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Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages

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Europe was in the long slumber of the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire was in tatters, and the Greek language was all but forgotten, until a group of twelfth-century scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. His ideas spread like wildfire across Europe, offering the scientific view that the natural world, including the soul of man, was a proper subject of s Europe was in the long slumber of the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire was in tatters, and the Greek language was all but forgotten, until a group of twelfth-century scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. His ideas spread like wildfire across Europe, offering the scientific view that the natural world, including the soul of man, was a proper subject of study. The rediscovery of these ancient ideas sparked riots and heresy trials, caused major upheavals in the Catholic Church, and also set the stage for today's rift between reason and religion. In Aristotle's Children, Richard Rubenstein transports us back in history, rendering the controversies of the Middle Ages lively and accessible-and allowing us to understand the philosophical ideas that are fundamental to modern thought.


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Europe was in the long slumber of the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire was in tatters, and the Greek language was all but forgotten, until a group of twelfth-century scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. His ideas spread like wildfire across Europe, offering the scientific view that the natural world, including the soul of man, was a proper subject of s Europe was in the long slumber of the Middle Ages, the Roman Empire was in tatters, and the Greek language was all but forgotten, until a group of twelfth-century scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. His ideas spread like wildfire across Europe, offering the scientific view that the natural world, including the soul of man, was a proper subject of study. The rediscovery of these ancient ideas sparked riots and heresy trials, caused major upheavals in the Catholic Church, and also set the stage for today's rift between reason and religion. In Aristotle's Children, Richard Rubenstein transports us back in history, rendering the controversies of the Middle Ages lively and accessible-and allowing us to understand the philosophical ideas that are fundamental to modern thought.

30 review for Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I’ve always been more than a little fond of Aristotle. In fact, I love just about everything about him. Look, I know he said horrible things about women and that he also thought slavery was ok – but then, so did Jesus, so it is probably a little much to expect him to be more politically correct than God was able to manage. At anytime between when he was kicking up the dust with his sandals in Athens until about the 15th Century if you wanted to know where the action was, where people were actual I’ve always been more than a little fond of Aristotle. In fact, I love just about everything about him. Look, I know he said horrible things about women and that he also thought slavery was ok – but then, so did Jesus, so it is probably a little much to expect him to be more politically correct than God was able to manage. At anytime between when he was kicking up the dust with his sandals in Athens until about the 15th Century if you wanted to know where the action was, where people were actually thinking philosophically – then you simply had to ask who knew the most about Aristotle and go there. The test was that if he was banned then you were dealing with morons – if people considered him ‘the Philosopher’ then you were among friends. History rarely offers such a simple or consistently effective test. For nearly 2000 years Aristotle’s works were referred to as ‘enquire within about everything’ – he was a virtual encyclopaedia. Think about that for a minute – for 2000 years he dominated Western thought. It is an achievement that is unlikely to ever be repeated. His works are highly readable – although some are pretty dull. His ethics and his poetics, however, are masterpieces of our philosophical tradition and remarkably readable. I’ve also read his On The Soul and Rhetoric – but these are much more dry and more ‘hard work’. He wrote on politics, biology, astronomy, anatomy, physics, logic and metaphysics and each of these are seminal works in our tradition. Unlike his teacher, Plato, he was much less interested in the perfect world of forms and much more interested in the world we live in. What is also interesting about his philosophy is that where Socrates and Plato were mostly interested in the unity of opposites (you can’t talk about how hot something is without also and already having defined cold), Aristotle’s dialectics was much more sophisticated. For Aristotle was much more interested in quality and quantity than just opposites. For example, instead of talking about hot and cold, Aristotle spoke about what he called the ‘golden mean’ – about the reconciling of opposites as being the path to living a good life. And that is the point – just what is a good life? Aristotle felt that avoiding extremes was as good a definition e as he could come up with. This book is mostly a series of biographies of various philosophers and theologians who were strongly influenced by Aristotle’s philosophy over that 2000 years. Some paid for such belief with their lives. The author makes an interesting point that where we are likely to see the history of philosophy as the struggle and eventual victory of reason over faith – the author questions that this ‘struggle’ was never quite as black and white as it is often presented. Aristotle’s logic is a remarkably powerful tool. However, for much of this book what is most obvious is just how pitiful the problems were that Aristotle’s remarkable tool of logic was used on. I mean, using Aristotle’s logic to try to deduce whether or not God is a single person of three parts or three divine persons in one godhead or whatever other nonsense medieval philosophy wasted its time on. But I guess this nonsense did allow logic to be applied to scientific questions too. This book ends with a call for a new, a modern reconciliation between faith and reason. I found this part less than convincing and a bit unnecessary. I understand people still feel the need to have a faith as a way to confirm them in their prejudices – but I hope that over time this need will become increasingly less pronounced. It is true that Aristotle relied too heavily on reason, expecting that what we would call today ‘thought experiments’ would be enough to confirm the truth of any theory – clearly, this is not enough (despite the success of Einstein’s theories) – all the same, I’m still proud to count myself as one of Aristotle’s children.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    Okay. A book about the middle ages, right? Uh-huh. But wait, not only about the (ugh!) middle ages, but about PHILOSOPHY in the middle ages? You're kidding, right? But, you say, there's more? It's not just about medieval philosophy and philosophers, but also about the intricate, and delicate balance between rationalism and faith in revelation, is that what you're telling me? And about how three distinct strains emerging? One that rejected faith for reason, one that rejected reason for faith, and Okay. A book about the middle ages, right? Uh-huh. But wait, not only about the (ugh!) middle ages, but about PHILOSOPHY in the middle ages? You're kidding, right? But, you say, there's more? It's not just about medieval philosophy and philosophers, but also about the intricate, and delicate balance between rationalism and faith in revelation, is that what you're telling me? And about how three distinct strains emerging? One that rejected faith for reason, one that rejected reason for faith, and one that desperately tried to hold the other two together? Yeah, like anyone would want to read THAT!!! Well, this is one of the most beautifully written, intelligent, intriguing, and thought-provoking books I've read in a long time, and it was actually FUN TO READ. It was like a good novel, with surprisingly vital characters, even though they've all been dead for a millennium or so. Go on. Give it a try.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Erick

