The History of Philosophy
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y and Z
One of the most heated debates that troubled the church in the Middle Ages was the question of universals. This question goes back as far as Plato’s Forms. It has to do with the relationship between the abstract and general concepts that we have in our minds (what is the relationship between Chair with a capitol “C” and chair with a small “c”?). And from this, two radical viewpoints emerged, realists and the nominalists.
The realists followed Plato in insisting that each universal is an entity in its own right, and exists independently of the individual things that happen to participate in it. An extreme form of realism flourished in the church from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. Among its advocates were John Scotus, Erigena, Anselm and William of Champeaux. On the opposite side were the nominalists and they held that universals were just names, and therefore, have no objective status apart from that which is fabricated in the mind. Nominalists, such as Gabriel Biel and William of Occam (see O section), said that the individual is the only existing substance. Unfortunately, their treatment of nominalism removed religion almost entirely from the area of reason and made it a matter of faith beyond the comprehension of reason.1
And here lies the significance of the French theologian Peter Abelard (1079-1142). Between the two extremes, Peter Abelard proposed a more moderate form of nominalism. Though critical of the idea of the separate existence of universals, he nevertheless believed that resemblances among particular things justified the use of universals for establishing knowledge. More specifically, Abelard proposed that we ground the similarities among individual things without reifying their universal features, by predicating general terms in conformity with concepts abstracted from experience. This resolution (which would later come to be known as conceptualism) of the traditional problem of universals gained wide acceptance for several centuries, until doubts about the objectivity and reality of such mental entities as concepts came under serious question. Thomas Aquinas favored a moderate realism which rejected the view that universals exist apart from individual entities in favor of the view that they do indeed exist, but only in actual entities.2 Anaximander (Milesian School):
Anaximander (610-547/6 B.C.) was one of the three key figures that comprised the Milesian School (the three prominent figures associated with the Milesian School is Thales, Anaximander, and Anaximenes). Together, they worked on problems concerning the nature of matter and the nature of change, and they each proposed a different material as the primary principal.3 Anaximander seemed to be quite modern in his view of reality. He believed that the world was cylindrical like a drum, and that the earth rested on nothing. He also invented an undefined non-substance, called the apeiron, a neutral, indeterminate stuff that was infinite in amount. Anaximenes (Milesian School):
Anaximenes (546 B.C.), the other member of the Milesian School, returned back to the idea that everything derives from a single substance, but suggested that substance was air. Though it is likely his choice was motivated by wanting to maintain a balance between the two views of his predecessors, Anaximenes did provide solid grounds for his choosing; first, air, has the advantage of not being restricted to a specific and defined nature as water, and therefore more capable of transforming itself into the great variety of objects around us. Second, air is a more likely source of this variety than Anaximander’s apeiron which seems too empty and vacuous a stuff to be capable of giving rise to such a variety and profusion.4 Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury:
In (452 A.D.), twenty-two years after Augustine’s death, Rome fell, bringing on a period of conquest...
Please join StudyMode to read the full document