Thursday, March 18, 2010

239: Political philosophy in the Middle Ages

If you think, that the Middle Ages was a dark period of a thousand years, from Boethius (524+ ) till Descartes (1649+) then you are mistaken. It was a period in which a religion claimed domination and on the other hand scholars wondered about the justification.

It was a long debate about spiritual power and worldly power, about the justification of property, about the origin and meaning of laws, obedience to ruler or clergy. However, political philosophy as an independent subject did not exist.

Nevertheless produced this period a vast amount of literature on political issues. Most of them were reactions and responses to what happened in the actual society and politics: to mention just one example…who is the boss ? The Pope or the Emperor?

So, let's have a closer look at this period and learn how it influenced future thinkers, or even what is left of it in our present political philosophy.

In the 6th century christianity was already a dominating religion in Europe. The works of Plato and Aristotle were hardly known or even unknown, but there was another book generally known: the Bible.

The bible conveyed political ideas, like The human race is normally ruled by kings or emperors and that these kings were often wicked tyrants and enemies of God. King David was the exemplary ruler supported by God.

Obedience is owed to rulers, even to the wicked. It is wrong to rebel, and especially to make any attack on the person of the ruler, but obedience to rulers is always limited by obedience to the commands of God. This, you could say, is the starting point of the political debate in emerging Europe.

One of the ten commandments is "Thou shalt not steal" (Exodus 20:15). Medieval writers assumed that the institution of private property was normal and right and that property should be respected.

This is an interesting observation, because in the New Testament Jesus isn't in favor of property at all: "Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor…"

And I guess you already see it coming: the immense wealth of Rome and the monks of the Franciscan order and their rule of absolute poverty based on Jesus' words himself. An historical debate and conflict.

This issue of property links to something else. Where does property come from? The Fathers, like Augustine, passed down to the middle ages the idea that certain key social institutions were not part of God's original plan for mankind, namely the institutions of coercive government, slavery and property.

These institutions are not Gods work. When Adam and Eve lost their innocence and were expelled from paradise, mankind had to create these institutions to establish a society.

Thence developed the distinction of natural law and manmade law, which can lead to the reasoning for instance to the idea that a law is an unlawful law, if it violates natural law.

From a text of Isidore of Seville( 638+) we learn that natural law for instance includes "the common possession of all things, the one liberty of all, and the acquisition of what is taken from air, land and sea". The one liberty of all means that all men are equal.

Of course one of the hot items of those days was the relation between Church and State. The reasoning was simple: If "there is no power but from God" (Romans 13:1) and the Pope is God's representative on earth, then it seems that power comes to Christian kings through the Pope.

Giles of Rome (1243 - 1316) argues that the Pope's fullness of power extends to political matters, so that the Pope is the supreme ruler of the world, God's deputy on earth, who delegates power to governments and supervises their activities.

John of Paris (1255 - 1306) however argues that the spiritual and temporal powers should be held by different persons, so that the Pope cannot be the supreme temporal ruler.

Both come from God, but neither comes through the other. Pope and prince derive their authority from God. God sets the limits of their power, and he has not subordinated either to the other.

This is of course again just a tiny incentive to take a closer look at political philosophy of those days, but as you see, far from dull and 'medieval'.

