Jacques Maritain Center : History of Philosophy / by William Turner


Division. The period extending from the middle of the fifteenth century to the beginning of the seventeenth was one of intellectual ferment in which the philosophy of the schools gradually disappeared and modern philosophy came to be more and more definitely distinguishable. During the first half of the seventeenth century, Descartes expounded and defended the first great system of the new philosophy, a system which dominated the whole course of thought during that century and served as a starting point for the principal systems of the following century. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, however, an age of criticism was inaugurated in opposition to the dogmatism and empiricism of the Cartesian philosophy and its derivatives; so that at the opening of the nineteenth century we find a new era, in which the predominating influence is that of Kant. We have, therefore, the following division of modern philosophy:





The change from Scholastic to modern philosophy was gradual, and, while its course is not easy to follow, the causes which led to the change are not far to seek. First among these must be mentioned the decay of Scholasticism itself. The representatives of Scholastic philosophy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries seem for the most part to have completely forgotten the principles of the classic Scholasticism of the thirteenth century. Busying themselves with subtleties too refined to be grasped even by the learned, they utterly neglected the study of the scientific movement of their own day, and, in defiance of the method sanctioned by usage in the schools of the Golden Age of Scholasticism, raised the argument from authority to a position of undue importance. There were, however, as we shall see, some notable exceptions to this.

The decay of philosophical speculation in the schools and universities of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the humanistic movement, the rapid progress of the natural sciences, and the influence of the first reformers contributed to bring about the transition from Scholastic to modern philosophy. Mention must also be made of the political condition of the times, the disintegration of the idea of a united Christian empire, the growth of the idea of the political individuality of nations, the discovery of America, the invention of the art of printing, all of which necessitated a development and adaptation of speculative thought to the changed conditions of the time. That Scholastic philosophy was capable of such development and adaptation must be admitted by all who recognize that thought is continuous in its historical evolution; and if such development and adaptation did not take place, the fault lay with those who failed to put Scholasticism in its true light at this the most critical period in its history.


The exigencies of religious controversy arising out of the doctrines of the reformers brought about a revival of theological activity in the Catholic schools and universities of this period. The development of theological speculation naturally inspired the effort to restore and supplement the philosophy of the Scholastics of the thirteenth century. When, therefore, the charge of frivolity and master-worship is made against the Scholastics of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, exception must be made in favor of those schoolmen who went back to the sources of genuine Scholasticism and commented on the works of St. Thomas and Scotus.

Chief among the commentators of St. Thomas are Paulus Barbus Soncinas (died 1494), who followed in the footsteps, of Capreolus, Thomas de Vio Cajetanus (Cajetan, 1469-1534), who wrote what is still considered the classic commentary on the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas, and Francis a Sylvestris of Ferrara (Ferrariensis) (1474-1528), who composed a masterly commentary on the Summa contra Gentiles. Mention must likewise be made of the theologians Melchior Cano (1509-1560), Dominicus de Soto (1494-1560), Dominicus Bañez (1528-1604), who commented on the Summa Theologica, and of John of St. Thomas (1589-1644), who wrote a Cursus philosophicus ad exactam, veram et genuinam Aristotelis et Doctoris Angelici mentem. Under the influence of these Dominicans and that of the great Carmelite teachers, new zest was given to the study of St. Thomas at Salamanca and Alcalá, while at the same time a new form of Thomism was developed by the Jesuit teachers at Coimbra and at other centers of learning in the Iberian peninsula. With this Neo-Thomism is associated the establishment of a school of Jesuit theology at the Roman college. It was there that Vasquez (1551-1604) and Toletus (1532-1596) taught, who influenced to a great extent the subsequent development of Catholic theology. Among the Jesuits who taught at Coimbra the best known is Fonseca (1528-1599). Suarez (1548-1617), the ablest and most distinguished of the Jesuit theologians and philosophers of this time, is associated with the intellectual prestige of Salamanca, Coimbra, Alcalá, and Rome. His works, which include twenty-three folio volumes, contain, besides commentaries on the works of St. Thomas, treatises which, like the Disputationes Metaphysicae, are important as independent contributions to the literature of Scholastic philosophy.{2}

The principal representatives of the philosophy of Scotus are John the Englishman (died 1483), Johannes Magistri (died 1482), Antonius Trombetta (died 1518), and Maurice the Irishman (1463-1513).{3}

The philosophical significance of these teachers consists in the serious effort which they made to understand and expound the works of their predecessors, the great masters of Scholastic philosophy.

{1} A general survey of the literature of the history of modern philosophy is given by Falckenberg, Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, 2. Aufl., p. 12; English trans. by Armstrong (New York, 1893), p. 15. Add to these lists Höffding's History of Modern Philosophy, trans. by Meyer (2 vols., London, 1900), and Kuno Fischer's Geschichie der neueren Philosophie, of which the fourth edition is being published by Winter, Heidelberg, 1899 ff. Consult also Weher, History of Philosophy, trans. by Thilly (New York, 1896), pp. 12 ff., and Burt, History of Modern Philosophy (Chicago, 1892), p. vi. Rogers' Student's History of Philosophy (New York and London, 1901) gives at the end of each section a select list of English readings.

{2} Cf. articles in Science Catholique, 1898, 1899, "Suarez metaphysicien, commentateur de St. Thomas."

{3} Cf. Wadding's Vita Joannis Duns Scoti, in Lyons edition of Scotus' Works, I, 4. cf. also Wetzer u. Welte's Kirchenlexikon, article, "Mauritius a Portu."

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