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Scholasticism (from ancient Greek σχολαστικός scholastikós "idle", " devoting his leisure to the sciences " (also used literally as "student", "room scholar", "pedant", "scholast"); Latinized scholasticus " scholastic ", "belonging to studies" ) is the mindset and method of reasoning developed in the Latin-speaking scholarly world of the Middle Ages .

This method is a procedure based on the logical writings of Aristotle to clarify questions by means of theoretical considerations, based on premises (“prerequisite, assumption”). A claim is examined, for example the earth is a disk , by first presenting the arguments for and against it one after the other and then making and justifying a decision about its correctness. Claims are refuted by showing them either illogical or the result of conceptual ambiguity, or by showing that they are inconsistent with evident or already proven facts.

The most famous part of scholastic literature today deals with theological questions. Scholasticism, however, was by no means limited to theological topics and goals, but encompassed the entirety of the knowledge enterprise. The scholastic method was the best known and most widespread argumentation strategy of the epoch.

In addition, the term "scholastic" is used to designate the epoch of the history of philosophy and theology in which the scholastic method predominated and shaped higher education. The chronological delimitation of the epoch and its three phases (early, high and late scholasticism) is, however, fuzzy and therefore problematic. Especially with regard to the beginning of scholasticism, the approaches diverge; In research, one speaks of “pre-polasticism” as a phase in the early Middle Ages which prepares the early scholasticism , but which cannot actually be counted as part of the scholastic epoch.

Concept and concept history

In ancient times, since Cicero , the adjective scholasticus denoted everything that had to do with school operations, education and especially rhetoric . From the early Middle Ages on, a schoolmaster, the head of a cathedral or monastery school, was called scholasticus. As in antiquity, in the Middle Ages the adjective was used for everything related to teaching, education and scholarship, not specifically for what is now understood as scholasticism. In the Middle Ages , the noun scholasticus played no role as a delimiting self-designation for scholastics ; the scholastics did not regard themselves as a special group or school.

The German term “scholasticism” came up in the later 18th century and in a broader sense referred to the entirety of medieval theology and philosophy , in the narrower sense all attempts to rationally justify the ecclesiastical dogmas of Catholicism with philosophical means. The German word “scholastic” has been attested since the 17th century. According to a negative image of the Middle Ages that was widespread at the time, these expressions were often used derogatory from the start (“narrow-minded”, “pedantic”, “dogmatic”). Even today, among other things, the idea of ​​limited, one-sided “school wisdom”, schematic, unrealistic thinking, overemphasis on theory, hair-splitting and subtlety are associated with it. Even Luther had in 1517 in a Latin disputation , teachings, which later received the title of "disputation against scholastic theology" of scholastici fought. He called them "lying, cursed, diabolical gossip".

Although the terms “scholastic” and “scholastic” originally only referred to the Middle Ages, they are also used for ways of thinking from other epochs that are supposedly or actually similar to late medieval scholasticism. Occasionally they are even transmitted to other cultures, e.g. B. on the Indian history of philosophy . If the derogatory meaning is meant, one also speaks of "scholasticism".

The modern science of the Middle Ages ( Medieval Studies ), however, uses the term “scholasticism” in a different, more precise sense that is neither evaluative nor specifically related to theological or philosophical topics. In this sense of the word “scholasticism” does not mean a certain direction or teaching and is also not limited to certain subjects. Rather, it is a type of argumentation and evidence that has been practiced equally in all fields of knowledge, i.e. in medicine and natural science as well as in theology and metaphysics .


In terms of content, the opinions of the scholastics on the issues discussed often diverged widely. The only thing all scholastics had in common was the use of the scholastic method, the only scientifically accepted procedure at the time in university operations. It consisted of a further development of the ancient dialectic , the doctrine of correct (scientifically correct) discussion. Since the scholastic method was shaped by the understanding of science and the logic of Aristotle and his writings were the most important textbooks, the influence of this philosopher was very great. But one cannot equate scholasticism with Aristotelianism . There were also Platonists and Aristotle critics among the scholastics . In principle, a scholastic could take any point of view if he just gave it a methodically clean justification. In practice, it was expected that the teachings of the Church should be considered, which the majority of scholastics did.