    That Aristotle's works were a major influence on Medieval thought can hardly be denied by anyone who looks at the evidence. I'm not sure if the author is attempting to make the case that Aristotle's influence wound up being the major catalyst for fractures in the hegemony of the Roman church, but he seems to be making that case. I would attribute a more decisive element to the tyrannical corruption of the ecclesiastical hierarchy than to any literary influence from writers like Aristotle. I woul That Aristotle's works were a major influence on Medieval thought can hardly be denied by anyone who looks at the evidence. I'm not sure if the author is attempting to make the case that Aristotle's influence wound up being the major catalyst for fractures in the hegemony of the Roman church, but he seems to be making that case. I would attribute a more decisive element to the tyrannical corruption of the ecclesiastical hierarchy than to any literary influence from writers like Aristotle. I would say that much of the book is only loosely relevant to Aristotle's influence on the Medieval church. A more prevalent theme is the response the Medieval church had to ideas it found troublesome; Aristotle being one among a number of such. He discusses groups like the Spiritual Franciscans and the Cathars which can tie in with Aristotle in only a very tangential sense. He makes much of a fragment attributed to the Cathars that seems to utilize Aristotelian thought to advocate for gnostic dualism. If the Cathars had been influenced by Aristotle, they were as good at cherry picking him as they were at cherry picking scripture. Aristotle was notably opposed to even the mild dualism of Plato, let alone an extreme dualism of the type found in gnostic sects like the Cathars. The Roman church could have easily used Aristotle to counter Catharic use of the same if they had chosen to. Whatever influence Aristotle's writings had on the Cathars, I would say it was minimal, and only chosen because of expediency and what might have appealed to those who would have been familiar with the Aristotelian thought of the day. Most cultic sects are more prone to expediency than consistency; potential conversion being far more important. One should note that his treatment of Islam is fairly cursory given the fact that Islamic foray into Aristotelianism was an even more short-lived dalliance than it was in Christian countries. I am not nullifying the importance of Islamic philosophers like Ibn Sina (Latinized as Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (Latinized as Averroes), but one has to acknowledged that philosophy was not any more tolerated in the Islamic countries during this period – indeed, even less. The author seems to make much of the Islamic reintroduction of Aristotle into the West from Islamic commentators. I personally find the situation to be more complicated than is indicated here. Firstly, the Eastern church had important Aristotelian thinkers like Philoponus, and he was certainly an major influence on Scholastics like Bonaventure. Also, part of the reason the Western church had become ignorant of the Greek language and Greek thought was due in large part to Islamic expansionism that had cut the two regional churches off from each other. It cannot be denied, however, that with the forced closing of the Academy by Justinian, a less than inviting climate was made for philosophical thought. But both factors played a role into a loss of knowledge in the West when it came to Hellenistic thought. The influence on Jewish thinkers was also treated rather cursorily here; probably simply due to the fact that it wasn't that notable apart from Maimonides and maybe a few others. As with Christian thought, Plato wound up being a far more pervasive and more easily integrated influence on Jewish philosophy. I agree with the author that Aristotle probably was a major catalyst for the subsequent scientific movement, but I would also say that that came from the Hellenistic philosophical influences in general. It just happened to be that Aristotle was the writer of choice for the Scholastics, so that became the more notable influence. I agree with the author that the relationship between science and faith has often been oversimplified. Indeed, the commonly repeated canard that science and faith has been continually at odds is simply a falsehood perpetuated by people who have done next to no historical research. The former is repeated as a religious axiom by anti-theists that treat science as a competing religion. Their ignorance of actual religions is only surpassed by their ignorance of history. I think it's interesting that the author holds that Aristotle undeniably held that his prime mover was a part of the universe and not separate from it. This does seem to be the most consistent way to read Aristotle, but it doesn't do anything for Aristotle's consistency overall. It still doesn't explain how a prime/unmoved mover can be anything other than an ideal mover when the cosmos is eternal. Movement can only be eternal and infinite in such a scheme, thus an unmoved/prime mover cannot be literally a part of that system. I do agree with the author that Aristotle's unmoved mover can hardly be equated to the Christian creator, but one must assume that Aristotle believed in the gods that all Greeks believed in. No one as far as I'm aware ever accused Aristotle of atheism in his own day. How his first mover related to the Greek pantheon is a mystery. Ironically, Aristotle may have had a temperament similar to the Scholastics where ideas were simply posited as experiments of reason rather than as statements of dogma. We cannot be certain that Aristotle wasn't simply theorizing. I certainly would be more willing to overlook the inconsistencies if that were the case. I think this book can really be only an introduction into the topic of what role philosophy played in general, and Aristotelianism in particular, on the Medieval church. A rather annoying aspect of this book was the author's tendency to quote a historical anecdote, but cite a secondary source. This occurred repeatedly. For example, I am less interested in Chesterton's use of a source, than in the original source. There is no substitute for primary sources when one is composing a work that is investigating history. The more contemporary the source, the better as far as I'm concerned. I don't usually like taking secondary sources as authoritative in themselves. It's even more problematic when a secondary source cites other secondary sources. If one wants to check the citation, you can actually expose yourself to the Quixotian quest (yes, I've done it) of going through a whole line of secondary sources that end in nothing that is even remotely contemporary to the period in question. I am left unconvinced by anecdotes only found in such sources. I give the book around 3-and-half stars. It was interesting and it can be read rather quickly. If this was one's only exposure to the subject, however, you would be left in a rather meagerly informed state. I recommend this as an introduction only.

  4. 4 out of 5

    George

    This is a lively and interesting history of the conflict between reason and faith that began with Aristotle and continues to this day. It’s also the story of how Aristotle’s writings, after being lost to the West for almost a thousand years, were rediscovered in Muslim Spain and then made their way into the universities of Europe (especially Paris), setting off the reason/faith debate as well as many other debates in metaphysics, ethics, politics, science, law, logic, and more. Full of suspensefu This is a lively and interesting history of the conflict between reason and faith that began with Aristotle and continues to this day. It’s also the story of how Aristotle’s writings, after being lost to the West for almost a thousand years, were rediscovered in Muslim Spain and then made their way into the universities of Europe (especially Paris), setting off the reason/faith debate as well as many other debates in metaphysics, ethics, politics, science, law, logic, and more. Full of suspenseful intrigues, plots, and counterplots, it sometimes reads like a fast-moving thriller. Along the way we meet a myriad of interesting characters – some more familiar than others – like Augustine, Boethius, Hypatia, Peter Abelard (see “Stealing Heaven” – a great movie about Abelard and Heloise), Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham (“Ockham’s Razor”), and many other great thinkers of the high Middle Ages. The story begins with Aristotle attending lectures given by his famous teacher, Plato, but eventually rejecting Plato’s central idea about “universals” and espousing his own reason-centered, reality-based ideas. On pages 110-112, there’s a very short summary of the principal difference between the two philosophers’ metaphysical ideas. How Aristotle’s writings made their way to us is a story of near misses. That anything at all remained of Aristotle’s work in the West, after the fall of Rome, was largely the result of one man’s effort – Boethius. He was one of the last Roman’s to be sent to Athens to be educated and when he returned, he decided to translate into Latin every work of Aristotle that came into his hands. It is these translations that were then copied and recopied by monks who hardly knew what they were preserving, or why. Without Boethius, it’s anyone’s guess what our modern world would be like – nightmarish chaos would be mine. These writings eventually made there way to the Muslim world, by way of Byzantium, and resulted in a cultural awakening that became the glory of Islam. Nevertheless, beginning in the twelfth century, orthodox Muslim’s, instinctively averse to Aristotle’s worldview, criticized and condemned the philosopher’s ideas. Those who admired Aristotle’s work found themselves in exile in Western Europe, a society of near barbarians by Muslim/Arab standards, but a society ready to soak up these new, strange, and in many cases, frighteningly controversial ideas from ancient Greece. Many of Aristotle’s ideas challenged traditional teachings of the Catholic Church and were condemned – at least for a while. Questions about the existence of God, the role of faith versus reason, the existence of an afterlife, or of an eternal universe, all became subjects of debate – mostly within the Catholic Church itself. This debate continues today. The author, in his concluding chapter says that “Answers that make sense require the sort of dialogue between a rationally influenced faith and an ethically interested reason that took place a few centuries ago in the medieval universities. I disagree and, for a counterpoint, highly recommend an article entitled “Faith and Force: Destroyers of the Modern World,” by Ayn Rand. Obviously, there is so much more to this winding story that can’t possibly be told here. But, it’s a great story and I recommend this well-written, entertaining book to anyone interested in our western intellectual heritage.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Edwin B

    In the 12th century, Latin translators from Arabic rediscovered the writings of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, which had hitherto been lost to Christendom for 600 years. Aristotle's re-emergence fired the intellectual imagination of medieval scholars, who then embarked on a project to reconcile faith with reason. This book is that story of "Aristotle’s children." Aristotle’s grounding in the specifics of the material world (in contrast to Plato’s preference for the other-worldly Forms), his co In the 12th century, Latin translators from Arabic rediscovered the writings of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, which had hitherto been lost to Christendom for 600 years. Aristotle's re-emergence fired the intellectual imagination of medieval scholars, who then embarked on a project to reconcile faith with reason. This book is that story of "Aristotle’s children." Aristotle’s grounding in the specifics of the material world (in contrast to Plato’s preference for the other-worldly Forms), his confidence in the human powers of reason, and his methods of free and open disputation, inspired the dramatic expansion of the frontiers of human thought and inquiry. Catholic theoreticians such as St. Thomas Aquinas began to employ reason to be able to understand matters that used to fall solely under the purview of revealed truths contained in sacred texts interpreted by Church authorities. This book tells the story of how this flowering of discourse unfolded over two centuries, and of how a threathened Church hierarchy, protecting its authority, reacted against this scientific spirit within its ranks, leading ultimately to the separation of faith from reason, which continues to this day.

