers of the thirteenth century while not discarding the theological views of St. Augustine contained in "The City of God", laid a new foundation for the study of political organizations by introducing Aristotle's scientific definition of the origin and purpose of civil society. Man, says St. Thomas, is naturally a social and political animal. By giving to human beings a nature which requires the co-operation of other human beings for its welfare, God ordained man for society, and thus it is His will that princes should govern with a view to the public welfare. The end for which the state exists is, then, not merely vivere but bene vivere. All that goes to make life better and happier is included the Divine charter from which kings and rulers derive their authority. The Scholastic treatises on this subject and the commentaries on the "Polities" of Aristotle prepared the way for the medieval and modern discussions of political problems. In this department of thought, as in many others, the Schoolmen did at least one service which posterity should appreciate: they strive to express in clear systematic form what was present in the consciousness of Christendom in their day.
Indigenous Thoughts Network
Latin American Philosophy
First published Wed Aug 14, 2013
Latin American philosophy is generally understood to be philosophy produced in Latin America or philosophy produced by persons of Latin American ancestry who reside outside of Latin America. It is typically taken to exclude philosophy produced in non-Iberian former colonies, with the occasional exception of former French colonies in the Caribbean. Other names have also been used to refer to the whole or part of Latin American philosophy, including Spanish American, Hispanic American, Iberoamerican, and Latino/a philosophy. The first two refer specifically to the philosophy of former Spanish colonies, the third to that of former Iberian colonies, and the fourth to the philosophy produced in the United States by descendants of Latin Americans.
Latin American philosophy is usually taken to have originated around 1550, when Spanish conquerors founded the first schools in Latin America and began to teach and publish philosophical treatises. Recently, there has been an effort on the part of historians to include pre-Columbian thought in Latin American philosophy, although the pre-Columbian texts cited are primarily religious in tone and intention. In terms of traditions, style, and influence, post-Columbian Latin American philosophy is part of the Western philosophical tradition. The thought of European philosophers has largely dominated philosophical discussions in Latin America. Even those Latin American philosophers who have endeavored to develop original theories have frequently framed their own contributions in the terms of European thinkers. Partly in response to this phenomenon, there has arisen a large body of literature concerned with the identity, authenticity, and originality of Latin American philosophy.
Despite its frequently derivative character, Latin American philosophy has produced important philosophers, original approaches to old philosophical problems, and formulations of some problems that had not been considered by European philosophers. Moreover, virtually all historical European philosophical traditions have been present in Latin America, as are most contemporary movements in the United States and Europe. Finally, there has been a significant interest in social concerns among Latin American philosophers, partly as a reaction to the social and economic circumstances of Latin America. This has led Latin American philosophical work to be comparatively more concerned with social issues than philosophy in, for example, the United States.
The influence of Latin American philosophy outside of Latin America has thus far been relatively small. Although the situation has been improving, very few Latin American philosophers are currently read outside of Latin America, a situation made worse by the paucity of translations. Even internal to Latin America, philosophers read and respond to each other with less frequency than one might expect or wish. The philosophy of liberation has had some impact both in North America and in developing countries in Africa, and Latinos/as have participated actively in the discussion of a variety of topics, especially those having to do with race, ethnicity, and social identities in the United States. Indeed, in the past few years, some of these philosophers have occupied positions of leadership in the philosophical establishment and their work has been the subject of discussion by prominent non-Latino/a philosophers.
The history of Latin American philosophy may be divided into five periods: Pre-Columbian, Colonial, Independentist, Nationalist, and Contemporary (that is, the twentieth century to the present). Most periods have been dominated by a particular tradition: the Pre-Columbian by Amerindian religious cosmologies, the Colonial by scholasticism, the Independentist by Early Modern philosophy and Enlightenment thought, and the Nationalist by positivism. The contemporary situation is more complex and varied, however. For that reason, it will be discussed in its own section further below, separate from the other historical periods that are the focus of this section.
There is good evidence that in at least the major pre-Columbian civilizations there were attempts to explore questions about the nature of reality, the limits of knowledge, and the basis of right action. Moreover, such work persisted in various forms for some time after the Conquest (Restrepo 2010). Whether this body of work is rightly characterized as philosophy or something else is a disputed matter, with scholars disagreeing about how best to characterize it (see Nuccetelli, 2001, ch. 3; Mignolo, 2003). It is clear that the reflective and speculative work of pre-Columbian Amerindian peoples was undertaken without any familiarity with the Western philosophical tradition. Those inquiries were also generally undertaken within the religious frameworks of their places and times and the literary or presentational modes in which such questions were entertained were typically removed from traditional forms of European philosophical production.