A scholastic textbook usually begins with questions about the theory of science and science systematics. If it is z. If , for example, the theory of the soul is concerned, which is presented using the authoritative text of Aristotle De anima (On the soul ) , the first question asked is: Can there even be a science of the soul? What exactly is the subject of this science supposed to be? To what extent is this subject suitable for scientific investigation? How reliable can statements be made about the soul? Is the Science of the Soul a Natural Science? Where is this science to be classified in the hierarchical system of the sciences? Then one turned to specific details, e.g. B: Is the soul a substance? What is it made of? What are the interactions between you and the body? What skills is it endowed with? Is the soul a unit, or are its parts independent souls, namely a vegetative one that controls metabolism and growth, a sensitive one that is responsible for perceptions and feelings, and an intellectual one (reason)? How does it work with plants and animals?

Argument structure

Fundamental was the principle of dialogue between two representatives of opposing views, from which the solution to the problem posed arose, as one refuted the other. This principle was applied in the disputation and in the commentary on the quests. A fixed scheme was usually followed. First the question was asked: It is asked whether ... Then the arguments were listed first on one side, then on the other. The arguments were structured in the sense of the Aristotelian syllogism , with the major propositio maior and the minor propositio minor . Then the question was decided in one sense or the other (conclusio or solutio) and the reasons for the decision were given. This was followed by the refutation of the individual arguments of the losing side. It was refuted either by denying a premise (per interemptionem) or by denying its applicability to the present case.

Deductive principle

What was typically scholastic was an almost limitless trust in the power and reliability of deduction , of inferring from the general to the particular. It was assumed that the deduction carried out correctly can lead to the knowledge of everything reasonably knowable and to the removal of all doubts. The prerequisite was the correct application of the rules of Aristotle, especially his doctrine of fallacies . You started from certain general principles that you believed were correct, and then began to reason to explain a phenomenon or to prove a thesis.

The principle that was taken as the major principle in the syllogism very often came from Aristotle. Such principles were e.g. B. Nature does nothing in vain; everything that it creates has a meaning and purpose or: nature always produces the best that it can produce. Other generally accepted principles were man is the noblest living being and nature cares more about the higher than the lower. Now it was about a phenomenon that apparently contradicts this, for example this: There are more congenital disabilities and deformities in humans (according to the scholastics) than in animals, and in plants there are none at all. The scholastic now wants to show that the principles are nevertheless correct. As always, nature strived for the best, but could not achieve anything better for certain reasons that are explained, because in these individual cases certain conditions were very unfavorable. The result was the best that could be achieved under such circumstances. Precisely because humans are the most elegant living beings, they are also the most complex and therefore most susceptible to failure. So the result was that all the principles were correct, and it was believed that they understood how disabilities come about, although in these cases too, nature tries hard.

The scholastics were convinced that theoretical knowledge, which is logically and neatly derived from general principles, is the most certain knowledge there can be. Observations can be false, deceptive, or misinterpreted, but a logically sound inference from a general principle is necessarily free of error. That is why phenomena that seemed to contradict such a conclusion had to be interpreted in such a way that they fit into the framework set by this principle and its consequences. This was called the preservation of phenomena and played a central role especially in physics and astronomy . If conclusions were drawn from a generally accepted principle that contradicted those from another principle, efforts were made to show that the contradiction only appears to exist and is based on a misunderstanding.

Dealing with authorities

In the case of contradictions between statements by recognized authorities, the attempt was usually made to show how one can interpret the passages in such a way that it emerges that both statements apply. The scholastics had sufficient opportunities to resolve contradictions without having to give up generally accepted doctrines:

  • There are different levels of interpretation; some statements are only meant symbolically or are only intended to serve a specific purpose (such as a didactic one) and are not necessarily to be understood as statements of fact.
  • A term can have different meanings depending on the context. The question of whether it is ambiguous or unambiguous at the point in question is crucial for understanding.
  • Most statements do not claim absolute validity (simpliciter), but should only be true in certain respects and under certain conditions (secundum quid) . So a doctrine can be saved by precisely limiting its scope.

Some masters did not try to harmonize interpretations, but sharply contradicted individual doctrines of the authorities (even Aristotle). In terms of dynamics, they deviated from Aristotelian physics and developed alternative ideas ( impetus theory , internal resistance as a factor that inhibits movement).

Scholastic lessons

Scholasticism is - in its origin and essence - closely linked to teaching. Its basis was the existing textbooks, most of which came from antiquity , but some were medieval works.