  6. 4 out of 5

    John Martindale

    When I saw the subtitle of the book was how Ancient wisdom illuminated the "Dark Ages". It lead me to expect it was written within that secular mythological ethos; that being that the West was once a glorious civilization until it embraced Christianity which submerge Europe into the dark ages, this darkness continued until finally a few brave souls embraced ancient Greek wisdom, and throwing off the shackles of Christian superstitions, embraced science in the face of the hostel, backward Christi When I saw the subtitle of the book was how Ancient wisdom illuminated the "Dark Ages". It lead me to expect it was written within that secular mythological ethos; that being that the West was once a glorious civilization until it embraced Christianity which submerge Europe into the dark ages, this darkness continued until finally a few brave souls embraced ancient Greek wisdom, and throwing off the shackles of Christian superstitions, embraced science in the face of the hostel, backward Christian opposition, this ultimately resulted in renaissance, enlightenment, prosperity, moral progress, and the iphone. I was glad to find that instead, despite of the subtitle (which I see later editions changed), Rubenstein sought to share medieval history in its complexities, twist and turns and good and bad. He goes someway in refuting the secular myth, for indeed though there was darkness, persecutions, fear of the new, and occasional oppression of ancient wisdom, science and philosophy were often supported by the church and engaged in my devoted Catholics. Though the discovery and translation of Aristotle did lead to advances, sometimes, the love for Aristotle and fear of differing with his teachings, lead to stagnation, so ironically the more intolerant catholic leaders who forbade certain ideas from Aristotle lead to experimentation and the freedom to differ with the great Philosopher, when he was wrong. So yeah, this was a good book, an interesting history, it is worth a re-read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt McCormick

    Rubinstein does a fine job presenting the introduction and inclusion of Aristotelian thinking into the catholic universities from 1200-1400 CE. He introduces the reader to a number of lesser known philosophers and theologians. Rubinstein is a great communicator and effortlessly explains the relative importance of the celebrity thinkers (Aquinas) and those whose names now escape us (Siger de Brabant). If the non-academic reader has an interest in history, education, the medieval period, or philos Rubinstein does a fine job presenting the introduction and inclusion of Aristotelian thinking into the catholic universities from 1200-1400 CE. He introduces the reader to a number of lesser known philosophers and theologians. Rubinstein is a great communicator and effortlessly explains the relative importance of the celebrity thinkers (Aquinas) and those whose names now escape us (Siger de Brabant). If the non-academic reader has an interest in history, education, the medieval period, or philosophy I strongly recommend Aristotle's Children. I genuinely enjoyed the act of reading Rubinstein's work. A word of caution however (OK a few words) - I found the title to be misleading at best. Yes, there is a brief discussion of the earliest re-introduction of Aristotle in the opening chapters. The book does connect Aristotelian philosophy with various thinkers and historical periods. It does show how the introduction of the Philosopher into catholic universities was contentious. It fails, however, to present the "how" of rediscovery in any great detail. Other than a few passing mentions of Moses Maimonides and Averros, Jews and Muslims get little attention or credit throughout the book. This really is a history of how the catholic church responded to the reemergence of Aristotle after 1100 CE and not a story of how that reemergence occurred. One feels, throughout the book, Rubinstein playing the apologist to institutions (church and monarchy) whose overwhelming predilection was to violently repress any thought that failed to conform. Rubinstein, himself, describes how the Franciscans were co-opted into the institution of the Roman church based on a shrewd Papal analysis that it was better to have them under the tent than outside it making trouble. It seems that Rubenstein wants us to believe that a sudden surge of open-mindedness and curiosity overtook the prelates of catholicism during a time in which they were also inventing in Inquisition. Finally, Rubinstein gives the impression of desiring a return to the conjunction of "faith and reason" an effort that started with Boethius and was refined and maximized by Aquinas (when he wasn't levitating or talking to statues). Did I mention I really did like the book?

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Weber

    Great intellectual history of the Middle Ages. The unifying theme of the book is Western Europe's incorporation of and reaction to the works of Aristotle, which were rediscovered in the West in the 11th century. It's so interesting to see that past generations wrestled with the same issues that we do. And it's always surprising to learn the little-known stories of the past. I tended to think of the medieval period as largely and simply Catholic. But there was always, always, resistance and diver Great intellectual history of the Middle Ages. The unifying theme of the book is Western Europe's incorporation of and reaction to the works of Aristotle, which were rediscovered in the West in the 11th century. It's so interesting to see that past generations wrestled with the same issues that we do. And it's always surprising to learn the little-known stories of the past. I tended to think of the medieval period as largely and simply Catholic. But there was always, always, resistance and diversity. Sometimes it came from within the Church, from reformers who urged the Church to give up its manors and wealth to embrace apostolic poverty and eschew the power that inevitably corrupts. Other times it existed outside the Catholic power structure, as in the case of the "counter-church" of Cathars that existed in cultured, wealthy Languedoc in southern France. When the Catholic church's attempts to (re)convert the population through preaching failed, Innocent III announced a crusade against the Cathars and told soldiers they could keep whatever they took from Languedoc. A bloody land grab ensued, and the armies of northern France killed everything in their path, bragging of the 20,000 men, women, and children they chopped down in one day. This makes it sound like the book is anti-Catholic, but it isn't. Rubenstein gives full credit to the good people within the Church who pushed for justice, social welfare, and intellectual freedom. The great heroes of this time period are precisely those churchmen and monks who pushed time and again to explore the ramifications of classical knowledge and thus started Europe down the path to modern science.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Kinnear

    A great book - Rubenstein takes you through the middle ages, spendig most of his time in the very productive 1300s, explaining how the rediscovered teachings of Aristotle changed western culture (read: Catholic theology). I had no idea how much intellectual development occurred then - I thought our advance was stifled until the Rennisance. Key figures discussed were Aristotle (obviously), Augustine, Peter Abelard, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas (and Dominicans in general), William of Ockam (amd Fram A great book - Rubenstein takes you through the middle ages, spendig most of his time in the very productive 1300s, explaining how the rediscovered teachings of Aristotle changed western culture (read: Catholic theology). I had no idea how much intellectual development occurred then - I thought our advance was stifled until the Rennisance. Key figures discussed were Aristotle (obviously), Augustine, Peter Abelard, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas (and Dominicans in general), William of Ockam (amd Framciscans in general- although more on their conflict with Dominicans), along with all of the Popes, Kings, and Universities (mostly Paris) who played a role. The book did get a bit drawn out at times - I would have taken just as much away from it if it were 100 pages shorter, but I suppose one can appreciate the extra historical details if one is versed in the history of this time (I'm not). One thing I should note is that the philosophy really plays second fiddle to the history here. While we get a glimpse of the content of what people were thinking, it's really only used as context, not to make any philosophical argument.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ross Gagnon

    Aristotle's Children - How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages; by Richard E. Rubenstein (Harcourt 2003) 3 or 4 people have asked me about this in the past couple months, so I finally got around to it yesterday (I think the audiobook came out recently - otherwise, no idea why a 10-year old book would come up from several people). First off, recommendations - it's a very readable popular history, though one with some serious limitations - not man Aristotle's Children - How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages; by Richard E. Rubenstein (Harcourt 2003) 3 or 4 people have asked me about this in the past couple months, so I finally got around to it yesterday (I think the audiobook came out recently - otherwise, no idea why a 10-year old book would come up from several people). First off, recommendations - it's a very readable popular history, though one with some serious limitations - not many flat-out errors, but little nuance, no discussions of why he thinks as he does, or alternative readings, or anything more than sketches of his topics. I'd say it was worth reading - if you know next to nothing about mediaeval intellectual history, it's a pretty good and accessible introduction; if you know a fair amount, it's an entertaining if "breezy" (as one reviewer described his style) narrative. It reminds me of lectures by popular professors in undergraduate classes - simplified or exaggerated for effect, but fairly solid within that context. Or fodder for fairly intelligent cocktail party discussions. I think those can be important, as long as you remember what they are. So a qualified approval if approaching it on a high level of generality, but not as a substitute for actually learning what (we think) happened or what people wrote and why. On the other hand, I don't think there was a page where I didn't go "Yeah, but..." or "what about...x,y,z," - I wrote questions down for one chapter and had 14 pages before I said the hell with it. He seems incapable of qualifying to his statements, or noting details. It's largely a synthesis of secondary materials, though usually very good ones; or perhaps 'selection' rather than 'synthesis,' as he avoids scholarly disagreement and picks what fits his narrative. There is no sustained direct discussion of any primary text, and only one extensive quotation from a figure being discussed and then only because the point concerns some stylistic ssues). The narrative is a version of familiar twentieth-century versions of nineteenth-century histories of precursors to sixtennth and seventeenth-century scientific thought, though he does moderate that a bit in the final chapter. And he is looking to the not-quite-pseudo question of why the impact of Aristotle has largely been ignored in popular history of science (with a wink/nod to conspiracies for effect). Actually, it hasn't really been ignored - the topics are pretty standard for a Mediaeval Philosophy or Medieval Intellectual History class, and there aren't many surprises about what or who he writes about. But I suspect most people haven't taken those classes, and the issues aren't likely to come up elsewhere (and you do need a basic background in ancient philosophy to make sense of them - which is why most places require that as a prereq). The discussion of the reception of Aristotle is usually day 2 when I do them (Day 1 is devoted to pronouncing my name). Despite the subtitle, Jewish and Muslim thinkers as such are not given a lot of consideration; he's more interested in their role as transmitters to the European scene, largely through Spain. He gets that story right, and fairly entertainly, without dwelling on details or some of the alternative tracks. Even at this period, he doesn't seem to have much sympathy for or knowledge of the Neoplatonic tradition, and it tends to play a kind of bogeyman/sloppy mysticism role throughout, which tends to downgrade an awful lot of what's going on in the 12-14th centuries (I shudder to think what he would do with the Renaissance, where this strain of thought is crucial). Just sticking with history of science, this is the strand of thought that gives us the enphasis on mathematical understanding of the physical world, never a huge concern for the Aristotelian tradition; and his treatment of Augustine, obviously the most important intellectual figure in Christian thought until the High Middle Ages (and arguably for a long time after), shows this blindspot. For all of that, he does a very good job with the ways that the rediscovery of Arisotle was a shocking & radical turn in European history generally - and his point that this was accomplished through and by the organized Church in a period of reflective self-transformation is important to his presentation and, I think, quite correct. Also, he does a nice job setting that sort of thing in historical & political context - one of the really valuable aspects of the book (though subject to the same limitations as the intellectual history). The overall theme is the harmonization of reason and revelation (pretty standard), but also looking at how it was possible, and to what extent, in a complex & often violent intellectual and political setting - obviously with eye to our situation now. There were a number of idea in those areas that I found valuable (perhaps because I know the philosophical literature considerably better than the political). Rubenstein's background is a conflect-resolution scholar - so there is a curious absence right at the center of the book. Thomas Aquinas is all over, but his thought is given a remarkably cursory treatment (most of his appearances are either in relation to someone else, or in political context). Thomas's basic ideas are, at best, given very uncritical descriptions; at worst, ignored entirely. For my point here, the two Summae are mentioned briefly and in passing without noting their avowed purpose - which happens to be crucial to Rubenstein's overall thesis. The Summa contra gentiles was a sort of missionary handbook designed for disputaion with non-Christian intellectuals (among other things, a by-product of his Dominican order's creation as a debate task force against the Cathars); the Summa theologica is designed explicitly to deal with what can be done with natural reason, and specifically starting from the places that Jews, Christians, and Muslims (or at least their intellectuals) were in substantial agreement. Thomas knew there would be differences because of revealed truth, but his strategy is to reduce tensions by showing that all shared identical intellectual commitments on the vast majority of issues. None of this is really mentioned. Not mentioned at all were other attempts to do similar things by other means -e.g., Ramon Llull, who -among other things - attempted a more-or-less mechanical way (or formal logic concept-mapping - Leibniz and others would look to him 400 years later, with odd results) to translate and analyses concepts into their most basic forms with the express intention of reducing conflect through shared understanding (he falls more on the Platonic side than the Aristotelian, though Aristotle is plenty important to him). In fact, none of the actual plans to harmonize reason and revelation across religious cultures are mentioned at all, though the way that works in the European case in the central idea of the book. Very strange omission ( especially Thomas's project). All that being said, the various tensions and disputes in thireeth-century Paris ARE the center of the book - they are the standard ones, explained in general terms with little nuance or detail, but a good understanding of why they were important and what role they played in creating a serious scientific tradition - monopsychism and the nature of the soul, the eternity of the Universe, double-truth, etc. (that is, mostly the stuff associated with Averroes). These chapters would make decent orientation-reading for actually investigating some rather murky issues, and are the best part of the book. The discussion of the various post-Thomistic traditions is sketchy - Duns Scotus, Ockham, Eikhardt, a bit of Buridan & Oresme, little or nothing of the the mainstream Thomistic line, which gets fobbed off as sterile in just the ways it was treated in the seventeenth century (which he thinks a mistake then). While on the margins of the scope of the book, it is worth noting that people like John of Saint Thomas had managed to work out Aristotelian science well enough to deal with the new & powerful mathematical techniques almost exactly at the point that Aristotle was being dismissed as irrelevant (and worth remembering that Newton still published the Principia with geometrical proofs, even though his calculus was available to him by then, or that Copernican calculations were less accurate and nearly as complex as Ptolemaic ones) The last chapter looks at a little of late mediaeval and Reformation thought on the way to his reflective bits. I think the best passgae there (which I substantially agree with) is: "The reality obscured by the idea of scientific triumph is the persistence of faith in modern society - faith not just as a marginal activity but as an essential feature of Western social life, and not as reason's docile junior partner but as a mode of thought hostile in many ways to rationalist claims. The narrative of science triumphant sees the "privatization" of religion as a weakness, exposing the realm of Faith to the increasinf encroachment of Reason. This seems to me a serius error. Privatizing faith conserved it rather than extinguished it. As society modernized, science did infringe with some regularity on religion's traditional "turf." Darwin's account of the origin of speciesm for example, forced many theists to revise their interpretation of the story of creation in Genesis. But faith entrenched in private life, and presenting itself as a satisfier of basic psychic and spiritual needs, has been in a position to infringe just as strongly - perhaps even more so - on the territory claimed by reason." That is, the collapse of the "Aristotelian consensus" pushed scientific and religious thought into a persistent conflict, where a few things come down on one side or the other, but a great many crucial things (ethics, politics, aesthetics, social relationships, personal development, etc) end up in ill-defined areas claimed by both sides without any overwhelming justification. Whatever else was going on (and lots was), Rubenstein is right in seeing the thirteenth-century synthesis as the last serious attempt to harmonize the various claims on a large scale without diminishing any. Oh, and he manages to get one important thing precisely backwards in the last chapter: "...Hobbes' great philosophical enemies were Thomas Aquinas, who held that a law of the state contrary to natural or moral law has no binding force, and Aristotle, whose treatise 'Politics' is a defense of the principle that politics is a branch of ethics, and that the purpose of the state is not just security but justice." (p.286). The point is clear, and largely correct, but in a book about the history of Aristotelian reception (and with a correct footnote to boot), you'd think he could get a 101 question right: see, oh, the 2nd paragraph of the Nicomachean Ethics: "For even if the end is the same for a single man and for a state, that of the state seems at all events something greater and more complete whether to attain or to preserve; though it is worth while to attain the end merely for one man, it is finer and more godlike to attain it for a nation or for city-states. These, then, are the ends at which our inquiry aims, since it is political science, in one sense of that term." Generally, Ethics is considered subordinated to Politics, though the relationship is complex. Aristotle never suggests what Rubenstein does here, though, but the distortion fits his overall modern narrative. Not his responsibility, but I used a library copy, with indiscriminate underlining and happy faces - the one place the previous reader was impelled to write objection (!!! and no happy faces) was in the discussion of Ockham's trollish talking points on the nature of necessity, or what an infinite God could really do (anything at all, including impossibilities and contradictions).

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jrobertus

    This is an unusually well researched book about the history and impact on Western culture of the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works. As most people know, the Moslems had preserved and translated his work, but during the Reconquista of al Andalusia in the early 13th century, Christian bishops like Raymund I, commissioned Moslems and Jews to aid them in translating the books into Latin. Rubenstein points out that we often think of the Church as a conservative force opposing science, that is natural This is an unusually well researched book about the history and impact on Western culture of the rediscovery of Aristotle’s works. As most people know, the Moslems had preserved and translated his work, but during the Reconquista of al Andalusia in the early 13th century, Christian bishops like Raymund I, commissioned Moslems and Jews to aid them in translating the books into Latin. Rubenstein points out that we often think of the Church as a conservative force opposing science, that is natural philosophy to the classic Greeks. However, he shows that early on the Church fostered Aristotelian logic and natural investigation to enhance the religious world view. Needless to say there has always been a dichotomy between revealed “truth” and experimental/observational truth. The honey moon was not long lived however, the book chronicles in great detail the struggles between various factions, all believing Catholics, to establish church doctrine. We see the writings and thinking of philosophers, mostly ordained priests, like Boethius (5th century) and then medieval thinkers like Abelard and his nemesis Bernard of Clairvaux, Robert Grosseteste, Francis of Assisi, Bonaventure, Siger de Brabant, and St. Thomas Aquinas (who drew much from the Moslem thinker Averroes). The ebb and flow of these religio/political battles is seen in Aquinas’s tale where he first a hero, then nearly excommunicated and finally sainted. There were battles between secular professors and Dominican and Franciscan friars, often centered in universities like Paris, Oxford and Padua. To modern readers these battles are hard to follow in their hair-splitting details, and in an era of science they seem rather silly but people were burned at the stake over these issues. By the 14th century, thinkers like Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, although believers to the core, set up the split between objective science and faith. Rubenstein ends with a thoughtful discussion of how we still live with the cultural ripples from Aristotle and does his best to try to foster tolerant understanding between rational science and the comfort of religion. We’ll see how that goes.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Hiebner

    This book tells the story of how Aristotle’s works were saved with much of the work done in Toledo, Spain. The author analyzes Aristotle’s philosophy and equates it with the religious teachers and their beliefs through the ages. The story covers a time of the later Middle Ages when Western thinking was dominated by the Catholic Church’s attempt to modernize by reconciling faith and reason. Even though Aristotle’s works were still hidden and unknown for the most part (not yet translated into Lati This book tells the story of how Aristotle’s works were saved with much of the work done in Toledo, Spain. The author analyzes Aristotle’s philosophy and equates it with the religious teachers and their beliefs through the ages. The story covers a time of the later Middle Ages when Western thinking was dominated by the Catholic Church’s attempt to modernize by reconciling faith and reason. Even though Aristotle’s works were still hidden and unknown for the most part (not yet translated into Latin), several religious teachers/philosophers were using his methods of reasoning to try to understand their world. People like Peter Aberlard, Roger Bacon, and Thomas Acquinas among others are featured. The author suggests that most controversial issues today are so because faith and reason cannot be reconciled. He further suggests that the Aristotelian approach may bridge this gap. This book should be considered a book on religion or philosophy despite the fact that it is classified as a history book, nevertheless a good read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This book is among the very best that I have read in a very long time. It was also an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy, religion, European history, and Islamic history. But it is the ideas of philosophy - their tension, reconciliation, fusion, and outright conflict with religion over the centuries, that make this book a 'must read.' The author begins, quite appropriately: "Scientific thinking in the West... [began] in the intellectual explosion that followe This book is among the very best that I have read in a very long time. It was also an enjoyable read. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in philosophy, religion, European history, and Islamic history. But it is the ideas of philosophy - their tension, reconciliation, fusion, and outright conflict with religion over the centuries, that make this book a 'must read.' The author begins, quite appropriately: "Scientific thinking in the West... [began] in the intellectual explosion that followed the rediscovery of Aristotle's writings" The people of Aristotle's home town, Stagira, believed him to be a genius. Plato considered him "the brains of Plato's Academy." [In modern history some consider Aristotle the greatest philosopher ever; a genius with few equals; and one of the greatest minds of all time]. This is a story about a treasure lost, found, revered, reviled, ignored... and resurrected. Lost to the western world for nearly 1,000 years, in part due to the fall of the Roman Empire, Aristotle's works were found in the 13th century in Southern Spain. The Muslims who had found them in the 9th century had translated them into Arabic. Muslims, Christians & Jews worked together to translate them to Latin. Rubenstein tells us "Aristotle's books were the medieval Christian's star-gate.. like a "bequest from a superior civilization. A telling comparison! Aristotle believed the world to be orderly and knowable by man: "a place whose basic principles could be understood by reasoning from the data of sense impressions." "Perceptions provide us with evidence that permits us to reason with each other on the basis of common experience"… "common sense" experience is what makes consensual understanding possible… true knowledge… connects us with the realities that exist objectively as well as in our minds." Aristotle's' concept of God was that of] a “detached, noninterventionist, essentially uncaring deity [whose purpose is] to inspire everything in the universe to actualize itself as far as its nature permits”... [but he {God} does so passively]. Plato believed the world is, "at least in part, illusory. Platonic era's are filled with discomfort and longing.. People feel divided against themselves - not ruled by reason but driven by uncontrolled instincts and desires… they believe that a better and truer self, society, and universe await them on the other side. In Aristotelian epochs, “economic growth, political expansion, and cultural optimism color the intellectual atmosphere… accelerating the pace and deepening the quality of scientific and philosophical inquiry.” "The struggle between faith and reason did not begin… with Copernicus... but with the controversy over Aristotle's ideas during the 13th and 14th centuries." Augustine rejected Aristotle's worldview in favor of that of Plato and the Neoplatonist's. He "concluded the business of faithful Christians"… "is to inhabit the world knowing that it is fallen: to prey for the grace needed to resist the devils snares, accept the discipline and solace offered by Mother church and hope for their initiation into the society of immortal saints.” Because “his Platonized Christianity made such good sense in the context of post-Roman society, Western Christians came to believe that it was the only possible version of the true faith,” we are told. These fundamental issues are the basis for the continued conflicts, to our own time, between Aristotle's Children (and grandchildren) - Avicenna, Averroes, Moses Maimonides, Abelard, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham; and Plato & the Neoplatonists (Augustine, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandra, Ambrose, and others) favored by the Friars and Popes, and of by some of the Kings and Monarchs. These issues are the perfect introduction to philosophy and why philosophy is important. This books focus on Aristotelianism also makes it the perfect introduction to philosophy since Aristotelianism alone has historical and factual claim to the name of true philosophy. I recommend that readers start here. Ignore Bacon, Descarte, Locke, Hume, Spinoza, Leibnitz, and especially Kant, until you understand Aristotle and appreciate the distinction between Aristotle and Plato.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Ashby Manson