Despite these differences with European philosophy, and despite the often fragmentary and frequently second-hand information that survives concerning pre-Columbian thought, extant works have nevertheless supported a variety of intriguing and subtle accounts of those philosophical or proto-philosophical reflections. Still, the conventional view about the pre-Columbian period is that its reflections had little to no impact on the indisputably philosophical intellectual production in the period that immediately followed the Conquest.
European-derived philosophy began in Latin America in the sixteenth century, most visibly in the work of Bartolomé de Las Casas (1484–1566), and especially in connection with the rights of conquered Amerindians. Scholasticism, introduced by the Spanish and Portuguese clergy that arrived with the conquistadores, was the dominant philosophical perspective. Most of the work produced during the first two centuries in the colonies was cast in the framework used in the Iberian peninsula. It was particularly indebted to the thought of both sixteenth-century Iberians, such as Francisco Suárez (1548–1617) and Francisco de Vitoria (1492–1546), as well as to medieval philosopher-theologians, such as Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) and John Duns Scotus (1265/6–1308). Most of the authors were born in the Iberian peninsula, but many of them had settled in the colonies. Among the most important, apart from Las Casas, are Alonso de la Vera Cruz (ca. 1504–84), who composed the first fully philosophical treatises in Latin America, Tomás de Mercado (ca. 1530–1575), and Antonio Rubio (1548–1615). Some of the works of these authors, such as Rubio'sLogica mexicana, were known and used in Europe.
Humanism also had some influence, as is clear from the work of Juan de Zumárraga (ca.1468–1548) and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1651–1695), among others. Sor Juana has the distinction of being the first Latin American thinker to raise questions concerning the status of women in Latin American society. She is also retrospectively regarded as the first Latin American feminist writer and philosopher (see also the section on feminist philosophy, below.)
The eighteenth century, under the influence of modern philosophy and the Enlightenment, helped prepare the way for the revolutionary wars of independence. Philosophical discussions of the time were dominated by political thought. Nevertheless, scholasticism continued to influence intellectual leaders and helped maintain an interest in traditional metaphysical questions. Authors such as Juan Benito Díaz de Gamarra y Dávalos (1745–1783) and Francisco Javier Clavijero (1731–1787), both from Mexico, were influenced by early modern philosophers such as René Descartes (1596–1650). However, the wave of independentist thought found its greatest inspiration in Enlightenment political philosophy. In particular, liberal political ideals based on the thought of the French philosophes helped to consolidate independentist views throughout Latin America. Among the significant Latin American inheritors of that tradition were Simón Bolívar (1783–1830) in Venezuela and Colombia, Miguel Hidalgo (1753–1811) and José María Morelos (1765–1815) in Mexico, and much later, José Martí (1854–1895) in Cuba.
Liberation from colonial powers was achieved in most areas of Latin America early in the nineteenth century. In the wake of independence, the newly liberated peoples faced the challenge of forming stable, enduring nations out of the remnants of the Spanish empire. Thus, the predominant political concerns of that era included the organization and consolidation of the new nations, as well as aspirations for social stability, national integration of largely diverse peoples, and the overarching ambition to achieve the same economic and social progress enjoyed by other nations in Europe and North America.
In this context, the ideology of choice was positivism. The positivist motto, “order and progress,” which graces the Brazilian flag, suggests why positivism was especially appealing in the context of nation building. Positivism's emphasis on both empirical science and pragmatic solutions appeared to provide a practical foundation for attaining the diverse ends of the new nations. Indeed, positivism became so influential and widely accepted by intellectuals that it became the official state philosophy of several nations. It was even used to justify dictatorial regimes, as in the case of Mexico.
