The Philosophical Uses of Medieval Philosophy

The Philosophical Uses of Medieval Philosophy
Wolf, Robert G.

Essays in Medieval Studies, vol. 1 (1984)


As a philosopher engaged in the teaching of medieval philosophy, questions about the worth of what I am doing often intrude. Does medieval philosophy have anything more than mere antiquarian interest? Should it be taken seriously by a philosopher whose main interest is in contemporary philosophical problems and who is indifferent to the study of history? What is the utility of studying philosophers who worked on strange problems, utilizing assumptions fairly universally rejected since the 1600s? In attempting to answer these questions, I have concluded that it is of great value to working philosophers who feel themselves indifferent to the dead past to examine that past for enlightenment about problems that exercise philosophers today. I would hope that some of the line of reasoning is relevant to workers in other areas; indeed, I think that the kind of case I am trying to make can be made for any area where a temporal dimension enters into consideration of problems, even perhaps in those areas which seem most ahistorical, such as the technical construction of solutions to engineering problems. The ahistorical character of those fields may be due more to a failure of imagination on the part of current practitioners than to any real irrelevance of the past.

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