The Premodern World 1000 – 1600 CE
Premodern: from Antiquity to Scientific Revolution.
The Middle Ages: Overview
The Middle Ages: 1000 – 1350 CE; period of economic and population recovery following Late
• Appearance of cities
• Autonomy (of the citizens)
• Business (profits), not virtue, was the drive
• Technological development – necessary to be productive
• Opened up world trade
• No slavery
Machine-thinking: began in the High Middle Ages; this was a belief that the world is a machine. This
idea would become central during the Scientific Revolution.
Middle Ages were important for science and philosophy.
• Many of Aristotle’s works were recovered
• Developed his works and natural science flourished
Magna Carta (1215) limited the power of the monarchy and gave power to the citizens.
Bubonic Plague divides the High Middle Ages from the Late Middle Ages.
• Time of turmoil and fear
• 1/3 of Europe’s population wiped out
• Conflict between religious and secular leaders
• Luther’s Reformation (challenging authority of Catholic church)
High Middle Ages à Late Middle Ages à Renaissance
• More Greek and Roman works recovered
• Authorities of the Catholic church and feudal system were taken away
• Catalyzed the modern way of life
• Change was seen as bad, because it often made life more difficult (e.g., poverty, bad rulers)
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• Even in times of prosperity, children would eat the surplus and then hard times would return
• This was the model proposed by Malthus, therefore it is noted as the Malthusian economy
Medieval philosophy can be summarized by the phrase “as
above, so below.” This was derived by extending the
hierarchy to the right into the social world. This resulted in
the Great Chain of Being:
• Status quo was maintained because kings were
considered to be servants of God (being the closest to God
on the hierarchy)
“As above, so below” is important because it ignores human nature. It prescribed characteristics to
people and has not interest in exploring human nature. This premodern philosophy is different from the
Greek philosophies preceding it and the modern ideas to come.
12th and 13th centuries: universities. These were associated with the
church, and thus produced theologian-philosophers. Two figures in this
school: St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas.
• The beliefs of St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas Aquinas
represent the two great Medieval approaches to human nature,
knowledge, and God.
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St. Bonaventure St. Thomas Aquinas
(1221 – 1274) (1225 – 1274)
Platonic-Augustinian: Christian Neoplatonic Aristotelian-Thomistic: way of natural reason
philosophy. constrained by faith.
• Dualistic • Showed that Aristotle’s (scientific)
philosophy and Christianity could be
Soul capable of two forms of knowledge: combined
i. Knowledge of the external world
• Believed that human reason is limited by
• This is shared with the body
• Not a representation of true reality, which knowledge of the natural world
involves illumination from God
• Not a dualist
ii. Knowledge of the spiritual world
• Includes knowledge of God We can only determine truth through what we
observe empirically in nature. Through this, we
• Comes from introspective meditation
o Goal was to gain a vision of God, cannot know God, but we can make inferences and
not understanding of the self come to know him by observing His work in the
1. Vegetative faculties • He drew from the works of Aristotle and
2. Sensitive faculties
4. Will • Refined understanding (within Aristotelian
psychology) of the aspects of human nature
• Mental faculties contain “higher” and
“lower” aspects • Wanted to know what distinguished
humans from animals
• System is similar Ibn Sina’s
Unlike Ibn Sina’s model, Aquinas differentiated
two types of estimation (not pictured in diagram).
Estimation proper: reflexive harm/benefit
analysis belonging to animals.
• E.g., the lamb must flee the wolf, the cat
must pounce on the mouse
Cogitava: higher order, rational harm/benefit
analysis belonging to humans.
We may approach/avoid at will, we do not act
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Intellectual appetite: will; ability to be motivated by morals and reason.
• Right and wrong
Sensitive appetite: reflexive actions of approach/avoid, and reducing obstacles in way of goals.