In the faculty of the liberal arts (artist faculty) one dealt with logic and grammar ( speculative grammar as language theory), natural science, metaphysics and ethics . The most important textbooks were the relevant works of Aristotle, i.e. the Organon (his writings on logic), Physics , About the Sky , Meteorology, About the Origin of Animals , About the Soul , Metaphysics , Nicomachean Ethics , etc. In the theological faculty one studied apart from the Bible, above all the sentences of Peter Lombardus ; every theologian was expected to comment on the sentences . In the medical faculty, lessons were primarily based on the works of Galen , Avicenna's Canon of Medicine and the writings of Isaak ben Solomon Israeli (Isaak Judaeus). For jurists, the basic works were the Corpus iuris civilis (Roman law) and the Corpus iuris canonici ( canon law).


The first and fundamental task was to make the content of the textbooks understandable, i.e. to explain what was meant there, and to eliminate possible ambiguities and misunderstandings. This was urgently needed, especially with the works of Aristotle, because in the Latin translations available at the time they were difficult to understand and therefore required comment. Then it should be proven that the content of the textbook was well founded and free of contradictions and that there were no contradictions to evident facts or to other recognized textbooks. The next step was to ask and independently solve questions that arose from reading the textbook. A further step was to use the textbook only as a keyword for questions of all kinds that one found interesting. The scholastic had the opportunity to explain his own philosophy in detail.


The scholastic education consisted of lectures (lectio) and disputations. The holding of these courses was the exclusive right of the Masters . The disputations, which take place regularly in all faculties under the supervision of a single master's degree, were used to discuss and clarify questions ( quaestions ) on certain previously announced topics (quaestiones disputatae, quaestiones ordinariae). Twice a year the Disputatio de quolibet took place, a structured discussion event (sometimes lasting several days) about any problem, i. H. about anything that was likely to be the subject of a scientific debate. The main arguments and the results of the disputations were recorded in writing and published.


Starting from the textbooks, the thorough knowledge and correct understanding of which was the primary goal, scholastic science remained primarily commentary. A very large part of the works of the scholastic scholars consisted of commentaries on the textbooks. The simplest way of commenting was glosses : In the textbook between the lines or in the margin, word explanations and other, sometimes detailed explanations and notes were entered. The next stage were explanatory, paraphrasing comments that set out the structure of the textbook, presented its trains of thought in a systematically structured form and reproduced its content in other words. Then there were "Quaestionenkommentare" which contained questions about the textbook and its discussion and finally clarification with the argumentation and refutation of counter-arguments. These types of comments (there were also mixed forms) corresponded to the categories of the courses: the simple text-interpreting comment corresponded to the lecture, the quaestion comment to the disputation.

to hum

The sums served the comprehensive, systematic manual-like presentation of large areas of knowledge, such as grammar, logic or even theology as a whole. As early as 1146 , the grammarian Petrus Helie (or Helias) had written the Summa super Priscianum , a summary of the teachings of the ancient grammarist Priscian , which set the trend for the speculative grammar (language theory) of scholasticism. Petrus Hispanus wrote the Summulae logicales, a very popular logic textbook that was widely published well into the 18th century. Among the sums of theology, those of Thomas Aquinas had the greatest aftereffect ( Summa contra gentiles and Summa theologica ). In the case of lawyers, too, large sections of the material were presented in sums. The decretists in particular ( canon lawyers who studied and interpreted the Decretum Gratiani ) emerged as the authors of sums, some of which were also commentary for them.


The 11th century (or even just its second half) and at least the beginning of the 12th century are considered to be the early scholastic era . In the course of the 12th century a slow transition to high scholasticism is said to have taken place. The delimitation of high and late scholasticism is also unclear; chronologically, the limit is said to be somewhere in the early 14th century .