The Discussion

[13:22] herman Bergson: So far on this subject
[13:22] herman Bergson: If you have questions or remarks...feel free ㋡
[13:23] herman Bergson: I's old stuf...
[13:23] Seeme Short: yes, I would like to
[13:23] herman Bergson: and the pope is far from what he was these days
[13:23] Seeme Short: you mentioned that rules shouldn't be tyrants, because they are submitted to god's law
[13:24] Seeme Short: but who was to decide that and what if the rules was a tyrant in fact?
[13:24] herman Bergson: well... there was an idea of natural law...
[13:24] herman Bergson: all men being equal
[13:25] herman Bergson: everyone entitled to everything on earth equally..
[13:25] herman Bergson: breaking these laws justified opposition against the ruler
[13:25] herman Bergson: It was a subject of those it allowed to stand up against the king
[13:26] herman Bergson: this was closely related to the power of the pope..
[13:26] herman Bergson: He did the coronation of Charlemagne for instance...
[13:27] Seeme Short: much of medieval philosophy was influenced by Plato and Aristotle... how did their works influence political thinking?
[13:27] herman Bergson: Aristotle came into play only after the 12th century
[13:28] herman Bergson: Plato was better known by the Fathers
[13:28] herman Bergson: A lot of Aristotle's ideas were used by Thomas Aquinas for instance
[13:28] herman Bergson: And a minor thing about Aristotle..
[13:29] Seeme Short: I would say Aristotle's view would be in conflict with a state under the law of God, right?
[13:29] herman Bergson: the position of women was already regarded as second place...
[13:29] herman Bergson: When the works of Aristotle became popular this idea was only strongly confirmed by him unfortunately
[13:30] Seeme Short: by whom?
[[13:30] herman Bergson: That depends...
[13:30] Seeme Short: ah, about women
[13:30] Gemma Cleanslate: thomas?
[13:30] herman Bergson: Aristotle prefered a mixed oligarchic/democratic state...
[13:31] Seeme Short: didn't aristole combine his view of the state with his virtue theory and that the state was a way to elevate mankind?
[13:31] herman Bergson: And it depends on the position you take...the spiritual rule for the clergy..the worldly rule for the king
[13:32] herman Bergson: The ideas of John of Paris for instance
[13:32] herman Bergson: yes he did....the state had an educational function
[13:33] herman Bergson: this idea was also adopted in the Middle Ages by some writers
[13:33] Natsuo Winslet: May I interject two brief questions?
[13:33] Natsuo Winslet: a) Was God's authority over the world supposed to derive from His having made it?
[13:33] herman Bergson: sure
[13:34] Natsuo Winslet: b) Was there a general connection then between political notions like authority and ownership and authorshiop.
[13:34] Natsuo Winslet: ownership on the one hand, authorship on the other.
[13:34] herman Bergson: I think you should relate that to the distiction between natural law and manmade law
[13:35] herman Bergson: Of course God's authority is based on his being a the creator.... interesting....he has all the copyrights
[13:35] Gemma Cleanslate: :-)
[13:36] Natsuo Winslet: So I make a house, I am automatically authoritative over it?
[13:36] Natsuo Winslet: For the medievals?
[13:36] Seeme Short: could you explain that a little further? natural law=divine law, I think, and manmade law is subject to natural law, right?
[13:36] herman Bergson: Yes those days the idea also emerged that what you make by your own hands is your property
[13:37] herman Bergson: Well...natural law is something we might now call human nature...
[13:37] herman Bergson: it means…it is a kind of a priori ...present in all of us
[13:38] herman Bergson: like we are all created being equal
[13:38] Seeme Short: and how did they justify ownership of land by a nobleman?
[13:38] herman Bergson: we were creating naked in a paradise owing nothing...or actually everything..ideas like that
[13:39] herman Bergson: But sharing goods, getting equal sharing...fighting greed...for that you need manmade rules...
[13:39] herman Bergson: because we lost our innocence
[13:39] herman Bergson: This idea is also found in Stoic thinking
[13:39] Natsuo Winslet: That explains the ownership by noblemen, it doesn't justify it, surely.
[13:40] herman Bergson: well Natsuo... I always wondered how someone could claim to OWN a piece of land ㋡
[13:40] Gemma Cleanslate: it is all amazing how it was interpreted to end up that way
[13:40] Seeme Short: yes, it is still unclear what the justification of a manmade law could be
[13:40] Natsuo Winslet: On Locke's view, you own land by mixing your labor with it.
[13:41] Natsuo Winslet: Just like, in effect, the house.
[13:41] herman Bergson: However...eventually it also was defined by how much land you could work on and make productive..that land was yours
[13:41] Natsuo Winslet: OK.
[13:41] herman Bergson: Kind of how the West was won in the US....tho some indians in the way