    An interesting if ultimately unsatisfying book. The focus is primarily on how various Christian scholastics worked through Aristotle's ideas. Disappointingly little time is spent on the purported substance of Jewish and Muslim contributions. They are portrayed primarily as conduits though their comments on Aristotle are mentioned in passing. The book is largely a sweeping history composed of the author's summaries of source material. Very few actual quotes. This is surprising as many of the thin An interesting if ultimately unsatisfying book. The focus is primarily on how various Christian scholastics worked through Aristotle's ideas. Disappointingly little time is spent on the purported substance of Jewish and Muslim contributions. They are portrayed primarily as conduits though their comments on Aristotle are mentioned in passing. The book is largely a sweeping history composed of the author's summaries of source material. Very few actual quotes. This is surprising as many of the thinkers being discussed wrote sparkling prose. One is left with the suspicion that there are about 100 pages of missing source material that the publisher did not wish to pay to reproduce. Also largely missing is a deeper perspective on what was happening in the world of politics & technology & economics in the world around these thinkers. Strange, as the applied science aspect of Aristotle must have had ongoing repercussions and positive incentives in the wider society. (Optics and the invention of eyeglasses/lenses etc.) Medieval philosophy as ideological cage match. Franciscans and Dominicans and Heretics: GO! The book covers the bad behavior of the Christians (burning heretics at the stake, putting entire heretical provinces to the sword, etc.) but arguably downplays the horrors. It is surely not an exhaustive list of the crimes of the inquisition’s fanatics. Rubenstein is attempting to sell an updated medieval Aristotelian dialogue and analysis as a means to solve our modern conflicts driven by the continuing schism between faith and reason. A bit hard to swallow when being a creative thinker was likely to get you impaled or burned at the stake (or placed under house arrest if you were lucky) rather than a Nobel prize. Again and again you see reactionary factions within the church attempting to quash novel ways of thinking. Fortunately competing power centers (secular rulers pursuing their own power or sometimes tolerant provinces) provided safe havens for some of these thinkers and their novel ideas once they had lost their political supporters within the church. Arguably the spread of literacy and reading materials made it impossible for the church to burn evidence of new ideas rapidly enough to expunge the accumulating heresies. Some of the chapters make you wish Google could sneak someone into the vatican and scan all the old records surrounding heresy trials so we could see whether there are any remnants of the missing thoughts that got books and writers eliminated. The book’s argument comes together in an interesting way when you see alternative schools of religious thought all competing using Aristotelian logic and almost accidentally creating the necessary pre-conditions of modern “this worldly” science. “With the work of Duns Scotus and William of Ockham, the Aristotelian revolution took a radically new turn. The Franciscan innovators greatly admired Aristotle’s genius, but they rejected certain ideas of his that Aquinas had considered indispensable and focused attention on others that he had downplayed or ignored. Where there had been one Aristotle recognized by medieval Christian thinkers, now there were two. The result was a split in the Aristotelian movement which opened a great gap between faith and reason, religious experience and scientific evidence.” Rubenstein mentions in passing that rabbinical study of the Torah has avoided the oppressive anti-modern push back exhibited by the Christian church hierarchy (supporting his thesis that a more fruitful rapprochement between faith and reason is possible) but fails to analyze the intellectual mechanisms involved in that modernizing dialogue. Is it possible that reactionary forces within Judaism have simply not been politically powerful enough to be oppressive due to their minority status in most political systems? Hard to say when he doesn’t bother to expand. An enjoyable and worthwhile book though not as in-depth as I’d been lead to hope by the subtitle.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dawn

    Given the subtitle, I expected a bit more discussion of Muslims and Jews preserved and commented upon Aristotle's works, but the bulk of the book concentrates on Christian Europe's coming to terms with Aristotle's work. This, of course, would not have been possible with out the aforementioned preservation and commentary. Overall, Rubenstein makes an excellent case for the Middle Ages as an intellectually fertile time. It was not, contrary to common contemporary belief, a backward, "dark" age whe Given the subtitle, I expected a bit more discussion of Muslims and Jews preserved and commented upon Aristotle's works, but the bulk of the book concentrates on Christian Europe's coming to terms with Aristotle's work. This, of course, would not have been possible with out the aforementioned preservation and commentary. Overall, Rubenstein makes an excellent case for the Middle Ages as an intellectually fertile time. It was not, contrary to common contemporary belief, a backward, "dark" age wherein faith gained ascendancy over reason. This was a fiction created in the early modern period, when faith and reason were divorced, with reason aligned with objectivity and faith aligned with subjectivity. Although we have inherited this split, Rubenstein suggests that it is inimical to the forgotten Aristotelian worldview that we would do well to remember in order to navigate the challenges we now face. The early modern notion that subjectivity and objectivity are polar opposites has worn out its usefulness; it is time to put them back in dialectical relation - something the Middle Ages got right.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    I read this before my Goodreads.com days so I didn't write my own review. I was reminded of it by the following review from the 2006 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar. When I read it I thought it was ironic that 300 years before Spain turned into the most anti-Jewish and anti-Moslem country in the world, it served as an enlightened melting pot of scholarly exchanges between Jews, Christians and Moslems. EYE OPENER The fall of Rome caused Europe to tumble into the Dark Ages as the wisdom of ancient Gre I read this before my Goodreads.com days so I didn't write my own review. I was reminded of it by the following review from the 2006 PageADay Book Lover's Calendar. When I read it I thought it was ironic that 300 years before Spain turned into the most anti-Jewish and anti-Moslem country in the world, it served as an enlightened melting pot of scholarly exchanges between Jews, Christians and Moslems. EYE OPENER The fall of Rome caused Europe to tumble into the Dark Ages as the wisdom of ancient Greece was forgotten. What caused it to be rediscovered? Richard E. Rubenstein has the answer: a 12th-century summit in Toledo, Spain. There, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars rediscovered and translated the works of Aristotle. Aristotle’s ideas swept across Europe, paving the way to the Renaissance. An exciting story told in a lively style. ARISTOTLE’S CHILDREN: HOW CHRISTIANS, MUSLIMS AND JEWS REDISCOVERED ANCIENT WISDOM AND ILLUMINATED THE DARK AGES, by Richard E. Rubenstein (Harcourt Brace, 2003)

