2016-03-01

We Owe Much To Medieval Scholasticism

"...One normally associates rhetorical rigor with the philosophers of ancient Greece, who hashed out their arguments in the agora, a public meeting ground. The discipline continued in Rome’s forums, but with the demise of the Roman Empire, dialogue moved inward, becoming a meditative practice. That changed in the 11th century with Anselm of Bec, an Italian-born monk who taught in a Norman monastery; he found himself drawn into using reasoned dialogues with his students as a method of instruction. The logic-heavy form of dialogue he pioneered became the “polemical genre of choice” for thinkers in the 12th century. Around the same time, renewed interest in Roman law, which used a question-and-answer approach to arrive at decisions, further whetted the scholarly appetite for dialectic study."

Medieval disputation truly flowered with the 12th-century rediscovery and translation of Aristotle’s Topics and Sophistical Refutations, which provided the best models yet for dialectic argumentation. Little was neglected in the effort to get to the truth. Disputation could occur before a scholarly audience, with one student arguing against a preannounced thesis, another dissecting his criticisms, and an instructor summing up the proceedings. It could be a private exercise between an instructor and his students. Or it could be conducted before the public, with the debaters taking on subjects de quolibet (“about anything at all”). 

We tend to call those times 'dark'. Well, I'm not seeing a whole lot of brightness these days.

Today, it seems we seek a version of truth. See contemporary campuses.

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