Aristotle

With Aristotle, the story is very different. First a portion of his logic, and then almost the entire corpus, were successively made available to mediaeval scholars in Latin translations.

By the end of the third century AD the six books of Aristotle's logic, later known as the Organonwith commentaries by the third-century Porphyry, were the standard textbooks from which logic was taught. Porphyry had an influence here in his own right, which is to be seen in Ammonius (c.440-c.520), in Philoponus and Simplicius, who were Boethius' contemporaries, and in Boethius himself. Apuleius' Perihermeneias of the

PHILOSOPHICAL SOURCES second century was also in use, and remained accessible to the early mediaeval West. But the core of the logical literature which was to form the basis of the early mediaeval course was Aristotelian. Because of the temporary loss of all but Boethius' translations of the Categories and the De Interpretatione it was a limited Aristotelian logic that he transmitted to the early Middle Ages; but it was supplemented by his own commentaries on these books and on Porphyry's Isagoge, and by his monographs on cognate subjects. A conspicuous gap was a textbook on Topics. In default of Aristotle, that was filled for mediaeval scholars by Cicero's Topica (which indeed owes something to Aristotle); and by Boethius' De Diferentiis Topicis, an attempt to reconcile the conflicting schools of thought of the ancient world on the subject. Cicero's Topica spawned another useful treatise. He comments (VI.28) that there are kinds of definition which he does not propose to treat; Marius Victorinus took up the challenge in his De Definitione and tried to complete the list. The Decem Categoriae, which was believed to be by Augustine, and Augustine's elementary Dialectica were also used, with outline summaries by the encyclopaedists. With the aid of these works the student could learn to classify and define, to construct propositions and basic syllogisms. He could get a glimpse of the possibilities of fallacies. He would be led into speculation on a number of issues of profound philosophical importance beyond logic: the nature of language; meaning; reference; the problem of future contingents. There was ample material for serious philosophical work here, although we have to wait until the eleventh century before more than the occasional exceptional individual seems to have made much of it.

This limited and contaminated Aristotelian logic was transformed in the twelfth century by the arrival of translations of the remaining books of the corpus of Aristotelian logic. The translations Boethius had made of the Prior Analytics, the Topics and the Sophistici Elenchi were recovered about 1120. James ofVenice and an unknown Johannes made translations of the Posterior Analytics, although this last of Aristotle's logical works to come upon the mediaeval scene struck contemporaries as rebarbatively difficult, and it was not much exploited until the end of the century and the beginning of the next. Most attractive of all was the Sophistici Elenchi, with its delightful sophistical puzzles and its capacity to help in the resolution of a number of difficulties in the text of Scripture where one passage seemed to contradict another. Peter the Chanter made comprehensive use of it for this purpose in his De Tropis Loquendi at the end of the century.

Some of the libri naturales were turned into Latin in the twelfth century too. James of Venice translated the Physics, the DeAnima, the beginning of the Metaphysics and five of the treatises known to later scholars as theparva

PHILOSOPHY AND THEOLOGY IN THE MIDDLE AGES naturalia. Henricus Aristippus translated Book IV of the Meteorologica before his death in 1162 and Gerard of Cremona made a version of the first three books afterwards from the Greek. Also from the Greek in the twelfth century were made Latin texts of the De Generatione et Corruptione, the De Sensu, the De Somno and others, also unattributable, of more of the Metaphysics (up to Book X, James of Venice having stopped in the fourth book) and part of the Nicomachean Ethics. Working this time from the Arabic, Gerard of Cremona produced texts of Meteorologica 1-3, the Physics, the De Caelo and the De Generatione et Corruptione. It would be hard to overstate the importance of contact with Arabic scholars, for the Arabs had long had a complete Aristotle and had themselves been writing both on Aristotle and upon the philosophical and scientific subjects he treats for generations. Those pioneering Christian scholars who went to Moslem Spain and elsewhere24 in search of Greek philosophical literature in the twelfth century came back with more than they bargained for by way not only of texts but also of Arabic learning itself. Among the baggage, admittedly, was a good deal of Pseudo-Aristotle: De Plantis (in fact by Nicholas Damascenus and from the first century AD); Costa ben Luca's De differentia Spiritus et Anima; above all, the De Causis, which was Proclus' Elements of Theology in an Arabic paraphrase. Works of Arabic scholars such as Al-Kindi Algazel, Al-Farabi, Avencebrol25 and Avicenna were available in Latin translations before the end of the twelfth century, and all these taught much that was Aristotelian.

Nevertheless, relatively little use was made in the twelfth century of any but the logical works of Aristotle. The necessary sub-structure of interest in the problems raised by the remainder was not yet sufficiently fully developed. They did not catch on among academics. They were not widely lectured upon in the schools. An exception such as Robert Grosseteste worked as a scholar with a private interest, finding his own way26 across unfamiliar ground. There were a few more steps to be taken in making the full Aristotle available before it settled into its late mediaeval place as an indispensable tool of philosophical and theological enquiry. By 1220 Michael Scot had translated the three treatises of the De Animalibus and the commentaries of Averroes. The whole of the Ethics was also translated in the early thirteenth century, but Book I was circulated alone and was used without the remainder.27 William of Moerbeke provided translations of what was missing otherwise and fresh translations of most of the new Aristotle. The logic and the natural science of Aristotle came to constitute two standard collections; William of Moerbeke's versions were used for the scientific texts and Boethius and James of Venice remained current for the logic.28

PHILOSOPHICAL SOURCES

The Arabic philosophers who helped to transmit Aristotle to the mediaeval West had themselves had questions of theological compatibility to resolve. For Avicebron and Maimonides, who were Jews, the matter was even more complex. But their respect for Aristotle was very great, and in some measure they are all interpreters and explainers of Greek philosophical thought as well as Islamic scholars in their own right. The chief of these Arabic 'interpreters' of Aristotle in Western use was perhaps Averroes. Certainly his became a name to be bandied about in controversy when it seemed that philosophy was getting out of hand and forgetting to be a handmaid of theology. Avicenna's Metaphysics was also of particular importance because it could be set beside that of Aristotle. Avicenna, like other Arabs, took it for granted that the De Causis was Aristotle's, and also the 'Theology of Aristotle', drawn from Plotinus' Enneads, but circulating in the Middle Ages as Aristotle's work. Avicenna was therefore writing about a Platonised Aristotle, and in fact he has difficulty with the Platonic elements and tends to support Aristotle when he criticises Plato. But Avicenna is himself not uncritical of Aristotle and was prepared to put forward alternative and modified hypotheses.

A new series of translations of Aristotle and commentaries on his works began in the fifteenth century, but they belong to the story of the Renaissance.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment