Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages

Course No. 4636
Professor Thomas Williams, Ph.D.
University of South Florida
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Course No. 4636
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Course Overview

Are philosophy and religion—reason and faith—fundamentally at odds? From today's strict division between questions of logic and questions of belief, one might think so. But for 1,000 years during a pivotal era of Western thought, reason and faith went hand-in-hand in the search for answers to the most profound issues investigated by Christianity's most committed scholars:

  • Can God's existence and attributes be established by reason alone?
  • Are there Christian doctrines that are beyond the scope of logical demonstration?
  • How can Christian beliefs be defended against objections and made internally consistent?

These questions posed by the great philosophers of the Middle Ages bear no resemblance to the stereotypical medieval dispute about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin—a problem that apparently no one in the Middle Ages discussed. Instead, they are emblematic of an extraordinarily rich period of intellectual ferment, when the best minds of the age participated in a common struggle with transcendent questions, using reasoning in the service of faith.

From Augustine to Ockham

Reason and Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages examines this ambitious project. In 24 half-hour lectures, you will learn about the great Christian philosophers from Augustine to Ockham, following their efforts to illuminate the full scope of Christian doctrine using philosophical tools inherited, in large part, from the ancient Greeks. Far from being "Dark" Ages, this was an era when faith was not blind and reason was not godless, when the great philosophers and the great theologians were the very same people, and no one saw anything surprising about that.

Your teacher is Professor Thomas Williams, an award-winning educator and noted historian of medieval philosophy. Belying the image of the recondite medieval scholar, Professor Williams lectures with spontaneity, humor, enthusiasm, and warmth. He is especially well qualified to take you through the key texts of the period; he has published translations of several of them. Furthermore, he has made his own translations of all of the extracts used in the course, which include material that is not available elsewhere and is therefore left out of most introductory college courses on the subject.

Why Study Medieval Philosophy?

Today, medieval philosophy is an often-overlooked period between ancient philosophy and the Enlightenment. You will find it rewarding to explore for many excellent reasons:

  • A bridge between ancient and modern: The ideas of ancient thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle were rediscovered by medieval philosophers, who applied them to theological problems. Modern philosophy, in turn, began as a response to the medieval project.
  • Tools for understanding Christianity: Medieval philosophers probed deeply into the fundamental nature of Christian teachings. Perhaps no other thinkers worked so diligently to show how the Christian faith is consistent with what can be demonstrated by reason.
  • An intellectual challenge: What are the limits of reason? Medieval philosophers continually tested these boundaries, and by thinking critically about their arguments you can enhance the rigor of your own ideas.
  • A exemplar for philosophical inquiry: Whatever your own beliefs, engagement with the different styles of careful argument employed by medieval philosophers can inspire you in your own search for wisdom.

Professor Williams notes that medieval Christian philosophy was largely disengaged from the political and cultural currents of the time, so that these lectures necessarily concentrate almost exclusively on philosophy. Nonetheless, it is significant that so much intellectual energy went into addressing issues of faith. If you are interested in medieval history this course will serve as a fascinating philosophical backdrop to illuminate debates that occupied many of the greatest minds of the era.

Eight Extraordinary Philosophers

Who were these great minds? Among the philosophers you will encounter in this course, you focus on eight in detail:

  • Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was influenced by Plato's distinction between the intelligible realm, which is perfect and accessible only by the mind; and the sensible realm, which is imperfect and apprehensible by the senses. He argued that God's perfection and goodness is equally manifest in both spheres.
  • Boethius (c. 476–c. 526) wrote his influential The Consolation of Philosophy while in prison awaiting execution. In the book, philosophy is personified as a woman who shows how human freedom and moral responsibility are possible within God's providential governance of the universe.
  • Anselm of Canterbury (1033–1109) formed his views as a teacher of monks who wished to understand logically what they believed by faith. Anselm's most famous demonstration of a Christian truth is his "ontological argument" for God's existence, which holds that God is "that than which a greater cannot be thought."
  • Peter Abelard (1079–1142) acknowledged that God surpasses the power of human understanding, but he was not willing to make the incomprehensibility of God an excuse for obscurity or careless thinking. Some of his bold reformulations of Christian doctrine provoked ecclesiastical censure.

Plato continued to be the dominant influence on medieval philosophers until the 13th century, when the translation of most of Aristotle's works into Latin offered a powerful and controversial tool for systematizing Christian thought. The second half of this course examines philosophers engaging with this new trend.

  • Bonaventure (1217–74) was willing to borrow Aristotle's teachings when he found them useful, as in his account of theoretical knowledge; but he rejected Aristotle's view that the world has always existed and argued passionately against what he took to be excessive enthusiasm for Aristotle.
  • Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) used the works of Aristotle as his primary philosophical inspiration, developing arguments for the existence of God as well as an account of the powers and limits of human reason in knowing God. After Aquinas's death, some of his views were officially proscribed by the Condemnation of 1277.
  • John Duns Scotus (1265/66–1308) began from roughly the same theory of knowledge as Aquinas but ended up with a radically different account of religious language. He was known as the "Subtle Doctor" for his ingenious arguments. His surname, Duns, is the origin of our word "dunce"—a slur on the ineptness of his imitators.
  • William of Ockham (c. 1288–1347) made famous the principle now called "Ockham's razor," which gives preference to simplicity in explanations. His tenacity in using this principle led to a breakdown in the harmonious relationship between theology and philosophy envisioned by both Aquinas and Scotus.

By the end of Ockham's life Aristotelianism was losing ground rapidly. Within a generation, a new Renaissance version of Platonism was widespread and thriving. Thus a philosophical era that began with Augustine's adoption of a Platonic worldview closed, a thousand years later, with the revival of a very similar outlook.

Faith Seeking Understanding

The golden age of philosophers pursuing both reason and faith may be long past, but their mission continues to inspire thoughtful people today—not least Professor Williams.

In the first lecture he notes: "I got interested in philosophy as a teenager because of religious questions—questions about how to make sense of the things I believed, how to defend them, how to understand them, and how to make them square with other things I knew, or thought I knew. And I quickly became attracted to medieval philosophers precisely because their questions were my questions. Their project, like mine, was one of faith seeking understanding; and they carried out that project with a rigor, an intensity, and—I think—a success that is unmatched in the history of philosophy."

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Faith Seeking Understanding
    The great medieval Christian thinkers would have been bewildered by today's idea that faith and reason are fundamentally at odds. Although their outlooks varied widely, they agreed that philosophical reasoning could and should be used to defend and elucidate the doctrines of the Christian faith. x
  • 2
    Augustine's Platonic Background
    Augustine found Platonism compelling and adopted much of it, while seeing that Christian belief required him to modify it in several ways. The doctrine of the Incarnation in particular challenges Platonism's negative view of the body and the material world, in contrast with the perfect realm of the mind. x
  • 3
    Augustine on Authority, Reason, and Truth
    Augustine argued that the search for truth must begin with the acceptance of authority. Historical claims must be accepted or rejected on the basis of authoritative testimony. Christianity involves such historical claims, and Augustine sought to show that it is reasonable to accept the testimony on which Christianity rests. x
  • 4
    Augustine on the Origin of Evil
    According to Augustine, because God is good, everything he creates is good; and because God is creator, nothing exists that he does not create. The origin of evil is therefore perplexing. Part of Augustine's solution was to argue that evil, in itself, is not anything. It is a mere privation: a lack of measure, form, or order. x
  • 5
    Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy
    Awaiting execution, Boethius wrote one of the most beloved books of the Middle Ages, The Consolation of Philosophy. Why does he seek comfort in philosophy and not in scripture? His inability to see the universe as a rationally coherent system called for the therapy of reason, as manifested in philosophy. x
  • 6
    Boethius on Foreknowledge and Freedom
    The Consolation of Philosophydiscusses the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. If God's foreknowledge is infallible, our actions are necessary. Boethius used the doctrine of divine eternity to show how our actions are not necessary in any sense that threatens freedom or moral responsibility. x
  • 7
    Anselm and the 11th-Century Context
    Anselm helped revive the technique of philosophical argument known as dialectic, applying it systematically to theological discussions. The doctrines of the Christian faith are, to Anselm, intrinsically rational because they concern the nature and activity of God, who is himself supreme reason. x
  • 8
    Anselm's Proof That God Exists
    Anselm asserted that we can prove God's existence and attributes by exploring the idea of God as "that than which a greater cannot be thought." A monk named Gaun­ilo countered that Anselm's argument—now known as the "ontological argument"—also proved the existence of the greatest conceivable island, which is nonsense. x
  • 9
    Anselm on the Divine Attributes
    The ontological argument establishes so many different divine attributes that it is difficult to see how one and the same being can possess all of them at once. Anselm resolved this problem by using dialectic to analyze each case, such as the apparent conflict between God's mercy and his justice. x
  • 10
    Anselm on Freedom and the Fall
    If everything we have is received from God, then God deserves all the praise for our good works and all the blame for our evil deeds. In a move typical of medieval philosophers, Anselm simplifies this problem by looking at the case of angels. God gave all the angels the will to persevere in justice, but the evil angels abandoned that will. x
  • 11
    Abelard on Understanding the Trinity
    Famously scandalous in his personal life, Abelard courted controversy in philosophy and theology as well. He gave a brilliant analysis of the Trinity in three treatises: the first was condemned and burned; the second was left unfinished; the third was also condemned, ending Abelard's teaching career. x
  • 12
    Abelard on Understanding Redemption
    Abelard's theory of the Atonement shows the complexities of his engagement with both authority and reason. According to Abelard, the death of Christ delivers us from the punishment for the sin of our first parents, thereby inspiring our gratitude and enabling us to serve God out of love rather than out of fear. x
