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Lecture 3

NATS 1775 Lecture Notes - Lecture 3: Albertus Magnus, Ancient Greek Philosophy, Natural Philosophy

Natural Science
Course Code
NATS 1775
Vera Pavri

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Unit Three: Medieval Technology
Introduction – Why would it be a mistake to call the Medieval Period “the Dark Ages?”
The term “Dark Ages” is problematic for two reasons
First, although both natural philosophy and the technical arts were in relative decline
in Europe during the early medieval period, the same was not true in other parts of
the world
For example, China was undergoing its “golden age” of technological development at
this time (see below)
In addition, natural philosophy was flourishing in the Arab world
For example, medieval Islamic world considered by many to be “heir” to Greek
science – leaders in most scientific fields from 800-1300 AD
Europe who rejected philosophy their ideas were dismissed and those in the
Arab world were being recognized
medicine, math, astronomy, astrology, alchemy, logic
early rulers in Islamic world were open to knowledge from foreign cultures and this
included Greek philosophy and science
Most of the 20th c. much of the work that was going on was translation;
translating greek philosophy into Arabic philosophy
yet despite this fact, how has question been traditionally examined by scholars?
Islamic scholars were mere translators, imitators of Greeks who are given credit only
for translating works into Arabic
In this period of time, there was more acceptance for their ideas
in fact, historians like Alnoor Dhanani argue that Islamic scholars not only translated
but expanded on work; were more critical of content
Another reason why this term is problematic is because in the later medieval period,
both natural philosophy and the technical arts gained importance in Europe as well
Part of the reason for this was the merging of both disciplines to Christianity
I. Natural Philosophy and Christianity
Early rise of Christianity accompanied by in many cases by bans of works of natural
philosophers like Plato and Aristotle
Many philosophers who were rejected became important: Ex= Aristotle
Understanding the changes during this time
The rejection of many philosophers was baed on the greater focus on material
These natural philosophers were often seen as “heretics” because their ideas did not
center around religious explanations for understanding the universe
Things slowly start to change in later medieval period (13th century) with the recovery
of many Greek texts that were “lost” prior to this time
mixed reaction to revival of Greek texts – especially someone like Aristotle
Initially, Aristotle regarded as “dangerous” since many of his ideas contradict Church
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A lot of natural philosophers became to be dangerous readings = their works
were banned and people were not allow to read them
in 1210, University of Paris banned his work on natural philosophy. Yet banning of
Aristotelian ideas makes people more eager to study it; Pope Gregory forced to
review Aristotle’s ideas and reconcile them to church
Ironically, by mid 13th century, Aristotle’s work now required knowledge; he becomes
known as “the philosopher”
We need to understand human nature = when people are told not to read
Christian philosophers, the more people wanted to read their work and they
This was done by merging Christian theology and Greek philosophy
Robert Grosseteste (1168-1263): God created world but Aristotle might be right about
composition of matter
Albertus Magnus (1206-1280): use natural philosophy to confirm superiority of
Thomas Aquinas (1225-74): Greek knowledge useful for grasping certain kinds of
Aristotelian ideas used to complement Christian theology – e.g. Great Chain of Being
Study the works of Aristotle and studied their ideas and theories and they
would take the parts they liked and kept them, and the stuff they didn't like or
didn't believe in they would reject it
Church compartmentalizes Aristotelian knowledge: ideas about perfect heavens
correct and worth reconciling to Christian thought; ideas about theology, politics,
etc… should be disregarded
in this sense, if Aristotelian ideas do not merge well with theology, they are dismissed
(world is eternal, no creation, human soul not immortal, limits of Divine)
by 14th century merging of Aristotelian and Christian ideas meant that Aristotle now
authority on many subjects
harmonizing natural philosophy and religion
II. Technology and Christianity
distinct views of technology developed within medieval intellectual tradition; one
that we will examine closely today involves linking technical arts with religious
We have to consider how religion changed the way people look at
idea that technical arts could lead to religious salvation first proposed by Hugh of
St. Victor around 1140 AD who saw the mechanical arts as “part of man’s religious
and philosophical quest”
St. Victor saw mechanical arts as a branch of knowledge that paralleled theoretical
knowledge and practical arts
His ideas were very new and he was suggesting was rather crazy
He tried to increase the status of technology by connecting it to Christianity
How? People needed to obtain religious salvation
One type of knowledge you could learn = technical knowledge
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He considered that certain types of knowledge in society have value and
that technical knowledge had value
Trying to suggest that learning these knowledge can help you obtain
religious salvation
Certain knowledges were ways of revolving human problems
Technical knowledge = solution to the problem of human weakness
His way of trying to raise the status of technology
Consider the following : Who believed St. Victor ?
His ideas were accepted by some groups and were rejected by many
One group: the labours and the artisans = agreed with him because
he is saying their work has great value
Monks also agreed with him = they have close relationship with
towns and communities and they were involved in many different
activities that made them members of their communities
Rejector Groups: natural philosophers = very occupied with Aristotle
and he made a big separation between natural philosophy and
Theoretical knowledge was a remedy for ignorance; practical knowledge a remedy
for vice and the mechanical arts a remedy for physical weakness
Pursuing any of these kinds of knowledge would contribute to man’s rise from his
fallen state (i.e. Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden) and would lead to
religious salvation
Different ideas about how influential St. Victor’s views were
Most positive attitudes towards technology found in artisan monk and laboring
classes as opposed to medieval philosophers who continued to reject the
importance of the technical arts
In treatises written by these philosophers, the mechanical arts continued to be
subordinate to all other sciences
This was because the mechanical arts were preoccupied with the body and
material world
crafts therefore were considered “unworthy, servile or vulgar”
Aristotle’s views on technology greatly influenced many of these medieval
philosophers: he believed that technical arts or craftwork was “base” and that this
kind of knowledge was inferior to theoretical knowledge because former dealt with
particular or specific kinds of information while theoretical info was more
universalistic and could be applied to all phenomena
Some philosophers influenced by Arab tradition did give mechanical arts a higher
status but on the whole, during this time the technical arts remained subordinate to
natural philosophy
III. Asian Technology in the Middle Ages
The “Golden Age” of Chinese technology came with the Sung dynasty (960-1279 AD)
Chinese civilization developed many techniques for improving agricultural practices
and increasing rice surpluses
Population rose from 50M in 800 AD to 115M by 1200AD
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