Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Week in Review: Keepin' it Classy

Nothing of much note to share with you from this week, apart from class-related items, so we'll get to it:

Medieval Philosophy: This week we read some excerpts from works by one Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly known to history simply as Boethius. He lived in the late 5th-early 6th centuries AD, and is sometimes called "the last of the antique men"; that is, he was what one might call the last true Roman. He grew up in an aristocratic family, and was appointed to high offices by Theoderic, the Visigothic general who had de facto control over Italy. He did something to fall out of favor, though, and was imprisoned for treason. He spent a year in jail before being executed, but during that time wrote what was to be a lasting work in the history of Western thought: The Consolation of Philosophy. This is a dialogue in which Boethius and "Lady Philosophy" investigate a number of philosophical questions. His method, in which he considers objections to a position, lays out his own answer, then responds to the objections, became the standard for the "school men" or scholastics of the Middle Ages. He's quoted quite often as an authority by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. And Boethius' translations of Greek philosophical terms into Latin became definitive. And he writes beautifully. Always nice when your assignments are a pleasure to read.

Philosophical Anthropology: We tend to think of human beings as the only things possessing souls, but Aristotle (and St. Thomas) took a different position. They used the term more broadly for the that principle which gives life to any material living thing; and different kinds of things have different kinds of souls, depending on the powers that sort of thing has. For example, a vegetative soul allows a thing to take nourishment, grow, and reproduce; so a tree has a vegetative soul. A sensitive soul would add movement and sensation to the powers of the vegetative soul; thus, a dog has a sensitive soul. A rational soul would add intellect to the powers of the sensitive soul; thus, humans have rational souls. Thomas was also clear that only humans have immortal souls, since eternal life would not perfect the powers of the vegetative or sensitive souls--one needs not the opportunity to contemplate God eternally if one has not the power of contemplation.

Metaphysics: When the subject matter of your class is defined as "everything that really exists," you start to wonder "How on earth are we going to cover this in 4 months?"

Patristic Spirituality: More Origen this week. We read excerpts from his De Principiis (On First Principles) dealing with his kooky cosmology and his theories on Scriptural interpretation. The latter was much more sensible than the former; and anyone who ever talks about the "spiritual sense" of Scripture owes a big debt to Origen. But his speculations about the nature of the universe got him into trouble later. Trying to fit Christian theology into his Platonist philosophy, he theorized that in the beginning God created all the intelligent beings that would ever exist, and they existed in a state of contemplation of God; but they got bored or lazy and turned away from God. The ones that fell the least became angels, the ones that fell the most became demons, and the ones in the middle were given material form and became human beings. This ain't kosher with Catholic theology, and it got his ideas condemned at an ecumenical council. But he had the whole Scripture thing going for him... which is nice.

1 comment:

  1. First, love the title. Second, very nicely explained. Keep 'em coming!