  17. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    If you like history and philosophy this is a wonderful read. Rubenstein presents the major European scholars of the late Middle Ages. They were religious, philosophical, and scientific thinkers. You probably did not learn this in school unless you went to divinity school. One of Rubenstein's major theses is the European Renaissance did not spring sui generis but was built upon the foundational thinking of these men, such as William of Ockham, Peter Abelard and their contemporaries.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    A review of Aristotle's impact on western thinking. This is an excellent read for history buffs, and those interested in Greek metaphysics. Authors presentation is well organized and interesting.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    A must read for anyone who wants to understand the spread of knowledge from the ancient world to the modern world. This book changed much of what I was taught in school and helps explain the complexities of our current world of 'knowledge'.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    I loved this book! It opened for me a great interest in western philosophy. I think I've read books since then just as interesting but I was engrossed in this one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Pat

    There was a time when Muslims, Christians and Jews worked side by side to understand the world.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Linksbard

    Superb history of philosophy and well reasoned exposition of western prejudice.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Мануэль

    An interesting though simple overview of a very interesting intellectual history. The period from Boethius to the Reformation is broad, but using Aristotle as the common thread makes this book quite fascinating. It is important to first recognize how excellent the writing is, because it is not easy to make scholasticism readable, in fact, it seems like an oxymoron. Nevertheless, Rubinstein convincingly argues that in this time period, when the Catholic Church often showed itself at the vanguard An interesting though simple overview of a very interesting intellectual history. The period from Boethius to the Reformation is broad, but using Aristotle as the common thread makes this book quite fascinating. It is important to first recognize how excellent the writing is, because it is not easy to make scholasticism readable, in fact, it seems like an oxymoron. Nevertheless, Rubinstein convincingly argues that in this time period, when the Catholic Church often showed itself at the vanguard of knowledge (often negotiating rather than straight up censoring), we have much to learn from the ways in which conflicting ways of thinking, put together, actually crate a very interesting synthesis. It is also the case, as Rubinstein also shows, that the intense level of debate in this time period prepared the "scientific revolution." His last chapter is a bit odd, but he does make the interesting point that by assuming "science" dominates culture and has answers to everything, it leaves a large portion of spiritual, ethical, and moral questions to religion in general. Overall his conclusions are vague and idealistic, but his work here is definitely an important first step in thinking in many different directions. This book is of interest to historians of science and people interested in theology or even literary criticism or exegesis. It shows two very interesting uses of a thinker as flexible as Aristotle paired with an equally flexible book such as the Bible.

  24. 5 out of 5

    James Pumpelly

    Fallow reading for enquiring minds and searching hearts As a believer, this probing treatise on Christianity's evolution systematically addresses the origin of Faith, and the dialectics that spawned it. Circumnavigating Aristotle's Cause and Effect philosophy, Mr. Rubenstein adroitly melds Reason and Faith into parallel realities and assumptions, each supporting the other by inductive or objective methods. Cardinal is the Aquinas claim that doubting leads to enquiry, enquiring to perceived truth. Fallow reading for enquiring minds and searching hearts As a believer, this probing treatise on Christianity's evolution systematically addresses the origin of Faith, and the dialectics that spawned it. Circumnavigating Aristotle's Cause and Effect philosophy, Mr. Rubenstein adroitly melds Reason and Faith into parallel realities and assumptions, each supporting the other by inductive or objective methods. Cardinal is the Aquinas claim that doubting leads to enquiry, enquiring to perceived truth. Aristotle's Children is fallow reading for enquiring minds and searching hearts.

  25. 5 out of 5

    James Pumpelly

    As a believer, this probing treatise on Christianity's evolution systematically addresses the origin of Faith and the dialectics that spawned it. Circumnavigating Aristotle's Cause and Effect philosophy, Mr. Rubenstein adroitly melds Reason and Faith into parallel realities and assumptions, each supporting the other by inductive or objective methods. Cardinal is the Aquinas claim that doubting leads to enquiry, enquiring to perceived truth. Aristotle's Children is fallow reading for enquiring mi As a believer, this probing treatise on Christianity's evolution systematically addresses the origin of Faith and the dialectics that spawned it. Circumnavigating Aristotle's Cause and Effect philosophy, Mr. Rubenstein adroitly melds Reason and Faith into parallel realities and assumptions, each supporting the other by inductive or objective methods. Cardinal is the Aquinas claim that doubting leads to enquiry, enquiring to perceived truth. Aristotle's Children is fallow reading for enquiring minds and searching hearts.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ju

    Painfully slow to get through although content is interesting

  27. 4 out of 5

    Annis Pratt

    Aristotle’s writings were gradually translated from Greek and Arabic into Latin to become resources for European learning in a high tide of intellectual ferment during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The scholasticism that emerged combined reason and faith to advance science without abandoning basic doctrines. “As a result, Europe’s first natural scientists were scholastic theologians, and its most innovative social thinkers were masters of arts in the new Catholic universities.” Rubenstei Aristotle’s writings were gradually translated from Greek and Arabic into Latin to become resources for European learning in a high tide of intellectual ferment during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The scholasticism that emerged combined reason and faith to advance science without abandoning basic doctrines. “As a result, Europe’s first natural scientists were scholastic theologians, and its most innovative social thinkers were masters of arts in the new Catholic universities.” Rubenstein demonstrates that the high middle ages were characterized by ground breaking intellectual and scientific thinking to the extent that, when theology and science were split apart in the early modern period, European culture was diminished. “Scientific rationalism emerged from the wreckage of scholasticism strengthened in technique but greatly impoverished in scope — unable to command the fields of metaphysics, ethics, and politics as Aristotle had done…unable to encompass philosophical issues like the eternity and intelligibility of the universe….“This is precisely the area in which modernist distinctions between a private, emotional religion and a public, rationalist science have proved most debilitating.” In reading this book, I was moved by the sunny humanism and intellectual excitement of Aristotle’s methods and discoveries. “Aristotle was inspired, most of all, by nature and the life sciences. A man basically at home in the world, he felt himself to be part of a living, integrated, self-sufficient universe—a place whose basic principles could be understood by reasoning from the data presented by sense impressions.” (Remember that Plato saw the material world as less real than ideals and forms outside of nature. Subsequently, neoplatonism reinforces the sense of division between spirit and matter, soul and body) Aristotle’s “confidence in the power of reason” derives from “his conviction that the universe itself is meaningful. ..This sort of understanding is possible not just because humans are naturally smart, but because in a sense the universe is ‘smart,’ too. There is a deep correspondence between the way the world works and the way we work. We have our reason, which makes it possible for us to think logical, purposive, patterned thoughts, but the universe has its own logic and purposes.” “God, who is pure form [sometimes termed the ‘unmoved mover’]is the most perfectly realized Being of all, but this does not mean that less perfect substances are defective or evil. On the contrary, everything in the universe is in the process of realizing its true form or essence —of becoming as perfect as possible, given the limitations of its structure. In this sense, the natural universe—the world of Being—is not only not-evil, it is positively good.” And part of that logic is moral, a “natural” good that is out there and which we pick up on and act upon. When we get to the high middle ages, however — 13th century especially—the arguments at the University of Paris seem to me to be far from sunny. You have nasty academic competitiveness between adherents of various theories that sometimes results in riots and mutual slaughter, and an ecclesiastical militancy that is so far from “Christian” (in the sense of Jesus’ teachings about how we should treat each other) that Popes and Bishops think nothing of torturing scholars they disagree with and then burning them alive over bonfires of their books. Then there is the “neoplatonic” Christian pessimism about the worth of human beings, tainted by “original sin,” and the devaluation of nature as corrupt and “fallen." Although this mean-spiritedness denies the well-ordered worthiness of the material world fostered by Aristotle, enough scholars are taken with his methods and discoveries that they became permanent elements in university curricula. This is the blend of natural philosophy and scientific theology fostered by Thomas of Aquinas, with neither element considered in contradiction of the other. Reason was appropriate for scientific inquiry but faith was required for belief in the basic Christian tenets. To Thomas Acquinas, “the universe itself, interpreted through Aristotelian lenses, provides evidence of God’s existence, goodness, and creative intentions. This synthesis is opposed by William of Ockham, who believes that science/reason and faith/belief are wholly separate things and you must accept either the one or the other (Ockham’s razor). Philosophically speaking, the abyss that yawns beneath him is a permanent divorce between faith and reason.”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Elliott Bignell

