Philosophy 309/Medieval Philosophy

4 Hours Weekly

Dr. James Hatley
Phone: 677-5072 (O); 443-614-8030 (H)
Office: Philosophy House, 103
Office Hours: 3:00-5:00 pm on Tueseday and Thursday Afternoons


Course Description:

This course will treat a representative selection of Pagan, Islamic, Jewish and Christian thinkers running from the Late Ancient through most of the Medieval Period (300 CE-1300 CE). This particular span of time marks the collapse of Pagan culture and the rise of Christianity and Islam, as well as the reconstitution of Judaism in its Diaspora. Yet, even as Paganism founders, its notion and practice of Philosophy are appropriated by all three of the Abrahamic religious traditions. It can be even argued that Christianity only comes into its own through this appropriation. In the case of all three traditions, understanding the role of Philosophy as a mode of illuminating and being illuminated by one's religious faith was and continues to remain of utmost importance. Among the themes to be treated in our readings of thinkers from this time of a cataclysmic reorientation in culture and thought are: a) the reconciliation of religious faith with human reason, b) the transcendence of G-d, c) the nature of humans and their spiritual vocation, d) making sense of evil, e) making sense of creation, f) the eschatological dimensions of worldly existence. The course will also function to introduce students to many key religious and philosophical concepts of the religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. We will also strive to understand how these concepts might still be at work in contemporary questions concerning the nature of human beings and the significance of earthly existence.


Medieval Philosophy (MP), by Forrest Baird and Walter Kaufmann
Western Philosophy: From Antiquity to the Middle Ages (WP), by James Jordan

aesillumination4“To the Other” (TO) by Emanuel Levinas.  TEXT

Polishing a Dirty Mirror” (PDM), from TheTexture of the Divine by Aaron Hughes “. TEXT

Wandering Joy: Meister Eckhart's Mystical Philosophy (WJ), by Reiner Schurmann



Response Paper 1                    15%

Response Paper 2                    15%

Contemporary Response I       15%

Contemporary Response II      15%

11 Weekly Reading Questions 22%

Expert Question 1                    05%

Expert Question 2                    05%

Group Discussion Question     05%

Class Participation                   03%


Response Papers ask you to develop an analysis of a particular question raised by a thinker or thinkers during the Medieval Period. You will be required to characterize the question, explicate the thinker's or thinkers' treatment of the question and then give your reaction to the thinker's or thinkers' handling of the question.


Weekly Reading Questions will be turned in by the students at least seven times during the semester. This assignment requires that you respond in short essays totaling at least a typewritten page in length to questions given the week before about a reading we will be discussing that day in class. Your short essays must be turned in on a Monday at the beginning of the class in which the reading is to be discussed. You should bring two copies of this assignment to class--one to turn in and the other to help with your notes and to share with the class, if called upon.  If you turn in reading questions after the day they are due, the best grade you can receive is a C.

Expert Reading Question:  On the week you are assigned on of these you may NOT also do your weekly reading questions.  But you will be required to bring in one question—either from the weekly reading questions or one that you have posed yourself—with an extensive answer that you will read aloud and which will begin the class discussion on a Monday.   If you turn in reading questions after the day they are due, the best grade you can receive is a C.



 Weekly Reading Questions  (Reading assignments with page numbers for weeks 2-14 will be found in the Weekly Reading Questions).

WEEK ONE 1/30: An Overview of Pagan and Judeo-Christian World Views. MP, pp. 1-10, Sermon on the Mount

            Introduction to Course

            Poems by Judah HaLevi

WEEK TWO 2/6: Transcendence and Worldly Existence in late Pagan Thought—Plotinus

            Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

            Notes on Plotinus  

WEEK THREE 2/13: Plotinus on the Nature of Beauty and the Destiny of the Soul.

Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

image008WEEK FOUR 2/20: Philo, Talmud and the Two Paths of Biblical Interpretation/ The Troubling Issue of Philosophy for Christianity

Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

WEEK FIVE 2/27:  Reading Talmud in the 20th Century: Levinas on Teaching and Forgiveness (“To the Other”).  TEXT


Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

WEEK SIX 3/5: Augustine's Appropriation and Transformation of Neoplatonism/Trinitarian Account of the Soul/Goodness of Creation

            Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

WEEK SEVEN 3/12: Augustine's Account of Time/of Evil/of Fallen Existence 

            Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

DUE: Contemporary Response Paper I: Levinas speaks of the Day of Atonement, of the ritualized work of repentance and forgiveness as anything but “magical” (p. 15).  What do you think might be meant by a notion of forgiveness that is non-magical?  Discuss how appeasement is crucial to Levinas’ non-magical account of repentance and forgiveness.  What dangers are raised in appeasement that demand one be especially careful in bringing it about? Finally, why does Levinas adopt what he calls a “paradigmatic method” (p. 21) in working out his ideas on forgiveness? Three pages typewritten.  Make sure to use and comment on quotations from Levinas’ article in working out your thoughts on this issue.

