Rated 5 out of 5 by BGZRedux Outstanding; Narrow, yet Deep; Perhaps Not for All
This is a superb course, beautifully taught, on a profound yet narrow topic which will be of interest to many, but likely not all. It covers the great Christian philosophers of "faith seeking understanding" of the European middle ages. If that is an area in which you have an interest, you have a treat in store.
It is *not* only for believing Christians, however. Non-believers or those of other faiths may also greatly appreciate the course. For me, it might be described as a window into the adolescence of Western thought, when brilliant minds exercised their developing powers of reason - but with little solid grounding for their musings, they inevitably built castles in the air.
I would be tempted to subtitle the course "understanding seeking a proper object to understand." It took the likes of Bacon, Galileo, and Newton to develop these intellectual tools into effective instruments, but it might be argued that these earlier men of faith made possible the great leaps forward of the scientific age.
The course is focused, however, on the attempts of medieval Christian believers to work out a rational understanding of Christian belief, from its metaphysics and ethics to the mysteries of the trinity and the incarnation. I found this material inherently fascinating - but many may not, regardless of your personal beliefs.
From a modern perspective, many of the arguments may appear prima facie silly and profoundly absurd. Yet the passion, commitment, and brilliance of those who devoted their lives to this work must be recognized and admired.
Professor Williams is superb - knowledgeable, eloquent, and as clear as I imagine possible in explicating views which are often murky and ambiguous as well as complex. He is a pleasure to listen to, thorough and organized, as well as careful to note when interpretations vary and when he is giving his own views. It is not hidden that he is a believing Catholic who takes his subject seriously and personally, but this does not in any way bias or detract from his presentation of the ideas.
The Course Guidebook is quite well done, although it could have been more detailed; a timeline and glossary are thankfully provided. Visuals include many written outlines of the points being covered, which are quite helpful and much appreciated.
So - an excellent course in every respect, for any with an interest in medieval Christian theology and philosophy, or the development of Western thought.
November 30, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by IgnorantMonkey one of the great courses
I just finished the audio streaming version of this course, and really liked it. I expect to hear it again. The professor has an excellent speaking voice, completely clear. This is one of the courses where I suspect the audio only is pretty much as good as the video version. One thing that I did not expect is that the course of philosophy is a drama, with a beginning, middle, and ending. (Plus a five hundred year intermission.)
The following is not a criticism, just a comment: discussions of universals emphasized adjectives like color rather than relationships like next or invariance. It seems to this non-philosophy major that relationships make stronger universals that adjectives.
In conclusion: wonderful course, better than I expected.
August 21, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by RoyT Surprisingly Good!
I am somewhat familiar with medieval philosophy, having taken a university course years ago. I would not normally be that interested in revisiting the subject, except for having re-read Richard Weaver’s classic ‘Ideas Have Consequences’ (University of Chicago, 1948). Weaver traces many problems of modernity to the triumph of William of Ockham’s 13th Century nominalism (the denial of universals) over the then prevailing attempts to reconcile faith and reason. This TC course served as a great refresher on the period and fleshed out what I had learned from other TC courses treating such figures as St. Augustine, Boethius, St. Anselm, Peter Abelard, St. Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus.
Professor Williams is an excellent lecturer, with a fine and clear delivery. He makes what might be dull or complicated matters easily intelligible with apt examples and wonderful analogies. He follows a chronological course, beginning with St. Augustine and deals not only with the thought of successive figures but also the historical context. The story is fascinating in so many ways, the most interesting being Professor Williams’ treatment of the 13th Century Aristotelian revolution. Aquinas necessarily takes center stage for five lectures, but is followed by Professor Williams’ favorite, Duns Scotus, who differs with Aquinas’ on many important issues, notably on divine and human freedom. This sets matters up for the challenge posed by William of Ockham’s nominalism.
Professor Williams makes a good case that Ockham’s nominalism does not necessarily lead to skepticism, as it clearly did not for Ockham himself: “…Ockham was convinced that the world is intelligible, and he was not inclined to skepticism – except for his skepticism about the prospects of natural theology” (Course Guidebook, Page 87). Following on this, Professor Williams deals not only with the waning of Medieval Aristotelianism and the development of a “new Renaissance version of Platonism” (Page 92), but also the split between theology and philosophy (which came to focus on logic and political philosophy).
In addition to Professor Williams’ fine lectures, the 122 page course guidebook is quite good, providing ample lecture notes, map, timeline, glossary, biographical sketches, and annotated bibliography. I am glad I finally listened to this course!
August 5, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Theaetetus A Superior Series of Lectures
This series of lectures is especially remarkable for its coherence and clarity. Dr. Williams wisely chose to focus on a single but central aspect of the medieval philosophical project, the relationship between faith and reason, saving him from the inevitable failure of trying to be encyclopedic. This allowed him to trace the development of medieval philosophy and natural theology through men of very different dispositions, training, and thinking. The lectures recapitulated the intellectual history of the period without straying far from this central theme.
Another reviewer called the professor pedantic, and this leaves me baffled. If the reviewer had any idea of the complexity and subtlety of medieval philosophy, he would recognize that Dr. Williams has brought it down to the level that any incoming college freshman could appreciate, but simultaneously demonstrated insights from which anyone who has studied these subjects in more depth (I have) can benefit. I honestly had low expectations from the lectures, expecting a run-of-the-mill exercise in "he said this; he said that." Unfortunately, I began with his treatment of Abelard, which, to my mind, turned out to be the weakest of the lectures. (I do not feel that he by any stretch demonstrated his contention that Abelard had produced an objective theory of redemption.) But everything else was marvelous, admirable in its clarity, and always pertinent to his main theme.
Dr. Williams is a clear speaker; he does not waste words or repeat endlessly the same thought, but connects them in a logical manner. Those who consider him pedantic would do well to watch the lectures again. The subject is difficult, and not everyone is prepared to understand.
January 17, 2015