Anselm von Canterbury (1033–1109) encounters a preliminary stage of the scholastic way of thinking in his endeavor to find compelling philosophical evidence for theological statements ( proof of God ) and in his use of dialogues. Petrus Abelardus († 1142) explained and demonstrated in his work Sic et non a methodical handling of contradictions between authorities. The translation of Aristotle's writings into Latin, such as that of Michael Scotus , which began in the second quarter of the 12th century and was largely completed in the 1330s, played a decisive role . At the end of the 12th century there were also translations of works by the Muslim philosophers al-Kindī , al-Farabi , Avicenna and al-Ghazālī (Latinized Algazel) as well as the Arabic-Jewish Ibn Gabirol (Latinized Avicebron ), and around 1235 also the Aristotle commentaries by Averroes († 1198, Latinized by e.g. Jakob ben Abba Mari Anatoli ). Averroes exerted a great influence on the Latin philosophy of the Middle Ages and was simply referred to as "the commentator", as Aristotle was only called "the philosopher". From then on, this type of literature shaped university teaching, and this was how scholastic science began in the West in the true sense. The most important factors and developments were:

  • The replacement of the traditional theology and philosophy, influenced by the Platonic views of the church father Augustine , with Aristotelianism. Albertus Magnus († 1280) still strived for a synthesis of Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, his student Thomas Aquinas († 1274), the founder of Thomism , eliminated the Platonic elements and ensured the victory of an Aristotelianism adapted to the requirements of the Catholic faith.
  • Roger Bacon († around 1292) astutely recognized the weaknesses of the scholastic scientific establishment, above all its extreme theoretical load, and tried to create a balance by incorporating more empirical knowledge. With his future-oriented concept of empirical science (scientia experimentalis) and an abundance of bold, novel ideas, he hurried ahead of his contemporaries. However, his tendency to harsh, relentless criticism made him unpopular in wide circles, and his approaches were not taken up in the way that would have been necessary for a comprehensive reform of scholasticism.
  • Among the Franciscans , a flow formed (Franciscan school), although they took the scholastic method, but limit the influence of Aristotelianism and traditional Platonic-Augustinian ideas wanted to preserve, especially in anthropology . Leading representatives of this direction were Robert Grosseteste , Alexander von Hales , Bonaventura and finally Johannes Duns Scotus († 1308), the founder of Scotism . Franciscans, especially Scotists, became the main opponents of Thomism.
  • A stream of radical Aristotelians emerged who followed the views of Aristotle and Averroes also in points where they were hardly compatible with church doctrine (see Averroism ). This repeatedly led to violent reactions from the church hierarchy, which forbade the dissemination of such views. The Averroists stubbornly offered silent resistance.
  • Wilhelm von Ockham († 1347) was the champion of a view that had occasionally been represented in a different form as early as the 11th century. It radicalized the Aristotelian criticism of Plato's theory of ideas by granting the ideas (universals) no real existence whatsoever ( nominalism or, according to other terminology, conceptualism ). This view was incompatible with certain attempts at explanation by the Trinity and relegated them to an area of ​​revelation belief that was contrary to reason. Johannes Buridanus was one of the leading nominalists / conceptualists . At the universities, nominalism / conceptualism was later called via moderna in contrast to the via antiqua of the (partly radical, partly moderate) universal realists.

Opponent of scholasticism

Scholasticism had three types of opponents:

  • Conservative anti-dialectics like Rupert von Deutz , Gerhoch von Reichersberg and Bernhard von Clairvaux (a mystic of early scholasticism), who disliked the whole direction. They believed that applying the method to theological questions could lead to inferences that were inconsistent with the teaching of the Church.
  • Prominent humanists like Petrarch and Erasmus . They attacked the whole of scholastic science with great severity because it was sterile and its questions and solutions were useless and irrelevant. The humanists believed that the scholastics could not understand Aristotle because they only knew him from poor translations and viewed him from the perspective of Averroes . In addition, the humanists abhorred the language of the scholastics, the late medieval Latin with its many scholastic technical terms. They only wanted to accept ancient, classical Latin.
  • Pioneers of the modern understanding of science in the early modern period. The criticism of the conservative anti-dialectics and the humanists could do little to harm scholasticism because they had no constructive scientific alternatives to offer. In the early modern age, however, a third type of opposition emerged, which in a long process brought about the end of scholasticism. One no longer wanted to be satisfied with interpreting observations in such a way that they were compatible with given principles and their consequences and resulted in a consistent theory. Instead, one began to proceed empirically , thereby giving priority to empirical knowledge and, if necessary, changing the principles or abandoning them, i.e. allowing induction as a scientific method as a priority alongside deduction . This criticism aimed at the main weakness of the deductive scholastic method, namely the fact that the results of the scholastics, despite all their acuteness, could not be better than the premises on which they started. In addition, early modern natural science partially replaced the quality-related thinking of the scholastics with a quantity-related one. In this development, Francis Bacon in particular played an essential role as an opponent of the scholastic tradition.

