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Friday, December 2, 2016

Will Durant On The Rediscovery Of Aristotle

Will Durant’s The Story of Philosophy has a good concise account of Aristotle’s life and ideas. It is true that Aristotle is such a vast subject and Durant has barely skimmed the surface, but in my opinion Durant has provided a good overview.

Here’s an excerpt from The Story of Philosophy where Durant is talking about the rediscovery of Aristotle in Europe:
It may be doubted if any other thinker has contributed so much to the enlightenment of the world. Every later age has drawn upon Aristotle, and stood upon his shoulders to see the truth. The varied and magnificent culture of Alexandria found its scientific inspiration in him. His Organon played a central role in shaping the minds of the medieval barbarians into disciplined and consistent thought. The other works, translated by Nestorian Christians into Syriac in the fifth century A.D., and thence into Arabic and Hebrew in the tenth century, and thence into Latin towards 1225, turned scholasticism from its eloquent beginnings in Abelard to encyclopaedic completion in Thomas Aquinas. The Crusaders brought back more accurate Greek copies of the philosopher’s text; and the Greek scholars of Constantinople brought further Aristotelian treasures with them when, after 1453, they fled from the besieging Turks. The works of Aristotle came to be for European philosophy what the Bible was for theology—an almost infallible text, with solutions for every problem. In 1215 the Papal legate at Paris forbade teachers to lecture on his works; in 1213 Gregory IX appointed a commission to expurgate him; by 1260 he was de rigueur in every Christian school, and ecclesiastical assemblies penalized deviations from his views. Chaucer describes his student as happy by having 
At his bedded hed
Twenty books clothed in blake or red,
Of Aristotle and his philosophie; 
and in the first circles of Hell, says Dante, 
I saw the Master there of those who know,
Amid the philosophic family,
By all admired, and by all reverenced;
There Plato too I saw, and Socrates,
Who stood beside him closer than the rest.
  
Such lines give us some inkling of the honor which a thousand years offered to the Stagirite. 

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