  • 13
    The Rediscovery of Aristotle
    The recovery of most of Aristotle's works by the middle of the 13th century coincided with the rise of the universities. Aristotle's thought was attractive because it was wide-ranging, systematic, and rigorously argued; it seemed dangerous because many of its teachings contradicted Christian doctrine. x
  • 14
    Bonaventure on the Mind's Journey into God
    Bonaventure's account of the mind's journey to God takes a critical approach to Aristotle. In his account of creation, Bonaventure rejects the Aristotelian doctrine that the world has always existed; but in his account of theoretical knowledge, he tries to synthesize the Aristotelian and Augustinian views. x
  • 15
    Aquinas on What Reason Can and Cannot Do
    Regarded as one of the three luminaries of medieval philosophy's golden age (together with Scotus and Ockham), Aquinas followed Aristotle in contending that all knowledge derives from sense experience. Thus humans can know only those facts about God that are evident from reflection upon sense experience. x
  • 16
    Aquinas's Proof of an Unmoved Mover
    In his five proofs for the existence of God, Aquinas first answers objections that the existence of God cannot be proved, using the scholastic method to examine the two sides of the question. Then he proceeds to the five proofs, the first of which argues that there must be an initial, unmoved mover: God. x
  • 17
    Aquinas on How to Talk about God
    How can the words we use for ordinary objects be meaningful when applied to God? Aquinas answered that created things resemble their Creator; we can therefore use the language of ordinary experience to speak meaningfully about God, although our words cannot have exactly the same meanings in both spheres. x
  • 18
    Aquinas on Human Nature
    Aristotle's view that the soul is the form of the body implies that when a human organism ceases to live, the soul ceases to exist. But Aquinas argued that we can prove philosophically that the soul survives bodily death. The resurrection of the body, however, is a mystery of faith that cannot be proved by reason. x
  • 19
    Aquinas on Natural and Supernatural Virtues
    For Aquinas, natural happiness sets the standards of natural law, and natural virtues dispose us to attain such happiness. But in addition there must be supernatural virtues that dispose us to attain supernatural happiness. Natural virtues are attained by moral development; supernatural virtues are acquired by divine gift. x
  • 20
    Scotus on God's Freedom and Ours
    Even during his life, the adjective "subtle" had come to be associated with Scotus's thought, which is ingenious, difficult, and inventively defended. As a Franciscan, he regarded the will as a power higher than the intellect, and he followed this emphasis in his account of both divine and human freedom. x
  • 21
    Scotus on Saying Exactly What God Is
    Scotus went much further than Aquinas in rejecting the approach to discourse about God that emphasizes what God is not. Scotus argued that it is possible by natural means (i.e., without supernatural help) for the human intellect in this present life to acquire a concept in which God, and God alone, is grasped. x
  • 22
    What Ockham's Razor Leaves Behind
    Ockham employed the principle that has come to be called "Ockham's razor" in reducing the basic categories in the Aristotelian inventory. He also argued against the reality of universals—entities like "whiteness" that exist beyond the whiteness of a particular piece of paper, snowdrift, and so on. x
  • 23
    Ockham on the Prospects for Knowing God
    Ockham rejected the idea that Christian theology is an intellectual enterprise that aspires to the same standards as pagan philosophy. Although he agreed with Aquinas and Scotus that reason needs to be supplemented and repaired by faith, he was deeply skeptical about the prospects for proving that God exists or showing that the mysteries of faith are consonant with reason. x
  • 24
    The 14th Century and Beyond
    By the 14th century the loss of confidence in Aristotelian philosophy had led some philosophers to conclude that the domain of Christian faith and the domain of philosophical reasoning have no overlap. With the dawn of the Renaissance, Aristotelianism was rapidly losing ground to a new, more mystical version of Pla­ton­ism. x

