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Category: Medieval Philosophy

You get to have a say in it

“That practical matter whose proper establishment is of greatest importance for the common sufficiency of the citizens in this life, and whose poor establishment threatens harm for the community, must be established only by the whole body of the citizens. But such a matter is the law. Therefore, the establishment of the law pertains only to the whole body of the citizens.” – Marsilius dei Mainardi, The Defender of Peace (trans. Gewirth)

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The family of man

“Every citizen must be free, and not undergo another’s despotism, that is, slavish dominion. But this would not be the case if one or a few of the citizens by their own authority made the law over the whole body of citizens. For those who thus made the law would be despots over the others, and hence such a law, however good it was, would be endured only with reluctance, or not at all, by the rest of the citizens, the more ample part. Having suffered contempt, they would protest against it, and not having been called upon to make it, they would not observe it. On the other hand, a law made by the hearing or consent of the whole multitude, even though it were less useful, would be readily observed and endured by every one of the citizens, because each then would seem to have set the law upon himself, and hence would have no protest against it, but would rather tolerate it with equanimity.” – Marsilius dei Mainardi, The Defender of Peace (trans. Gewirth)

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For instance, a law against protesting

“That at which the entire body of the citizens aims intellectually and emotionally is more certainly judged as to its truth and more diligently noted as to its common utility. For a defect in some proposed law can be better noted by the greater number than by any part thereof, since every whole, or at least every corporeal whole, is greater in mass and in virtue than any part of it taken separately. Moreover, the common utility of a law is better noted by the entire multitude, because no one knowingly harms himself. Anyone can look to see whether a proposed law leans toward the benefit of one or a few persons more than of the others or of the community, and can protest against it. Such, however, would not be the case were the law made by one or a few persons, considering their own private benefit rather than that of the community.” – Marsilius dei Mainardi, The Defender of Peace (trans. Gewirth)

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Power from the people

“The legislator, or the primary and proper efficient cause of the law, is the people or the whole body of citizens, or the weightier part thereof, through its election or will expressed by words in the general assembly of the citizens, commanding or determining that something be done or omitted with regard to human civil acts, under a temporal pain or punishment. By the ‘weightier part’ I mean to take into consideration the quantity and the quality of the persons in the community over which the law is made. The aforesaid whole body of citizens or the weightier part thereof is the legislator regardless of whether it makes the law directly by itself or entrusts the making of it to some person or persons, who are not and cannot be the legislator in the absolute sense, but only in a relative sense and for a particular time and in accordance with the authority of the primary legislator.” – Marsilius dei Mainardi, The Defender of Peace (trans. Gewirth)

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Pre-coffee Kantian precursor

“No act is perfectly virtuous unless the will through that act wishes what is dictated by right reason just because it is dictated by right reason. For if the will should wish what is dictated by right reason, not because it is dictated, but because it is delightful, or because of something else, it would wish what is dictated merely upon its being shown, because of the apprehension, and without right reason. And consequently, that act would not be virtuous, because it would not be elicited in conformity with right reason: to wish what is dictated by right reason because of the fact that it is dictated. But now it is impossible that someone should wish something because of something else unless he wishes that other, since if he refuses or does not wish that other, he already wishes the something more because of itself than because of that other. Therefore, in order that I should virtuously wish what is dictated by right reason, I must necessarily wish right reason through the same act and not through another.” – William of Ockham, Commentary on the Sentences (trans. Walsh)

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Close-edged reasoning teetering over the abyss

“If you say that that which does not exist is not the cause of everything, I say, that is false; but one must add that it does not exist, nor is it loved, nor desired. And then indeed it does follow that it is not a cause. But an end can be loved or desired now however much it does not exist. And hence it can be a final cause when it does not exist.” – William of Ockham, Seven Quodlibets (trans. Walsh)

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Show ’em the whip

“Man has a natural aptitude for virtue; but the perfection of virtue must be acquired by man by means of some kind of training. Thus we observe that a man is helped by diligence in his necessities, for instance, in food and clothing. Certain beginnings of these he has from nature, viz., his reason and his hands; but he has not the full complement, as other animals have, to whom nature has given sufficiently of clothing and food. Now it is difficult to see how man could suffice for himself in the matter of this training, since the perfection of virtue consists chiefly in withdrawing man from undue pleasures, to which above all man is inclined, and especially the young, who are more capable of being trained. Consequently a man needs to receive this training from another, whereby to arrive at the perfection of virtue. And as to those young people who are inclined to acts of virtue by their good natural disposition, or by custom, or rather by the gift of God, paternal training suffices, which is by admonitions. But since some are found to be dissolute and prone to vice, and not easily amenable to words, it was necessary for such to be restrained from evil by force and fear, in order that, at least, they might desist from evil-doing, and leave others in peace, and that they themselves, by being habituated in this way, might be brought to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and thus become virtuous. Now this kind of training, which compels through fear of punishment, is the discipline of laws.” – Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part (trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province)

