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History of Philosophy
Influence of Arabian and Jewish Philosophy on Scholasticism
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)


The influence which Arabian and Jewish learning exercised on the schoolmen of the thirteenth century was very great. It was the Arabians and Jews who gave the first impulse to the study of the physical and metaphysical works of Aristotle. We must not, however, exaggerate the debt which Christian philosophy owes to the Arabians and Jews; we must remember that:

1. Although the first translations which brought Greek philosophy within the reach of the schoolmen were made from the Arabic, these, as we shall see, were soon followed by the more accurate translations made from the Greek.

2. If Christian Europe owes its knowledge of Aristotle to the Arabians, the Arabians themselves owe their knowledge of Aristotle to the Christian scholars of Syria.

3. Although the Arabians contributed largely to the growth and development of the study of medicine in Europe, and although their contributions to mediaeval geography, astronomy, arithmetic, and chemistry were also important, yet in philosophy they exercised only an indirect influence. They provoked discussion and controversy; but to their direct influence not a single important tenet of Scholasticism can be traced. [32] The Scholastic movement was a creation of the Christian mind; Arabian philosophy was always anti-Christian in spirit and teaching. The impulse that made Scholasticism originated with the Carolingian renaissance. The movement was continued by Erigena, Gerbert, Roscelin, Anselm, and other Christian thinkers; and received new force from the introduction of the physical and metaphysical works of Aristotle. Scholastic philosophy owes nothing to the Arabians except what they contributed to the introduction of these works.
[32] Exception must be made in favor of Avicebrol, whose Fons Vitae had a direct influence on the Franciscan school. cf. Wittmann, Die Stellung des heil. Thomas von Aquin zu Avencebrol (Münster, 900), pp. 15 ff.
The influence of the Jews was more important than that of the Arabians. The Jews of Moorish Spain enjoyed a large, measure of liberty, and among them philosophy found a home when Arabian philosophers were persecuted and their works consigned to the flames. Among the Jews and in the Jewish schools the works of the Greeks and of the Arabians were preserved, translated into Hebrew, and handed over to the Christian scholars, who in turn translated them into Latin. In this way the influence of the Arabians, restricted as it was, was chiefly exercised through the literature and philosophy of the Jews.

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