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Your professor

Thomas Williams

About Your Professor

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.
University of South Florida
Dr. Thomas Williams is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. Professor Williams's research interests are in medieval philosophy, theology, and the philosophy of religion, with a focus on Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. Before joining the faculty at...
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Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 89.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an excellent course. I gained a new and enlightened perspective on faith and reason philosophical discussions, and a new appreciation for the philosophical giants who developed these basic discourses. Presentation was extremely articulate and informative.
Date published: 2012-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Rewarding Intellectual Feast This is a brilliant course for those interested in seeing how, for centuries, the finest minds in Western Civilisation were able to find accomodation and healthy synthesis between classical philosophy and Christian theology. The message, highly relevant for today, is that there need not be conflict between Reason and Faith. Indeed they can be handmaidens in the search for meaning and Truth. The Professor is an absolute joy to listen to; his diction, obvious love for the subject and erudition is at times spellbinding. It has been a privilege to journey with him through what at times was highly complex and abstruse concepts. To that end I would suggest that if you have no exposure to philosophy or theology you would be well advised to listen to a couple of the other TTC courses in those areas before embarking on this specialist course. The concepts can be very demanding but the Professor was masterful in briefly explaining core concepts from Aristotelian philosophy and then explaining how these were borrowed wholesale and/or adapted by the likes of Aquinas, Augustine, Boethius, Duns Scotus to seek understanding of the deep Truths of Faith. A joy and well done TTC. I can only hope that the Professor is invited to provide another course; perhaps going into depth into the contribution of Islamic and Jewish philosophers from this period to the interaction of Faith and Reason.
Date published: 2012-04-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A bit too dry for me Frankly, this is a case where I really wish the "I would recommend this course to a friend" question had a "maybe" option, because it depends. This course isn't bad, but the subject matter is a bit ethereal, and the teaching style matches that. It's very much a heavy-duty philosophy course. In the end, it proved too dry for me, and I wound up moving on after I'd gotten about halfway through. I suspect some people will quite like it, but it's very much a matter of taste.
Date published: 2012-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Islands of inquiry, tempest tossed DVD review. Dr. Williams' REASON AND FAITH: PHILOSOPHY IN THE MIDDLE AGES is a dense, carefully presented overview of a thousand-year stretch of Western thought. This is not casual listening. WHAT IS INCLUDED REASON can roughly be divided into 3 parts: • Lessons 1-12: Augustine (354-430), Boethius (480-525), Anselm (1033-1109) and Abelard (1079-1142). The Christian adoption of Platonism • Lessons 13-21: Bonaventure (1221-74), Aquinas (1225-74), Duns Scotus (1265-1308). The adoption of Aristotle. • Lessons 22-24: Ockham (1288-1348). The decline of scholasticism Williams explores in great detail a few key points. Can God's existence be proved? And even if it can, what about his "attributes" such as his singularity, wisdom, goodness, omniscience and omnipotence? Are there conflicts between them? Does God's omniscience, for example, negate our free will? Does the existence of evil or Satan negate his omnipotence and absolute goodness? There is a point, in other words, where the power of reason fails and faith begins, where philosophy becomes the "handmaiden" of theology. Where is that fault line? The positions of each thinker on these issues were greatly affected by the peculiarities of Platonism and Aristotle. Plato proposed that all general concepts in our minds (ex. dogginess, whiteness, goodness, etc.) came from a world of perfect, unchanging "forms" or archetypes we all half-remembered. True knowledge originated in our soul's intuition and contemplation, not the senses. Platonism had a profound effect on Western thought, and many of its notions were adopted by the early Church through Augustine, who understood Platonic forms as God's thoughts. Then came Aristotle. Until the mid-12th Century, he was almost unknown as his works were unavailable. But when Arab translations appeared, along with commentaries from Maimonides (a Jew) and Averroes (a Muslim), he quickly became "the philosopher". Aristotle privileged the systematic application of reason on sensory experience. His greater empiricism, breadth, and attention to method across all the various sciences soon conflicted with medieval theology. The reaction of many churchmen was not positive. By the 14th Century, Catholic "philosophers" either took refuge in micro-specialization (small technical issues examined exhaustively) or in political science under the protection of various princely courts. WHAT IS EXCLUDED Williams does a very, very good job of parsing out each thinker's position on the limited number of issues listed above. All of these thinkers however, Augustine especially, had influential views on other matters such as Church-state relations, the nature of evil, etc. etc. all ignored here for lack of space. Williams cannot be blamed with only 24 lessons. A much more important blind spot is the lack of attention devoted to heresy and its implications for medieval "philosophy" as a line of enquiry. Plato and Aristotle never said that people who disagreed with them should be eradicated. The Church held other views. Virtually all of William's thinkers were clergymen; part of a close-knit community whose interest in new ideas varied between friendly curiosity and inquisitorial wrath depending on their collective sense of self-preservation. In Augustine's time, as Rome disintegrated and the Church was an ascending force, much energy was spent defining true doctrine and pressuring pagans as well as unorthodox Christians through fines, threats, imprisonment, torture and, in extreme cases, executions. Augustine at first supported persuasion, but gradually agreed to the necessity of coercion. By the 13th Century, when the Church was supremely powerful, Aquinas had no problem stating that heretics and chronic sceptics should be handed over to the "secular powers" for burning if they failed to respond