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So high, you can’t get over it

“Perhaps not everyone who hears this name God understands it to signify something than which nothing greater can be thought, seeing that some have believed God to be a body. Yet, granted that everyone understands that by this name God is signified something than which nothing greater can be thought, nevertheless, it does not therefore follow that he understands that what the name signifies exists actually, but only that it exists mentally. Nor can it be argued that it actually exists, unless it be admitted that there actually exists something than which nothing greater can be thought; and this precisely is not admitted by those who hold that God does not exist.” – Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica, Part One (ed. Pegis; emphases in original)

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A secular trinity

“Every artificer, indeed, aims to produce a work that is beautiful, useful, and enduring, and only when it possesses these three qualities is the work highly valued and acceptable. Corresponding to the above-mentioned qualities, in the pattern of life there must be found three elements: ‘knowledge, will, and unaltering and persevering toil’. Knowledge renders the work beautiful; the will renders it useful; perseverance renders it lasting.” – John of Fidanza, Bonaventure, Retracing the Arts to Theology (trans. Healy; emphases in original)

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Got ’em while they were young

“Know that in every man there is necessarily the faculty of courage. Were this not so, he would not be moved in his thoughts to ward off that which harms him…. This faculty of courage varies in strength and weakness, as do other faculties, so that you may find among people some who will advance upon a lion, while others flee from a mouse. You will find someone who will advance against an army and fight it, and will find another who will tremble and fear if a woman shouts at him. There also must necessarily exist a temperamental preparation in the original natural disposition, which may increase through the passage of that which is potential into actuality—a passage effected in consequence of an effort made with a view to it and in accordance with a certain opinion. It may also diminish through a deficiency of exercise and in accordance with a certain opinion. The abundance or the weakness of this faculty in the young is made clear to you from their infancy.” – Moses ben Maimon, The Guide of the Perplexed (trans. Pines)

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Mystics top the charts

“It is above all the mystics who walk on the road of God; their life is the best life, their method the soundest method, their character the purest character; indeed, were the intellect of the intellectuals and the learning of the learned and the scholarship of the scholars, who are versed in the profundities of revealed truth, brought together in the attempt to improve the life and character of the mystics, they would find no way of doing so; for to the mystics all movement and all rest, whether external or internal, brings illumination from the light of the lamp of prophetic revelation; and behind the light of prophetic revelation there is no other light on the face of the earth from which illumination may be received.” – Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, The Deliverance from Error (trans. Watt)

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Bound and gagged

“Those who devote themselves eagerly to the mathematical sciences ought to be restrained. Even if their subject-matter is not relevant to religion, yet, since they belong to the foundations of the philosophical sciences, the student is infected with the evil and corruption of the philosophers. Few there are who devote themselves to this study without being stripped of religion and having the bridle of godly fear removed from their heads.” – Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali, The Deliverance from Error (trans. Watt)

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Breaking it down

“Every instruction is composed of two things: (a) making what is being studied comprehensible and causing its idea to be established in the soul and (b) causing others to assent to what is comprehended and established in this soul. There are two ways of making a thing comprehensible: first, by causing its essence to be perceived by the intellect, and second, by causing it to be imagined through the similitude that imitates it. Assent, too, is brought about by one of two methods, either the method of certain demonstration or the method of persuasion. Now when one acquires knowledge of the beings or receives instruction in them, if he perceives their ideas themselves with his intellect, and his assent to them is by means of certain demonstration, then the science that comprises these cognitions is philosophy. But if they are known by imagining them through similitudes that imitate them, and assent to what is imagined of them is caused by persuasive methods, then the ancients call what comprises these cognitions religion. And if those intelligibles themselves are adopted, and persuasive methods are used, then the religion comprising them is called popular, generally accepted, and external philosophy.  Therefore, according to the ancients, religion is an imitation of philosophy. Both comprise the same subjects and both give an account of the ultimate principles of the beings. For both supply knowledge about the first principle and cause of the beings, and both give an account of the ultimate end for the sake of which man is made—that is, supreme happiness—and the ultimate end of every one of the other beings. In everything of which philosophy gives an account based on intellectual perception or conception, religion gives an account based on imagination. In everything demonstrated by philosophy, religion employs persuasion.” – Abu Nasr al-Farabi, The Attainment of Happiness (trans. Hyman; emphases in original)

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