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Welcome to History of Medieval Philosophy.




TEACHER:  Ailish McKeown (


The Middle Ages, a period rich in philosophical and theological thought, has, until recently, received little attention. Opportunities for research today reveal the error of dismissing the Middle Ages as a ‘dark age’ of superstition and obscurantism, stimulating a fresh interest in the period.

This subject aims to demonstrate the importance of the Middle Ages and the contribution of Christianity to culture and philosophy during this period, conserving and transmitting classical culture in monasteries, schools and universities, and making valuable fresh contributions that remain relevant today. The Christian Middle Ages were marked by a positive attitude to philosophy, inspiring great interest in metaphysics, ethics and epistemology, among other fields, and confidence in the capacity of human reason to explore them.

An original theme for medieval philosophy, following the Greco-Roman period, is the relationship between faith and reason. Far from stifling philosophical enquiry, Christian revelation inspired medieval thinkers to ask new philosophical questions and find philosophical answers. They also used philosophy to better understand revealed truths that transcended reason alone (fidens quaerens intellectum). The quest to harmonize faith and reason was a long and arduous process, and subject to doctrinal crises. In particular we will examine the life and works of key contributors: Saints Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, and St Thomas Aquinas.


By the end of this course students should be able to:

1. Be familiar with the key thinkers who shaped the development of philosophical thought in the medieval period, and develop an appreciation for the historical and perennial importance of the teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas

2. Explain the complementary and mutually beneficial relationship between philosophy and theology (reason and faith) that developed during the scholastic period

3. Recognise the contribution of the Catholic Church to the preservation, development and transmission of philosophical wisdom. 

4. Appreciate the interdependence of metaphysics, epistemology and ethics by examining key medieval philosophical ideas and theories that shaped the trajectory of the Western tradition of thought (in particular metaphysical realism and nominalism)



  1. Introduction to the History of Medieval Philosophy
  1. Late Antiquity: The Christian Contribution to Philosophy
    • Developments in the early Church Councils & patristic thought
    • St Augustine (354-430)
  1. The Transition to the Middle Ages
    • Historical Context
    • The Transmission of Graeco-Latin culture: monastic schools
    • Boethius (c. 477-524) & the Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite
  1. Pre-Scholasticism: The Carolingian Renaissance & Christian Thought
    • The Carolingian Renaissance
    • Dialectic in the Eleventh Century
    • The Urban Schools & Origins of the Scholastic Method
    • Islamic & Jewish Philosophy
  1. Scholasticism
    • Historical Context
    • Birth of the University & the Reception of Aristotle
    • Early Secular Masters & the Mendicant Orders
    • St Albert the Great
    • St Bonaventure & Franciscan Augustinism
    • St Thomas Aquinas
    • Controversies & New Schools
  1. The Late Middle Ages & the ‘Via Moderna’
    • Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages
    • William of Ockham & the Rise of Nominalism
    • The Sixteenth Century & the New Science
    • Philosophy at the end of the Middle Ages
    • The Renaissance of Thomism
    • Humanism

The full subject program is available here  | VIEW


You will need to prepare one class presentation and one take-home question, plus your choice of either one more presentation or take-home question (total 3 pieces of work).

1. 10-minute Presentation on a Historical Figure

Create 2-5 slides on one of the following medieval thinkers:

  • St Augustine
  • Peter Abelard
  • Averroes (Islamic philosopher)
  • Avicenna (Islamic philosopher)
  • Maimonides (Jewish philosopher)
  • St Albert the Great
  • St Bonaventure
  • St Thomas Aquinas
  • Francis of Vitoria

Cover: a) who the figure was; b) when they lived, wrote & taught (historical context); c) who their sources/influences, supporters & antagonists were; d) their main philosophical ideas, theories and/or contributions to philosophy

2. Take-home questions 

You may can submit your response in any format you prefer (eg essay, take-home exam, presentation, podcast, blog, video)

A.  Explain the framework for understanding morality and ethics that St Thomas Aquinas sets out in ST I-II, qq. 1-5? (Do not attempt to summarise the articles. The idea is to capture Aquinas’ overall argument and the reasons that support it.

B.  ‘After the collapse of the Roman Empire at the end of the 5th century, Christianity dominated the world, which led to intellectual stagnation, barbarism and technological decline’.[1] The Church consolidated and conserved its power through an unwritten policy of reserving knowledge to itself, propagating blind faith and superstition, excluding the laity from learning, and suppressing scientific endeavour.

True or false? Respond to the various elements of this claim in relation to philosophy.

C.  Answer one of the following questions:         

  1. Explain William of Ockham’s theory of nominalism and three consequences/implications for philosophy.
  2. What was St Anselm of Canterbury’s ‘Ontological Argument’? Do you believe the argument is sound? Why or why not?
  3. John Duns Scotus and William of Ockham’s ethical theories included variations on the Divine Command theory. Provide a brief overview of the ethical theory of one of these philosophers and explain its implications for the moral life.
  4. Briefly explain the metaphysical insight involved in St Thomas Aquinas’ ipsum esse subsistens.

[1] 18 November 2014.




Essential Reading

Saranyana, J.I., History of Medieval Philosophy, Sinag Tala, Manila 1996.


Further Reading

Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans. Victor Watts, rev. ed., Penguin, London 1999.

Brock, Stephen, The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: A Sketch, Cascade Books, Oregon 2015.

Chesterton, G.K., St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox, Hodder & Stoughton, London 1933.

Copleston, F., A History of Philosophy, Newman Press, Westminster 1953.

Elders, L., The Philosophical Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, E. J. Brill, Leiden 1990.

Feser, Edward, Aquinas, Oneworld Publications, New York 2009.

Gilson, E., A History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Sheed & Ward, London 2000.

Gilson, E., Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1983.

Gilson, E., The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, Random House, New York 1956.

Gilson, E., The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1940.

Gilson, E., The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York 1937.

Marenbon, J., Early Medieval Philosophy (480-1150): An Introduction, rev. ed., Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1988.

Marenbon, J., Later Medieval Philosophy (1150-1350): An Introduction, Routledge & Kegan-Paul, London 1988.

Maurer, A., Medieval Philosophy, PIMS, Toronto 1982.

McInerney, R., A History of Western Philosophy, v. 2, UNDA Press, 1963.

Mondin, B., A History of Medieval Philosophy, Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome 1991.

Pieper, J., Guide to Thomas Aquinas, Pantheon, New York 1962.

Rist, J., Augustine: Ancient Thought Baptized, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1996.

Torrell, J.P., Saint Thomas Aquinas: The Person and His Work, CUA Press, Washington 2005.

Weisheipl, J. A., Friar Thomas d’Aquino: His Life, Thought and Works, 2nd ed., Doubleday, Washington 1983.


Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy  VIEW

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy  VIEW

Interdisciplinary Encyclopedia of Religion and Science VIEW