[13:42] Gemma Cleanslate: oh boy
[13:42] Qwark Allen: and the south america by spain?
[13:42] herman Bergson: When a farmer settled down and started ploughing the was his ..
[13:43] Sartre Placebo: i don´t know where it was exactly something that justice is only given under equal powers, the athenians where about to attack an island which was in coalition with sparta but i can´t remember who exactly said that :(
[13:43] herman Bergson: We didn't get to that Qwark, but Augustine already claimed that pagans cant own anything..
[13:43] herman Bergson: only a community can own things...
[13:43] herman Bergson: and a community can only exist under God
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: well the American Indians never claimed to own the land
[13:44] Qwark Allen: ehhehe
[13:44] herman Bergson: so pagans never can have a community
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: only fought to keep the americans from claiming it
[13:44] Gemma Cleanslate: the early"americans"\
[13:44] herman Bergson: not the americans Gemma....immigrating Europeans
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: they did not recognize land ownership
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: yes lol
[13:45] Gemma Cleanslate: well
[13:45] herman Bergson: An interesting difference of opinions about the concept of ownership between indians and europeans here
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: very
[13:46] Alaya Kumaki: a huge diference, but i guess that in central asia it was similar , , where the romans coudnt get to rule
[[13:47] herman Bergson: As you see... the Middle Ages are the birthchamber of a lot of ideas that will evolve into new ones
[13:48] herman Bergson: ideas that were starting points for men like Hobbes and Locke
[13:48] herman Bergson: I would say..time to move on…….
[13:48] Natsuo Winslet: to what?
[13:48] herman Bergson: Thank you all for your participation and interest
[13:48] Natsuo Winslet: Oh sorry.
[13:48] Qwark Allen: ;-))
[13:48] Qwark Allen: thank you hermaan
[13:48] Repose Lionheart: Thank you, Professor. Very clear.
[13:48] Gemma Cleanslate: ♥ Thank Youuuuuuuuuu!! ♥
[13:49] Natsuo Winslet: Thank you.
[13:49] herman Bergson: to move on what happened since Descartes, Natsuo
[13:49] Qwark Allen: always interesting
[13:49] Natsuo Winslet: Gottit.
[13:49] Seeme Short: thanks you, herman
[13:49] herman Bergson: My pleasure... ㋡
[13:49] herman Bergson: class dismissed ㋡
[13:49] oola Neruda: thank you... it was interesting to see this period from a point of view different from that of a history lesson... to think about the ideas themselves
[13:49] Gemma Cleanslate: see you Thrusday
[13:50] Qwark Allen: yes oola
[13:50] herman Bergson: ok GEmma!
[13:51] Seeme Short: herman?
[13:51] herman Bergson: plz Seeme
[13:52] Seeme Short: you know the dynamics of Philosophy Island and Philosophy House discussions, I assume
[13:52] herman Bergson: yes I do ㋡
[13:52] Seeme Short: hehe, well, I noticed your rules
[13:52] Seeme Short: but also how civil the discussion was here
[13:52] Seeme Short: do you ever have to apply the rules?
[13:53] herman Bergson: hardly....this is the result of three years work with the group
[13:53] herman Bergson: people fit in very easily
[13:53] Seeme Short: ah, three years already
[13:53] Natsuo Winslet:You 've beaten them into submission. Lol
[13:53] Seeme Short: hihi
[13:53] herman Bergson: newcomers only make a mistake once then kindly comply...never a problem
[13:54] herman Bergson: Yes Natsuo...
[13:54] herman Bergson: I have heavy artillery for that
[13:54] Natsuo Winslet: lol
[13:54] herman Bergson: but I forgot how to use it..never needed to ㋡
[13:54] Seeme Short: a teacher of the old school...
[13:54] herman Bergson: yes...
[13:55] herman Bergson: and I intervene when someone goes out of line...I do not accept that
[13:55] Seeme Short: good for you
[13:55] herman Bergson: this is a class not a nintendo game
[13:55] Alaya Kumaki: ^^
[13:56] herman Bergson: wasnt that yours Ayala!
[13:56] herman Bergson: I still love the metaphore
[13:56] Seeme Short: sometimes it is very difficult to keep track of a discussion, since either we use too much text or our arguments are becoming cartoonish
[13:56] Alaya Kumaki: mmm, sounds familiar herman:)
[13:56] herman Bergson: yes...that is why I am a bit reluctant to work on Philosophy Island
[13:57] Seeme Short: because of the wild dynamics?
[13:57] herman Bergson: I dont like the dynamics of the discussion there
[13:57] herman Bergson: leads to one LEARNS anything
[13:57] herman Bergson: this is a class...come if you want to learn
[13:57] herman Bergson: not if you want to tell how much you know or how smart you are
[13:58] Seeme Short: hehe
[13:58] herman Bergson: but when you know a lot and are smart you can contribute to discussion a great deal
[13:59] Seeme Short: hehe

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]