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.”
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
But this raises other question(s):
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
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
an end in itself in the high Middle Ages, but
served chiefly as a
to clarify what was taken as the basis of transcending (i.e.
going beyond) reason: namely, “revealed” knowledge.
For starters, it’s important to understand that Anselm was a
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
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
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
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
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.