            SPRING BREAK: 3/19-23

WEEK EIGHT 3/26: Review

Review Questions: Go to Review Questions


aesillumination2Consider the following excerpt from the “Book of Memory (Book X)” of Augustine’s Confessions: 

And what is this [which I love, when I love my G-d]?  I asked the earth, and it answered me, “I am not He.”  And whatsoever are in [the earth], confessed the same.  I asked the sea and the deeps, and the living creeping things.  And they answered, “We are not thy G-d, seek above us.” These things did my inner man know by the ministry of the outer:  I the inner knew them; I the mind, through the senses of my body.  I asked the whole frame of the world about my G-d; and it answered me, “I am not He, but He made me.”  What then do I love, when I love my  G-d?...By my very soul I will ascend to Him.

First, discuss the meaning of this passage using Augustine’s notions of free will, the inner and outer Man, the Trinitarian structure of the soul, and the notions of invenire (“nvention” or “coming into”), capex dei (being “capable of G-d”) and imago dei (being the “image of G-d”).  Then, compare and contrast how Plotinus would understand the same passage.  Finally, consider which understanding of the human situation in regard to G-d would you prefer and why.

A copy of the full passage from the Book of Memory can be found at: Augustine's Confessions.

image011aesjewishillumination2WEEK NINE 4/2: Islamic Philosophy on the Nature of the Soul--Avicenna, Algazi and Averroes.

Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

The Ornament of the World (Historical Background)

Articles on Avicenna, Averroes and Maimonides

WEEK TEN 4/9:  Jewish Philosophy on the Nature of our Knowledge of G-d: Maimonides.

Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:

WEEK ELEVEN 4/16:  Christian Philosophy on the Nature of our Knowledge of G-d and the Substantiality of the Human Soul:  Aquinas

Weekly EXPERT Reading Question: image010

Notes on Aquinas and the Names of G-d


WEEK TWELVE 4/23: The Work of Imagination in Arabic and Jewish Philosophy: “Polishing a Dirty Mirror  TEXT


Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:


WEEK THIRTEEN 4/30: Meister Eckhart I: A G-d who Unmakes G-d?

Weekly EXPERT Reading Question

 DUE: Response Paper II: Beginning with Aquinas' critique of Maimonides, explain how Aquinas comes to argue for an analogical and positive conception of the attributes of G-d.  In setting out this argument take a position in regard to it:  Do you agree more with Maimonides' or Aquinas' approach and why?  Make sure to pay attention to the strengths, as well as the weaknesses, of each approach.

WEEK FOURTEEN: Meister Eckhart II 5/7: Gelassenheit, or Discernment that inspires “Releasement.”

            Weekly EXPERT Reading Question:


            DUE: Contemporary Response Paper II, Midnight 05/15


Schurmann argues how for Eckhardt, "the fundamental determination of existence is 'operative identity'."    For Eckhardt, being is verbal rather than nominal, energetic rather than substantive.  In the metaphysics of substance, Schurmann argues, "otherness remains the first inescapable fact of any relation."  In Eckhardt's "symbolic" approach to metaphysics, "strict and simple difference, without primitive identity, cannot be thought." 


Using Schurmann's concept of operative identity, characterize an event in being in which you have participated, whether it be playing a musical instrument, caring for another human being, reading a book or engaging in a philosophical conversation (or whatever else might come to mind from your life).  In working out this characterization, make use of concepts from Schurmann's analysis of Eckhardt appropriate to your situation: combustion, anonymity, gelassenheit (releasement), living without (or beyond) a why, etc.


In the last part of your paper discuss how Eckhardt would argue that your characterization of a human event of operative identity cannot rest in itself but necessarily suggests G-d, which is to say, the G-d (G-ttheit) beyond G-d (G-tt).  Do you agree with Eckhardt on his position?  Why or why not?


At least 3 pages typewritten.  Hard copy due at the Philosophy House by 5 pm on 12/13.  You can put it in my mailbox.