Scholastic Method

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Derived literally from methodus (μέθοδος, manner or way) and scholastica (pertaining to the schools), the common method of teaching and learning in the schools of the Middle Ages after 1200 (see education, scholastic). From this method is derived the term scholasticism, which is sometimes mistaken for a definite body of doctrines or a unique harmony of faith and reason. The scholastic method was essentially a rational investigation of every relevant problem in liberal arts, philosophy, theology, medicine, and law, examined from opposing points of view, in order to reach an intelligent, scientific solution that would be consistent with accepted authorities, known facts, human reason, and Christian faith. Its ultimate goal was science (scientia ), although frequently schoolmen had to be content with probable opinions and dialectical solutions (see dialectics; dialectics in the middle ages). Its highest form, developed in the 13th century, was a positive contribution to education and research (see scholasticism, 1). In the 16th century the medieval method assumed the form of theses, proofs, and answers to objections to meet catechetical and apologetic exigencies (see scholasticism, 2). This modern scholastic method reached new prominence with the revival of thomism in the 19th century (see scholasticism, 3).

Medieval Scholastic Method

Convinced that the best way to learn established truths was to duplicate the original process of discovery, schoolmen of the 12th and 13th century taught that the method of teaching (modus docendi ) ought to follow the pattern of discovery (modus inveniendi ). Therefore the order of instruction (ordo doctrinae ) followed as closely as possible the order of discovery (ordo inventionis ). This pedagogical conviction existed in early scholasticism prior to the introduction of the "new Aristotle" into the Latin West. From its earliest, obscure beginnings there were two essential features of scholastic method: exposition (lectio ) and disputation (disputatio ). Disputation was undoubtedly the more original and characteristic feature, but exposition was its foundation: Lectio autem est quasi fundamentum et substratorium sequentium (Peter Cantor, Verbum abbreviatum, 1; Patrologia Latina, ed. J. P. Migne, 205:25). Both features employed three essential methods of scientific knowledge (modi sciendi ): definition, division, and reasoning. Gerbert, later Pope sylvester ii, had already emphasized the importance of definition and classification in his De rationali et de ratione uti. Employing Latin grammarians and Aristotelian logic preserved by boethius, and inspired by dialecticians of an earlier period, 12th-century masters in cathedral schools, such as Laon, Chartres, and Paris, gradually developed the basic elements of the scholastic method.

Exposition of the Text. The basis of all medieval teaching was the master's lecture (lectio ), or commentary on the text accepted as an auctoritas. For theology the Bible alone was the official text to be expounded by the "master of the sacred page." In the liberal arts leading to theology and other advanced studies, Cicero was the "authority" in rhetoric; Priscian and Donatus, in grammar; and Aristotle, in logic; in the 13th century Aristotle's philosophical works were recognized texts in the "three philosophies." Collections of ecclesiastical law were the official text for the study of Canon Law. The schoolmen were convinced that students should learn from the great books of antiquity, difficult as they were to understand. The master's exposition was not simply an exegesis, but an intellectual grappling with real problems examined by the author. To understand a particular problem, words, ideas, and realities had to be clearly defined, distinguished, and examined from all sides. Recognition of a problem meant appreciation of all arguments sic et non, i.e., for and against, a specific question. Such questions could arise from the text, conflicting interpretations, doubtful solutions, or new insights; these gave rise to the disputation.

Disputation of a Question. The scholastic quaestio disputata seems to have arisen at Laon in the early 12th century from conflicting patristic interpretations of Scripture. Authorities pro and contra were disputed, noted in the margin of the text, and a tentative solution proposed. By the middle of the 12th century these occasional digressions became extremely numerous and elaborate. Collections of sic and non authorities were made not only in theology, but also in law, grammar, and logic. Doctors of canon and civil law collected conflicting legislation and interpretations of law for the purpose of establishing general principles and consistent solutions to problems. The well-known collection of Sic et non attributed to abelard and his school is merely one example of a growing interest in quaestiones disputatae in the schools.

With the evolution of the quaestio the disputation became a special feature in scholastic method, conducted at a distinct time of the academic day. Generally, the lecture on a text was given in the morning, and the disputation on some significant point was held in the afternoon as a kind of seminar. The question was posed by the master; a senior student, later called a bachelor, was appointed to respond to closely argued objections (videtur quod non ) proposed by other students. In conclusion the master summarized the state of the question, methodically presented his own solution called a determinatio, and resolved major objections, usually reshaping the response of his bachelor.

The protocol of disputations in every discipline was formalized to ensure proper conduct; logic was the universal instrument of debate, but each discipline had its own principles, sources, and method. Originally the order of questions proposed followed the order of the text. The Bible, however, offered no order that could be called systematic. By the middle of the 12th century, theological questions were organized to conform with articles of the creed. From this arose the sentences and summae of theology.