Positivism of the Latin American variety was derived from a peculiar mix of European ideas primarily originating in the thought of Auguste Comte (1798–1857), Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), and Ernst Haeckel (1834–1919). The period of positivist hegemony, in which it was the dominant philosophical perspective in Latin America, extended roughly from the middle of the nineteenth century to the first decade of the twentieth. Among the most famous positivists were Gabino Barreda (1818–1881) and Justo Sierra (1848–1912) in Mexico, José Victorino Lastarria (1817–1888) in Chile, and Domingo Faustino Sarmiento (1811–1888) in Argentina. Andrés Bello (1781–1865), from both Venezuela and Chile, and Juan Bautista Alberdi (1810–1884) and Esteban Echevarría (1805–1851), from Argentina, were transitional figures between independentist liberal thought and positivism. Later, José Ingenieros (1877–1925), from Argentina, and Enrique José Varona (1849–1933), from Cuba, prepared the way for the revolt against positivism, although their thought arose in a positivist context and maintained an alliance with positivist ideas.
The Rights of Amerindians
Perhaps the oldest distinctive philosophical problem of post-Columbian Latin American philosophy concerns the rights of indigenous populations in the Americas, and the duties of those governments that claimed jurisdiction over them. In the mid-sixteenth century, there were serious reservations on the part of a number of philosophers, theologians, and legal theorists concerning the validity of the Spanish wars of conquest. Francisco Vitoria's developments of just war theory were among the earliest and most lasting philosophical contributions to the topic. One of the most significant issues for sixteenth century thinkers in Spain was whether the indigenous populations were natural slaves or not. Whether the Spanish Crown could “pacify” the indigenous populations through violence—or whether more peaceful means of persuasion and political control were necessary—was perceived to turn on whether the indigenous populations were natural slaves. Relatedly, the outcome of this dispute had implications for the duties of the Spanish Crown to the indigenous population, and correspondingly, the manner in which the indigenous populations ought to be treated (Canteñs 2010).
The issue reached its apex in a debate between Juan Ginés Sepúlveda, who defended the Spanish Crown's right to forcibly impose its legal and religious practices on the indigenous populations of the Americas, and Bartolomé de Las Casas, a Dominican friar and the first Bishop of Chiapas. Las Casas argued for a nuanced reading of the idea of natural slavery, the full rationality of the indigenous populations, for peaceful evangelization, and for strict limits on the means used on behalf of Spanish interest in the Americas. The results of the debate were inclusive—Sepúlveda's work was suppressed for a time, but Las Casas' position on the limits of Spanish use of force never became officially adopted by the Spanish Crown. Nevertheless, Las Casas continued to play a prominent role in the Spanish Imperial court, tirelessly arguing on behalf of the native populations.
Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, perhaps the dominant view of Latin American philosophers (a predominantly upper class group, generally of European ancestry) tended to regard indigenous populations as a “problem” that needed to be overcome. By the late nineteenth century, amidst the considerable influence of Huxley and Social Darwinism, several nations had policies of encouraging assimilation and “civilizing” of the indigenous populations, oftentimes in conjunction with encouraging more immigration from Europe. For philosophers and policy-makers alike, concern for preserving indigenous cultural practices, language, and political autonomy was typically negligible.
In the twentieth century, the concerns and nature of indigenous populations received more varied evaluations from philosophers. For example, Mariátegui (1971) argued that indigenous Peruvians were collectivists, “natural” communists whose economic difficulties were due in large part to the ownership, distribution and use of lands in Peru. In the work of José Vasconcelos (Vasconcelos/Gamio, 1926; Vasconcelos, 1997), indigenous populations in the Americas were something to be assimilated along the way towards the formation of a “cosmic” race of mixed-people. That future population, a mixed-race people, would adapt the best cultural practices from around the world. In the work of Enrique Dussel (1995), the encounter with the Amerindian populations are philosophically important for a variety of reasons, including the formation of Europe as an important conceptual category, the creation of modernity, and what the interactions between conquerors and conquered reveal about the difficulty of understanding the interests and concerns of other peoples.
In the decade leading up to 1992 (the quincentenary of the Conquest) intellectual discussion of indigenous peoples and their interests grew considerably. By the 1990s, there was a flourishing of philosophical work, especially but not exclusively in Mexico, on issues of ethnic identity and political representation of indigenous populations. Luis Villoro, Fernando Salmerón, and León Olivé were among the prominent contributors to those discussions.
In the first part of the twenty first century, philosophical work on aspects of a distinctly Latin American problematic concerning race and politics proliferated. For more on some of these matters, see the section below on the Identity of the People.
LATIN AMERICAN PHILOSOPHY
From the 1500's to Enlightenment
PHILOSOPHY BY REGION
Where the Rivers Meet (WTRM) Website
A Primer on Scholastic Philosophy
PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION