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Scholasticism comes from the Latin word scholasticus which means "that [which] belongs to the school", and is the school of philosophy taught by the academics (or schoolmen) of medieval universities circa 1100 - 1500. Scholasticism attempted to reconcile the philosophy of the ancient classical philosophers with medieval Christian theology.
Scholasticism is not a philosophy or a set of beliefs, but a technique or a method of learning, which puts emphasis on dialectical reasoning.
The primary purpose of scholasticism was to find the answer to a question or resolve a contradiction. It is most well known in its application in medieval theology but was applied to classical philosophy and other fields of study. It is not a philosophy on its own but a tool and method for learning.
The scholastics would choose a book by a renowned scholar, called auctor, as a subject of investigation, for example the Bible. By reading the book thoroughly and critically, the disciples learned to appreciate the theories of the auctor. Then other documents related to the source document would be referenced, such as Church councils, papal letters, anything written on the subject, be it ancient text or contemporary. The points of disagreement and contention between these multiple sources would be written down. For example, the Bible has apparent contradictions and these have been written about by scholars ancient and contemporary, so a scholastic would gather all the arguments about the contradictions, looking at it from all sides with an open mind.
Once the sources and points of disagreement had been laid out, through a series of dialectics the two sides of an argument would be made whole so that they would be found to be in agreement and not contradictory. This was done in two ways.
First, through philological analysis. Words were examined and it would be argued they could have more than one meaning, that the author could have intended the word to mean something else. Ambiguity in words could be used to find common ground between two otherwise contradictory statements. Second, through logical analysis which relied on the rules of formal logic to show contradictions did not exist, but were subjective to the reader.
Scholastics developed two different genres of literature. The first is called questiones or "questions" which is basically as described above, except rather than being confined to a single scholar, or auctor, the scholastic method would be applied to a question. For example, "Is it permissable to kill for self preservation?" From there any number of sources could be referenced to find the pros and cons of the question. The second genre was called a summa. A summa was a system of all questions so that it would answer every question about Christianity one could ever have. In this way any question could be found in the summa and would reference any other question that might arise. The most famous summa is by Thomas Aquinas called Summa Theologica, covering the "sum" total of Christian theology.
Scholastic schools had two methods of teaching. The first is the lectio. A teacher would read a text, expounding on certain words or ideas, but no questions were allowed, it was a simple reading of a text, the instructors explained, and silence for the students.
The second is the disputatio which is at the heart of the scholastic method. There were two types of disputatios. The first was called the "ordinary" in which the question to be disputed was announced beforehand. The second was the quodlibetal in which the students would propose the question to the teacher without any prior preparation. The teacher would then have to come up with a response. The teacher would cite authoritative texts such as the Bible and prove his position. Students would then rebut the response and this would go back and forth. During this exercise someone would be keeping notes on what was said, the teacher would then summarize the arguments from the notes and present his final position the next day, answering all the rebuttals.
Scholastic philosophy usually combined logic, metaphysics and semantics into one discipline, and is generally recognized to have developed our understanding of logic significantly when compared to the older sources.
In the high scholastic period of 1250 - 1350 scholasticism moved beyond theology into the philosophy of nature, psychology, epistemology and philosophy of science. In Spain, the scholastics also made important contributions to economic theory, which would influence the later development of the Austrian school. However all scholastics were bound by Church doctrine and certain questions of faith could never be addressed without being tried for heresy.
During the humanism of the 1400s and 1500s, scholastics were put to the background and somewhat forgotten. This has been the source of the view of scholasticism as a rigid, formalistic, outdated and improper way of doing philosophy. During the catholic scholastic revival in the late 1800s and early 1900s the scholastics were repopularized, but with a somewhat narrow focus on certain scholastics and their respective schools of thought, notably Thomas Aquinas. In this context, scholasticism is often used in theology or metaphysics, but not many other areas of inquiry.
Scholasticism was concurrent with movements in Jewish philosophy (especially Maimonides) and Arabic philosophy (for example, the work of Averroes).
The following authors and works were commonly used as auctors:
(For a more complete listing, see the list of scholastic philosophers.)