Meaning of medieval philosophy

What is medieval philosophy:

Medieval philosophy is the entire set of currents of thought and philosophical treatises that developed from the fall of the Roman Empire (530 AD) to the Renaissance (15th and 16th centuries).

The main search of medieval philosophy was the cohesion of the beliefs inherited from classical philosophy with the dogmas of Christianity, although there were also very important contributions from Jewish and Islamic beliefs.

Topics of medieval philosophy

When trying to reconcile different religious beliefs with philosophy, it was natural to try to find answers to questions such as the nature of God, the relationship between faith and reason, as well as the compatibility between free will and the omniscience of divinity, between other topics, such as causality and the limits of knowledge.

However, for medieval philosophy, it was complex to reconcile issues such as the incarnation or the nature of the trinity, which are the basis of Christian theology.

The problem of the universals

In medieval philosophy, an Aristotelian vision of the problem of universals was inherited, by stating that universals (the abstract, the world of ideas) exist, but not separated from the particular (the concrete, things, individuals), what was also known as "moderate realism."

However, during the scholastic period, the resolution of this problem returned to the fore with nominalism, which posited that universals simply did not exist.

Existence of God

Most of medieval philosophy was devoted to demonstrating the existence of God as a supreme being, entity, or truth. For this, sacred texts, Aristotelian logic and the ontological argument were used as the main methods to find answers.

Aristotelian logic

Being Aristotle a defender of logic as a method to approach science and philosophy, it was very natural for medieval philosophers to pose classical Aristotelian logic as a legitimate way to respond to the concerns that the time raised.

According to this method, the learning of certain sets of syllogisms allowed to connect a subject and an object in a correct way, therefore, it would be a useful tool to generate knowledge.

Characteristics of medieval philosophy

Medieval philosophy was strongly marked by approaches of divine order. The Bible, then, became the main source of answers to these questions. However, the holy books of Islam and Judaism also played an essential role in interpreting religious issues.

More than the generation of new knowledge, medieval philosophy was in charge of rescuing, reinterpreting and applying classical philosophical approaches. The emergence of Neoplatonism, which proposes the existence of the One or God above all things, and the introduction of Aristotelian logic in the then nascent universities, give an account of this.

Stages of medieval philosophy

There are two great periods of medieval philosophy: the patristic and the scholastic.


It corresponds to the primary stage in which philosophy was articulated with religious dogma, mainly Christian. One of the most prominent representatives of this period was Saint Augustine, who developed a current that today is known as Neoplatonism, and that can be summarized as the reinterpretation of Plato's work from a Christian perspective.


In this stage, which spans from the 11th to the 16th century, an attempt is made to explain Christian revelation through reason. It arises as a consequence of the creation of the first universities and the need to apply the Aristotelian scientific method to respond to religious or supernatural approaches.

Santo Tomás de Aquino was one of the main exponents of the scholastic stage when introducing the Aristotelian logic in the Christian thought.

Medieval philosophy and Judaism

Judaism was also concerned with answering fundamental questions in the light of philosophy.

In that sense, Maimonides took care to integrate Aristotle's logic to show that there is no such thing as a separation between faith and reason, since faith has a divine origin and reason is based on human knowledge, which a its turn derives from God.

Medieval philosophy and Islam

In Islam, both Neoplatonism and Aristotle's thought were used to respond to religious concerns. The arrival of the Arab and Berber people to the Iberian Peninsula contributed to enriching medieval philosophy thanks to the translations of their works into Latin and Hebrew. Al-Kindi and Averroes were some of the essential thinkers of medieval Islamic philosophy.

Main authors of medieval philosophy

These are some of the philosophers whose contributions helped enrich the medieval legacy.

Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

He was one of the philosophers most aligned with Neoplatonism. He considered philosophy as an auxiliary branch to understand the faith, rather than an area of ​​knowledge in itself. And faith was therefore the only possible truth and reason was subordinate to it.

Furthermore, Anselm of Canterbury is credited with creating the "ontological argument", which posits the existence of God as "the one of which nothing greater can be thought." If God exists on the mental plane, He also exists in reality.

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)

Breaking with the Augustinian tradition (and very characteristic of medieval philosophy in general) of imposing faith over reason, Thomas Aquinas considered that faith and reason constituted two different fields of knowledge. However, it leaves room for a common space in which faith and reason interrelate.

William of Ockham (1285-1349)

It went a step further than its predecessors, by defending not only the existence of philosophy and theology as two independent areas, but also by unlinking them. For William of Ockham, reason is a faculty of man, while faith belongs to the field of divine revelations, so they are not only separate, but are opposite.

Works of medieval philosophy

These are some of the most outstanding texts of medieval philosophy, since they tried to answer the biggest questions of this period, especially those of a religious order:


Written by Anselm of Canterbury, it proposes the existence of God through the ontological argument. It is a summary of the Monologion, his predecessor work, in which he tried to demonstrate the existence of God through reason.

The Guide for the Perplexed

It was written by Maimonides, who argues that there is no such thing as a division between faith and reason, since both come from the same source: God. Although it was written in Arabic, its translations allowed the work to quickly become known in Europe, becoming an influence for philosophers such as Thomas Aquinas.

Theological sum

It is one of the most important works of theology and was an influence on the development of medieval philosophy. There, Thomas Aquinas answers various questions grouped into categories: God, the human act, theological virtues, incarnation of Christ, sacraments. The work contains other questions that are answered by his disciples, since the author died before finishing his work.

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