    This book reveals a paradox, and the thread of a continuity in Western European civilisation connecting it back to antiquity. Via Islam, the Church's acquisition of and obsession with Aristotle connects the reasoning half of the modern dichotomy between faith and reason with its foundations in classical Greece. The paradox is that while Aristotelian dialectic provides the foundations of reasoning enquiry, it was the struggle by Galileo and his contemporaries to pry Aristotle's dead hand from the This book reveals a paradox, and the thread of a continuity in Western European civilisation connecting it back to antiquity. Via Islam, the Church's acquisition of and obsession with Aristotle connects the reasoning half of the modern dichotomy between faith and reason with its foundations in classical Greece. The paradox is that while Aristotelian dialectic provides the foundations of reasoning enquiry, it was the struggle by Galileo and his contemporaries to pry Aristotle's dead hand from the rudder of the Church that is traditionally credited with inaugurating the Age of Reason. Rubenstein speaks of Platonic ages and Aristotelian ages, where the Platonic is prone to idealism, self-hate and fatalism and the Aristotelian is optimistic and prone to expansionism. Alexander's Macedonia, Enlightenment Europe and Imperial Britain were, by this yardstick, Aristotelian. The high Middle Ages, perhaps surprisingly, equally so. You have to study the history of Scholastic thought to perceive it, though, making me wonder if the division is really so useful, as the expansionism occurs in the battle of ideas. The Plato-Aristotle contrast could not be more relevant today, of course, as a culture war is still grinding on and perhaps acquiring momentum. The struggle of empiricism versus religious literalism bears some resemblance to that of Aristotle versus Plato, and Rubenstein ends by calling for a reintegration of the two halves of our nature as a means to quell the conflict and satisfy our yearnings for meaning. Yet strikingly, it may be more due to Luther's lack of interest in empirical science that it finally broke free of the shackles of religious orthodoxy and perpetrated the cascade of heresies we now know as the scientific revolution. The modern world may be plagued by this dichotomy but it is equally its child, with all the blessings that it has brought. And ultimately, as Rubenstein reminds us, the child of ha-Sefarad - al-Andalus in Arabic, Islamic Iberia, the "first-class place" that brought us the Sephardim and Convivencia, Maimonides and ibn Rushd. This book is a curious read in today's philosophical environment. An exciting read for a book dealing with philosophy, and eminently readable, even rivetting, it nevertheless deals with a battle of the mind not easier to understand today than arguments over angels dancing on pinheads. The notion that Christian orthodoxy were prepared to resort to murderous repression over questions of whether God has single, dual or three-person nature, or whether He is separate from His creation or embodied in it, is hard to grasp today, but was a question literally of life and death in the Middle Ages. I was interested to read that two theologians prior to Galileo, Oresme and Buridan, had raised the heretical conjecture of a moving Earth. Not surprising, I found, as our hagiographies of lone heroes facing down the establishment are always too trite. The idea of a rotating Earth was heretical but no longer revolutionary, and Galileo's confrontational personality lodged his name in the history books for the wrong fight. What he was doing, it would appear, was prying the dead hand of Aristotle from the rudder of the Church. The irony is that those two theologians had argued that Aristotle himself would not have been an Aristotelian - Scholasticism ossified into something close to idolatry, but the Philosopher would always have said to let the stars tell their own story. The Church, under the influence of the Dominicans, had come to see Aristotle as a weapon against the enemies of Christianity, piling irony upon irony as they fought the Muslims that had transmitted him to them. This was a threat to strike that weapon from their hands, and it provoked the concomitant reaction. There is not so much in this book about Islam, or Galileo, but much about the ideas it held in trust for us and the scientific revolution that ultimately resulted. I disagree with the author's parting advocacy of a reintegration of faith and science. Science occupies different ground from religion and can only be poisoned by fraternising with faith. The separation of the powers of the mind is a good thing. However, Rubenstein rightly points out that we seem to be yearning for something that science does not fulfil for many of us. I can only say, "Be careful what you wish for." Comment

  29. 5 out of 5

    Raymond S

    Well I like history....but don't know a lot about philosophy so I got a bit lost during the reading. Otherwise well researched and enjoyable as a history of the come and go of Aristotle's books until the middle ages.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam S. Rust

    In Aristotle's Children Richard Rubenstein presents two major arguments. First, that we owe a substantial, unacknowledged, debt to the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages for our modern scientific worldview. Rubenstein amply supports this argument through well chosen and lively mini-biographies and historical examples from the Medieval period. The second argument is that we lost something when we abandoned the attempt to reconcile faith and reason and we should attempt to rehabilitate it. In Aristotle's Children Richard Rubenstein presents two major arguments. First, that we owe a substantial, unacknowledged, debt to the scholastic philosophers of the Middle Ages for our modern scientific worldview. Rubenstein amply supports this argument through well chosen and lively mini-biographies and historical examples from the Medieval period. The second argument is that we lost something when we abandoned the attempt to reconcile faith and reason and we should attempt to rehabilitate it. This argument is dealt with in a cursory fashion and simply does not persuade. Rubenstein points to three thinkers that, in his mind, are essential the development of our scientific worldview: Thomas Aquainas, Dun Scotus, and William of Ockham. Thomas Aquinas challenged Augustine's dour view of human reason and provided support for the idea that nature had divinely created regularities that could be investigated and understood. Dun Scotus, relying on assumptions about complete divine freedom, argued that the ideas in our head are only provisional models for how the world outside our heads works Finally, from William of Ockham we his eponymous razor which looks for the simplest explanation for what we observe. The arguments of these three philosophers eventually came together to form the basis for the Scientific Revolution, something which neither of these authors would individually have anticipated. In addition to these key players, Rubenstein also introduces to other major Medieval thinkers who wrestled with the intersection of faith and reason such as Meister Eckhart, Peter Abelard, and Cathar heretics. The additional players aren't a mere sideshow, however, but are skillfully used by Rubenstein to show the larger intellectual and political environment that Aquinas, Scotus, and William of Ockham moved in. The context also helps provide further support for the idea that we have a substantial and unacknowledged intellectual debt to the Medieval period. Given the texture and nuance Rubenstein brings to his first argument the cursory way he treats his second argument regarding the importance of attempting to reconcile faith and reason is a rude jolt. While it's fairly obvious what Rubenstein is going for when he talks about "reason" in the book (contingent, evidence-based, investigation). It is completely unclear what he means by "faith". In the absence of a clear definition of "faith" from Rubenstein we're left with the definition of the scholastic philosophers which populate the book. For these thinkers "faith" was assent dogmas of the Medieval Christian Church. The role of reason was to either confirm, or submit to, these dogmas. People who didn't submit died broken and alone (like Peter Abelard) or engulfed in flames at the stake (like members of the Catharist movement). Given that Rubenstein is both genial and (more importantly) Jewish this cannot be what means by "faith". In the absence of an alternative definition it is unclear why anyone would want to reactivate the Medieval project. This criticism aside, Aristotle's Children is an entertaining and enlightening read. It helps the reader overcome lazy myths about the Middle Ages even if it fails in persuading the reader that it is a project worth pursuing again.

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