Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages
Prices for book: Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Dark Ages
Book ISBN: 9780156030090
Author(s): Richard E. Rubenstein
Document type: Trade Paper
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Interesting but not enough
I thought this book to be more of lucid details of the individuals that worked on inspiring the Aristotle's ideas.However, this book is heavy on explaining Aristotelean concepts.
Usman Sindhu (Amazon.com)
This is an excellent book -- recommended for anyone interested in Greek philosophy and how it influenced Western thought. It is written in a style that keeps you involved. Usually, books about philosophy can be very dry. But this one is different. The author shows how Aristotle's teachings were preserved by the Muslim scholars for centuries and then translated into Latin so they became a major topic for debate in the 12th and 13th centuries among Christian scholars. I would recommend it to Christians, Muslims and Jews (the author is a Jew) who want to read an objective description of how Aristotle lives in Western thought today.
Stan Hack (Amazon.com)
Aristotle reused, Renaissance ignited
I finish off a thread about the Dark Ages by reading about how the rediscovery and reinvention of Aristotle helped end them by stirring political, scientific and religious thinkers in more "modern" directions.
One of the keys to the explosion was that Aristotle was rediscovered not in isolation, but in conjunction with hundreds of years of commentary by Muslim philosophers and theologians, so that Aristotle arrived not as revealed truth, but as potentially reusable tools for European thinkers.
And reuse him they did, to the betterment of history. Rubenstein shows how his ideas let to scientific inquiry in conjunction with (not opposition to) theological study through the 1200 and 1300's. The modern imagined "war" between reason and religion didn't come from this period, but in fact this period allowed each to grow, giving rise to the coming Renaissance and Enlightenment periods.
Todd Stockslager (Amazon.com)
I had purchased this book with great anticipation. I was no stranger to reading Mr. Rubenstein. However, I was more let down by this book than by his other works.
I had found it difficult to understand how a professor of conflict resolution and public affairs can feel he is authoritative enough to write books on history and theology, but then as I read it became clearer.
To start with the title of this book is misleading. While it is true that you should never judge a book by it's cover, one must weigh judgment of the cover by it's contents.
"How Christians, Muslims, and Jews rediscovered ancient wisdom and illuminated the Middle Ages." Ok, I am not an expect on this time period, so I was expecting to dive into this book with the expectation of coming out with knowing something I didn't know before. But, at the same time, I was under the impression that Muslims and Jews never lost the knowledge of the Classical era, and so had no need to "rediscover" it. I guess my impression was right because almost the entire book speaks of how the Christians rediscovered Aristotle's works from Jews and Muslims in 12th century Spain. Other than a few very brief references to Maimonides and Averroes, all other personages in this book are exclusively Christian.
Next, I was unaware that the Middle Ages were illuminated. By definition, the Middle Ages is the period between periods of illumination, hence "Middle Ages". So, again, I thought I might learn something that maybe I didn't know before. Again I was let down. The history of re-introducing Aristotle's work into Christian Europe during the Middle Ages was hardly illuminating, rather it is a chronology of violence, ignorance, intolerance, censorship, and intellectual depression amidst rampant superstition. Granted, from the 12th century on, we begin to see more people willing to think for themselves, as opposed to be told what to think, but they were baby steps. Aquinas, Ockham, Bonaventure and the others strived more to please the status quo with their new philosophies. I don't blame them, they liked to live as anyone does, so whatever they thought necessarily had to be watered down to succor the ruling theocracy of the time. These Medieval philosophers did not illuminate the Middle Ages, they were pioneers which would help illuminate a future age. Relatedly, on the back cover it is said that an intellectual explosion happened in the late Middle Ages that transformed Europe. Again, please Mr. Rubenstein, explain how four universities (Oxford, Paris, Padua, Bologne), which were under constant threat of censorship, excommunication, and being shut down, and a handful of radical thinkers (BTW-Middle age radical thinkers would equate to modern right-wing religious zealots) amidst a sea of an illiterate, superstitious, and ignorant population, can constitute an intellectual explosion, comparable to the 6th century BCE Ionian explosian of Ancient Greece or 18th century Western civilization.
Next I will point out random passages in the book that I have a bone to pick with. There are numerous passages, but I will focus on just a couple. On p.227, Mr. Rubenstein talks about Thomas Aquinas. He mentions how he had some mystical and supernatural experiences in which he communicates with Jesus and leviates, all seen by witnesses. This and other passages like it are worthless to me unless they are backed by source references. Otherwise, it is just a neat story passed by oral tradition in which the author got a warm and fuzzy feeling from, and so decided to insert it in his book.
Lastly, is this passage from p.251:
"If he wished, God could retroactively unmake everything that he has made, as well as make a human embryo into a fish or a flower."
The author may be passing this statement off as the way a medieval mind thought, or is he? Is this the belief of the author? Surely not, but how well did people have a grasp on biology in the Middle Ages, was "embryo" a household term as it is today? Let's continue the next sentence in the book, which is in the author's parentheses.
(This is not entirely theoretical, of course, since he has made miracles, as well as creating a universe from nothing.)
Once again, if anyone has an elementary understanding of the Middle Ages, then they know it was completely ruled by a superstitious, supernatural belief in a god. Is it necessary to reiterate it, or is this the author's stated belief?
If it is (which I hope is not the case), then this is the type of history in which I hope people will steer away from. The kind which is propagandistic, biased, and motivated by an agenda, in other words not true accurate history at all, but the author's personal perception of history.
The unity of reason
Once upon a time, reason, metaphysics ethics and faith were all part of a unified quest for understanding. Unfortunately over the last eight hundred years or so, reason broke into schisms, just as Christiandom did. Can we ever regain the unity of thought of the middle ages that was set into motion by the rediscovery of Aristotle? Rubenstein, disappointingly, doesn't give a difinitive answer to this question. He does, however, write compellingly about the history of those times and highlights the central questions involved.
What saved the western world from a similiar decline in the Muslim world, this book suggests, was the rediscovery of Aristotle that preceded the scholastic age. Rubenstein goes to lengths to tell the reader how the intellectual battles that followed were not faith versus reason in nature, but the history he describes tells a different story. Faith and reason were intertwined because that's what reason had to do to survive the era of the inquisition. In the Muslim world not even a reason-infused theology could survive the onslaught of faith and "falsafah" was eventually driven out. While Peter Abelard and Thomas Aquinas can hardly be called secular, it seems clear to this reader that the Church itself deserves less credit for the survival of reason than Rubenstein suggests. This may be construed as a criticism, but the fact that it is possible to read the book and come to a different conclusion than the author, I think, speaks to its credit.
Rubenstein does do an excellent job of bringing the characters of history to life. His portrayal of Peter Abelard stands out particularly in my mind as an example of good writing. I give this book 4 stars instead of the full 5 for the sole reason that it seems incomplete. I flipped the last page and felt as if the author was just getting to the most important part. I supposed one might consider that a virtue as well as a vice.
Spencer Case (Amazon.com)
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