During the 13th century two types of disputation emerged, at least in the faculty of theology: the ordinary quaestio disputata and the quodlibet. Ordinary disputations, already highly systematic, sophisticated and subtle, were on a specific subject, such as De potentia Dei, De veritate, and De virtutibus, chosen by the master and divided into logically distinct points, with each point (quaestio ) subdivided into a logically ordered series of scientific problems (articuli ). Quodlibetal disputations, on the other hand, were conducted only by outstanding masters in theology during Advent and Lent on any question proposed by anyone present (de quolibet ad voluntatem cuiuslibet ).

Influence of Aristotle. Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, dealing with scientific method, exercised an important and valuable influence on the scholastic method, once it was understood. Although it was translated from Arabic and Greek around the middle of the 12th century, its nuances and significance could not be appreciated until scholastics saw how Aristotle applied his scientific method in the real sciences. Basically this method consists in raising the right question at the right time and in the logical way of finding an answer. Scientific questions fall into four categories: does it exist (an sit ), what is it (quid sit ), does it have a given characteristic (quia sit ), and why (propter quid ). One of the first scholastics to appreciate fully the scientific method of Aristotle was albert the great. Saint thomas aquinas applied this method in all of its subtlety in his quaestiones disputatae. Undoubtedly the most outstanding example of medieval scholastic method is the Summa theologiae of Aquinas.

Modern Scholastic Method

Humanist denunciations of the scholastic method were directed mainly against an extreme penchant for subtle questions, principally de sophismatibus, barbarous Latinity, and a disregard for sources, particularly the Bible. After the Reformation a new effort was made in "second scholasticism" to restore established doctrines and defend them against attack.

Rationalist Revisions. Modern manuals generally replaced ancient texts and the preliminary dialectic in disputation was eliminated. The new form of disputation started with a thesis to be defended, followed by an explanation of terms, a list of contrary opinions, a proof of the thesis, and finally answers to opponents. This form of scholastic disputation, exemplified in 17th-century manuals, suited the needs of seminaries and resembled the deductive, geometric reasoning popularized by R. descartes. In this methodology the ordo inventionis was recognized as distinct and preliminary to the order of doctrinal presentation, which was deductive and synthetic.

Descartes's Discours de la méthode exercised considerable influence on scholastic thinkers, who came to require recognition of first principles and deduction of necessary conclusions both in philosophy and in theology. Following their contemporaries, scholastic philosophers distinguished two types of method: analytic, which proceeds from effect or composite to elements and causes, and synthetic, which proceeds from causes and elements to effect or composite. Scholastic manuals invariably identified the analytic method with the ordo inventionis and the synthetic with the ordo doctrinae or disciplinae.

Neoscholastic View. With the revival of scholasticism in the 19th century scholastic method was thought to consist primarily in a synthetic and deductive explanation of all things. For D. mercier philosophy "has for its object, not the discovery of any new objects of knowledge by way of analysis whether direct or indirect, but the synthetic explanation of the results already reached by analysis" [Ontologie (Louvain 1903) 18]. Similarly, for M. de wulf philosophy "becomes the science par excellence, because it seeks a synthetic and deductive explanation of things" [Scholasticism Old and New (Dublin 1907) 82]. In this view, investigation, dialectics, and analysis are considered inferior and foreign to scholastic philosophy.

Some neoscholastics, such as J. S. Hickey, praised scholastic method as the happy combination of analysis and synthesis; thus neoscholasticism differs from positivism, which neglects synthesis, and from idealism, which neglects analysis [Summula phil. schol. (Dublin 1915) 1:128]. Neoscholastics commonly identified scholastic method with epistemological realism and discussed it as such in an appendix to logic. Some manualists, as S. tongiorgi, E. hugon, S. Reinstadler, J. gredt, C. Boyer, and Hickey added another appendix on the correct form of the "syllogistic" or "scholastic disputation."

Neoscholastic identification of scholastic method either with deduction (synthesis), epistemological realism, or modern scholastic disputations has led to misunderstanding concerning the original significance of the term.

See Also: methodology (philosophy); analysis and synthesis; scholastic philosophy.

Bibliography: j. a. weisheipl, "The Evolution of Scientific Method," The Logic of Science, ed. v. e. smith (New York 1964) 5996; "Curriculum of the Faculty of Arts at Oxford in the early 14th century," Mediaeval Studies (Toronto-London 1938) 26 (1964) 14385. s. caramella, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 3:565. m. grabmann, Die Geschichte der scholastischen Methode, 2 v. (Freiburg 190911). a. landgraf, "Zum Begriff der Scholastik," Collectanea Franciscana (Rome 1931) 11 (1941) 48790. m. d. chenu, Toward Understanding St. Thomas, tr. a. m. landry and d. hughes (Chicago 1964) 5869, 7799.

[j. a. weisheipl]

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Scholastic Method

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Scholastic Method