The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries were times of troubles. Some historians have called this period a time of crisis. A little ice age, a series of famines and plagues were not the least of our troubles, reducing the population of Europe to less than half its previous levels. Popular revolts and internecine conflicts between nobles and the monarchy were common in the wake of the Western Schism in the Roman Catholic Church and the decline of the Holy Roman Empire, the hundred years war(1337-1449) and the Magna Carta. Shakespeare captured the spirit of the post Magna Carta times in a speech by a monarch of the period, Richard II(Act 3 Scene 2):
“No matter where. Of
Ones man’s crisis is another man’s transformation and applying these terms to long periods of time is more an art than a science. The seeds of the above discord were sown in the thirteenth century where we can see the more sensitive nerves of our culture inflamed with infections caused by the search for political and social stability. The search appeared to have come to an end with the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215: a document that ensured the protection of a limited set of rights for the barons and the poor as well as subsuming the ruler’s authority under the laws of the time.
Roger Bacon(ca 1215-1292), a Franciscan thinker, was in many respects a symbol or an omen of the new order of freedom and the rise of Science unleashed by the Magna Carta in England. He could well have been one of the rebellious barons dissatisfied with the degree of implementation of the “Great Charter” given his attacks on authority figures. Kenny in his work “A New History of Western Philosophy”(vol 2)(p80) points out that Bacon claimed that there are two necessary conditions of scientific research: a study of the languages of Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic, and a knowledge of mathematics. His definition of science was in terms of the methods of induction and experimentation and for him, the field of knowledge was dualistic and bipolar: either deductive and rational(which he associated with authority) or experiential(reality tested practice) and experimental. It is the latter of these poles that takes us beyond authoritative theories of Philosophers like Aristotle. He does not, however, given his claim relating to the necessary conditions of scientific activity, appeal in the way modern scientists were to do later to the role of mathematics in scientific investigation. The category of the quantitative was to play a greater controlling role than the category of the qualitative. Bacon was more Aristotelian in his approach in spite of his authority complex. It can be argued that Bacon, in fact, was a pioneer of qualitative experimentation in which the Aristotelian ideas of principle and substance are still in a limited fashion, operating. M Schramm(1998) claims that Bacon was the source of the view that takes laws of nature to be important(of the kind presumably that one finds much later in Newton’s “Principia Mathematica”). The context in which Bacon conducted his research was neatly formulated by Brett in his “History of Psychology”(Chapter 9 The Challenge to Authority):
“During the first three-quarters of the thirteenth-century scholarship was estimated more highly than originality. The work of interpreting Aristotle absorbed the energies of the great writers, and for a time little or no attention was paid to nature. Here was a flaw which gave an opportunity for both criticism and reconstruction. The times were not
St Bonaventura(1221-74) was the authority in charge of the Franciscan order. He took issue with many of Bacon’s thoughts being himself influenced by St Augustine and St Anselm. He was not a pure Platonist, however, claiming that the future of theological reflection lies on a path between the works of Plato and Aristotle. He was a devout pious man who found himself in an environment which was beginning to distrust systems and definitions. In him, we find the connection that theology is less connected to knowledge and theory and more related to practical reason and the will. His work was very traditional and he tended in spite of his views on the future of reflection to merely reproduce many of the ideas of earlier Neoplatonism, a less than surprising fact considering that he was an authority figure himself.
The next generation of Franciscans was led by Duns Scotus, “Doctor subtlety”. According to Kenny(vol 2
Scotus’ theological doctrines, however, were more tied up with his conviction that faith is a moral rather than a theoretical matter: concerned with the good related to action rather than the true related to Knowledge. This, in turn, connected Scotus’ excursions into the realm of philosophical psychology and his reflections here for some psychologists heralded one of the first accounts of the relation between consciousness and attention. He, unlike them, however, places his reflections in a concrete practical context. Brett characterizes Scotus’ position thus:
“The treatment of the will as
Brett points out the originality of these thoughts in contradistinction to Russell’s earlier comments relating to the lack of originality in the scholastic tradition. There is also in the above quote an echo of Descartes later reflections on the clarity and distinctness of ideas.
The last of the Franciscans, and the last of the
“Ockham believes there exist only substances and sensible qualities of them: and nothing in the facts of language or of thought, which relies on natural signs, really suggests otherwise.”
This form of substantive empiricism rests on a basis of intuitive cognition of particulars and perhaps calls into question the basis of the existence of “signs” that dwell n the mind in a fashion reminiscent of “modern” logical empiricism(Quine). Quine, we may recall evoked “stimulus meanings” and “observation sentences” and claimed that they in some mysterious way were connected in a web with theoretical statements.
Aristotle has by this time all but disappeared in these successive waves of challenges to Authority launched by the Franciscans, who dominated much of the thirteenth century and some of the fourteenth century. The “reinterpretation” of Aristotle did
As we approach the Renaissance we see an increasing emphasis on logic and science to the exclusion of the more systematic theorising of Aristotle. Our opening remarks relating to Richard II(1367-1400) talked of the death of Kings and it is almost certain that Shakespeare saw this to be symbolic of wounded authority and greater processes at work. The Holy Roman Empire lasted for a thousand years until 1806 but the nature of its authority was a markedly different and diminished affair at the end of this largely Franciscan period.