Modern late and neo-scholasticism

In the early modern period, the scholastic method continued to be used by some theologians and jurists. The modern late scholasticism or second scholasticism is understood to be a theological-legal movement that ties in with Thomas Aquinas . It had its starting point in Paris and was continued in the Spanish school of Salamanca ( Francisco de Vitoria , Domingo de Soto ). That is why one speaks of " late Spanish scholasticism ". In late scholasticism, central principles of international law and criminal law ( punishment ) were developed. Gregor Reisch , whose textbook Margarita Philosophica saw several editions in the 16th century, is considered a representative of the philosophical school of the late scholastic realists .

Under neo-scholasticism refers to a flow in Catholic theology since the 19th century that continues in late medieval and early modern ideas. Neuthomism plays by far the most important role. This development was facilitated by the encyclical Aeterni Patris of Pope Leo XIII. who emphasized the outstanding importance of scholasticism for Catholic philosophy.

Well-known scholastics


Overview representations

Overall representations and representations of individual sub-areas

  • Wim Decock, Christiane Birr: Law and morals in the scholasticism of the early modern period 1500-1750. De Gruyter, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-11-037967-9 .
  • Jos Decorte: A Brief History of Medieval Philosophy. Schöningh, Paderborn 2006, ISBN 3-8252-2439-2 content
  • Martin Grabmann : The History of the Scholastic Method. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 1988, ISBN 3-05-000592-0 (unaltered reprint of the 1909 edition)
  • Jorge JE Gracia, Timothy B. Noone: A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages. Blackwell, Malden MA 2006, ISBN 0-631-21672-3
  • Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny , Jan Pinborg (Eds.): The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism 1100-1600. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1982, ISBN 0-521-22605-8 (also: Reprint 2003, ISBN 0-521-36933-9 ) Contents
  • Ulrich G. Leinsle [OPraem]: Introduction to scholastic theology. Schöningh; Paderborn, Munich [u. a.] 1995, ISBN 3-8252-1865-1 (Uni-Taschenbücher; 1865)
  • John Marenbon: Later Medieval Philosophy (1150-1350). An Introduction. Routledge & Kegan Paul, London 1987, ISBN 0-7102-0286-5 .
  • Josef Pieper : Scholasticism. Figures and Problems of Medieval Philosophy. 3. Edition. Kösel, Munich 1991, ISBN 3-466-40130-5 .
  • Peter Schulthess, Ruedi Imbach : Philosophy in the Latin Middle Ages. A handbook with a bio-bibliographical repertory. 2nd Edition. Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf a. a. 2002, ISBN 3-7608-1218-X .
  • Richard W. Southern: Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe. 2 volumes. Blackwell, Oxford et al. a. 1995-2001, ISBN 0-631-20527-6 (vol. 1), ISBN 0-631-22079-8 (vol. 2).

Web links

Wiktionary: Scholastik  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations


  1. Ulrich G. Leinsle: Scholastik. I. Scholasticism / Neuscholasticism. In: Theological Real Encyclopedia. Volume 30, Berlin 1999, pp. 361-366, here: p. 361.
  2. Hans Schulz, Otto Basler (ed.): Deutsches Fremdwörterbuch , Vol. 4, Berlin 1978, pp. 90–92 (with numerous evidence for language use).
  3. Ulrich Köpf: Scholasticism. In: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th edition, Vol. 7, Tübingen 2004, Sp. 949–954, here: 949.
  4. Lawrence Mead, for example, uses the expression "scholasticism" in the sense of "a tendency for research to become overspecialized and ingrown". See Lawrence Mead: Scholasticism in Political Science. In: Perspectives on Politics 8, 2010, pp. 453–464.
  5. For the definition see Rolf Schönberger: Scholastik. In: Lexikon des Mittelalters , Vol. 7, Munich 1995, Sp. 1521–1526, here: 1521.
  6. ^ Kurt Ruh : Bonaventure German. A contribution to the German Franciscan mysticism and scholasticism. Bern 1956 (= Bibliotheca germanica. Volume 7) (also: Philosophical habilitation thesis, University of Basel, 1953).