• Pleasure and pain
Differences from Ibn Sina’s model
• Differentiated human and animal estimation
o Estimation proper & cogitava
• No compositive imagination (unnecessary because of description of memory and estimation)
• No practical intellect (unnecessary because of description of cogitava)
• Returned active intellect into the rational (human) soul – Saw knowledge not as a divine gift but
as a human ability
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Psychology in the Late Middle Ages (before the plague) saw a rebirth of empiricism.
Ontology: study of existence. The Classical philosophers melded this into studies of psychology.
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William of Ockham: responsible for reviving empiricism in psychology during the
Late Middle Ages. Differentiated psychology from metaphysics.
Ockham’s razor: he always sought the most parsimonious explanations.
Intuitive cognition: our perceptions give us real understanding about what is true and
false in the world. From here it is possible to abstract (see next).
Abstractive cognition: concerning universals. Universals are mental concepts only that do not exist
outside of the mind.
• Hypothetical (we may abstract ideas that do not exist or are false)
He asked questions pertaining to psychology where the Greeks had asked metaphysical questions (e.g.,
how can we transcend illusion and access the Forms?).
• How do we acquire universal concepts when we have direct knowledge of only individuals?
• Perception, object classification
Took cognitive abilities away from the soul (where Aquinas, Aristotle, and Ibn Sina had placed them)
and attributed them to the mind.
Habit: concepts we hold are derived from our experiences.
• Therefore universals are learned habits
• Allow thought to be independent of actually sensed objects
• Mental concepts (not behaviours, which was believed in the behaviourist tradition)
Proclaimed that there are no scientific grounds to think that the soul is immortal. This proclamation
separated science and religion, and was a first step in the development of science.
Physical science: developed in the 14 century as a result of William of Ockham’s work.
Summa theologica: St. Thomas Aquinas’ idea that philosophical truth and God’s truth are the same.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux rejected the idea of summa theologica, stating that God could be known
through faith alone.
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Realism: idea that truth has a divine property, and that universal human concepts correspond to
enduring Forms. In medieval times, this was a popular belief. The most common manifestation was that
universal human concepts are an Idea in the mind of God.
• Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas all held this belief
Nominalism: idea that universal concepts are puffs of air that occur when we speak a name. That is to
say, that there is no divine nature in universal concepts. This is the opposite of realism.
Trying to analyze universal concepts would constrain 14 century thinkers in their belief of what
humans could know.
Peter Abelard: greatest medieval philosopher before the High Middle Ages (when Aristotle’s works
Conceptualism: universal concepts are not divine ideas but rather are mental labels.
Major consequence of conceptualism:
• Before, it was believed that humans could have complete knowledge – that is, they could
transcend perception and have knowledge of the Forms or Ideas in the mind of God.
• Now, conceptualism called into question whether or not beliefs reflect mere opinion
• Skepticism came back
If God created our realities, he could make illusions that we think we see but do not truly exist.
Nicholas of Autrecourt: believed that thinking is a human activity that requires understanding, not
divine intervention. Appearances are reality; even though we cannot know this for certain, it is more
worthwhile than the opposite assumption that all appearances are false.
• Follower of Ockham
The modern concept of the individual came about during the High Middle Ages.
• Biographies and autobiographies
• Portraits reflecting the person, not just their status
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In early Christianity, women were allowed in every part of religious life: they could preach, worship,
and often lived in chaste, mix-sex monasteries. Christianity began to take on Classical culture, and with
it brought the misogyny of the Romans and rejection of sensual pleasure (a la Plato).
Women, then, were ...
• No longer allowed to preach
• Not allowed at holy relics
• Considered man’s helper (as if this was their only calling)
• Sex considered sinful (whether married or not)
• Virgin women considered holy, and yet all women seen as temptresses
St. Jerome: Christian misogynist who described womanhood as the temptation of flesh.
Fin amour: “courtly love.” This idea came about through popular literature with romantic themes.
• Romantic sexual love
• Knightly honour
Marie of France was one author who wrote fiction in the fin amour canon.
Consequences of fin amour
• Brought about more focus on the individual and the in