NotesAnselm_Aquinas - PHIL 100 Sections 0203,0204,0207...

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1 PHIL 100 Sections 0203,0204,0207 TA: Kallfelz, W. Anselm and Aquinas: Some General Remarks Let us consider some of Bertrand Russel’s remarks in “Why I am Not a Theist.” Do they adequately respond to Anselm and Aquinas’s claims? You may be thinking, “yes and no.” Certainly, Russell’s critiques of First-Cause, Natural Law, and Argument from Design, seem to respond directly to Aquinas: at least, to what we perceive as the logical form and content of Aquinas. But this raises other question(s): what is their form and content? This requires us to place Aquinas and Anselm in some historical context. (Certainly they weren’t twentieth century analytic philosophers like Russell!) This will help us better understand what kind of thinkers they were, even Russell admits that proofs of the existence of God from Medieval philosophers/theologians were “intellectually rigorous.” Though it may not seem to bear directly on the integrity of their arguments, it’s important to remember at the outset that Anselm’s and Aquinas’ writings served vastly different purposes than what we’d understand today from a typical philosophical essay. Though Aquinas is far more logically methodical and rigorous than Anselm, both Anselm and Aquinas saw reason as “the handmaiden of faith.” Philosophical analysis was definitely not an end in itself in the high Middle Ages, but served chiefly as a means to clarify what was taken as the basis of transcending (i.e. going beyond) reason: namely, “revealed” knowledge. 1 Anselm For starters, it’s important to understand that Anselm was a Platonist. The philosophy of Plato, during this period of the Middle Ages, was really the sole and dominant way of thinking: St. Augustine combined Christian thought with Platonism seven centuries earlier (ca. 5 th century A.D.) , and in Anselm’s time, a time when Europe was beginning to emerge form the Dark Ages, Christian theology and whatever was left of philosophy was virtually identified with Augustine. What interests us here is Plato’s epistemology and metaphysics. According to Plato, material existence is the least ‘real,’ akin to a world of shadow and images as described in his Cave Allegory in the Republic. Moreover, what was most real was a world of perfect and changeless Forms, existing outside of space and time and matter. We come to ‘know’ objects in the (shadowy) material realm because our soul ‘knew’ those objects’ perfect Forms. For instance, it is possible, to teach a slaveboy 1 Though in our contemporary culture, materialism seems pretty much the dominant metaphysical position, of course in the Mediaeval the metaphysical picture was far different. Aside from a picture supporting the existence of divinity, ontologically superior to nature, the cosmos itself was viewed as fixed, and organic , i.e., like a vast organism. From this metaphysical position the epistemic notion that knowledge can be derived not only from sensory experience, but can also be revealed, seems to make good sense. Whereas of
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NotesAnselm_Aquinas - PHIL 100 Sections 0203,0204,0207...

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