properly to Church advice and became excommunicated. Medieval philosophy in other words — like Marxist "philosophy" in Eastern Europe during Stalin's time — was not an unfettered quest for truth. It was an awkward bridge between an ancient, pagan, yet deeply impressive Greco-Roman tradition and a fire-breathing, increasingly insecure Church, what with the Papal exile in Avignon, princely interference and the growing prevalence of mass heretic movements during the 14th Century. Throughout this gradual decline from certainty, the use of philosophy only created more difficulties. The censure Ockham received for his published doubts, and his decision to flee an inquisition was a telling example. Even Aquinas was criticised after his death, only to become sacrosanct afterwards. The in-Church philosophy love-in was over. SOOOO Williams does a very good job of communicating medieval philosophy from the inside by limiting himself to a small yet crucial list of issues. Many other philosophical questions are ignored for lack of space. So is the wider issue of intolerance and fear surrounding the whole philosophy enterprise at that time. It's a really good course, if you know what you are getting. For a wider socio-political view, TTC clients are well-advised to check out Dr. Daileader's 3 courses EARLY, HIGH and LATE MIDDLE AGES.
Date published: 2012-04-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good Teacher He explains concepts well. Interesting topic. How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Who knows. And, you are no closer to the answer after this course. But, I very much enjoyed this series of lectures.
Date published: 2012-03-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent but be prepared to work hard. A most interesting and useful introduction to the subject. The material presented is inherently difficult and I found myself having listen to some of the material two or three times until I understood it.
Date published: 2012-03-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! After listening to many wonderful courses, this one is my all time favorite. The professor's knowledge, intellect, and understanding of this topic is just outstanding. His presentation style is perfect. Nothing else left to say on the topic. I will watch this over and over and make all my relatives listen to my stories of Boethius and the other fascinating people that are covered in his lectures. It is profoundly interesting and full of wisdom. Exactly what I wanted. Wish he did more lectures.
Date published: 2011-12-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent, but for the dedicated I took this course to fill in the "medieval gap" in my philosophy education. Although I skipped about 5 or 6 lectures (as I had gotten 'the point' by that time), I rate this 5 stars. The reason is that this is the first time someone has presented the proofs of God's existence or Evil with such clarity and enthusiasm. Much of the philosphy in this course is obviously not in the mainstream anymore, but is a part of our history. I recommend this course for all those interested in philosophy. You must go through this material at least once, and this professor is excellent for presenting it to you!
Date published: 2011-08-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not so easy, but good. This is a very interesting course. It took me some time to listen (and listen again) before I wrote my comments. First, as mentioned elsewhere, this is not easy listening. One has to be really concentrated because many of the discussions are complex and one can get lost very easy. Some of the lectures are excellent and others, while good, are more difficult and I think Dr. Williams has a difficult time explaining some concepts. The lectures on Augustine (using the same example as Dr. Cary in his lectures on Augustine on what is evil –yes the hole in a shirt-) and Bioethius are very good (really liked the one on the Consolation of Philosophy), so the ones on Duns Scotus and Aquinas. When he tries to explain Gaunilo’s arguments one gets lost with the tongue twisters. Bonaventure’s lecture was more a Theology than Philosophy one, and not that good but that may have to do with my “Aristotelian” preferences. While he explained why, I do not buy the reasons to avoid the historical background on the philosophers and very little is mentioned on some (like Abelard or Anselm) and nothing on others. Did I like it? Absolutely, but one (I think) should be a hard core fan of philosophy (I am in fact a student of a Masters of Arts in Philosophy) to like and follow this lectures.
Date published: 2011-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth Repeated Listening First, Williams is my favorite lecturer. The tone of his voice and pace of his lectures are engaging and easy to listen to. That he is in love with the topic come through clearly. Second, the content is masterful. But it is deep and requires a fair amount of background knowledge to fully appreciate. I have listened to this course three time overs the year and a half. Each time I get something new out of it that I missed before. My question is, why does Teaching Company not have more courses by this professor?
Date published: 2011-07-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the best For those interested in an in depth review of medieval philosophy and theology, I highly recommend this course. One of the best yet. While too detailed for someone who wants a quick introduction, and not for a student without a bit of background in philosophy, this course is the equivalent of a mid level or upper class course at most colleges. I would have liked a bit more detail about Ockham and Duns Scotus and maybe a little less on Aquinas, as Professor WIlliams covers some pretty basic stuff on the letter that could have been summarized more quickly. Still a great job!!!
Date published: 2011-06-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very good course, but too complex for beginners This is a very good and fascinating course, but it was hard to follow at times. I would have to listen to it at least twice to really grasp the concepts explained. The instructor's delivery was, however, well done, and his enthusiasm for the subject was apparent. I would recommend he simplifies the explanation of the concepts.
Date published: 2011-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my Favorite Great Courses Professor Williams does an excellent job in explaining Medieval Philosophy in the contest of "Faith Seeking Understanding." Using a chronological approach, Dr. William's demonstrates how one philosopher builds on the next while providing his own unique contribution. I admit that some of the concepts required a second listen; but, this was due to the depth of the subject matter as opposed to an inadequate presentation. Professor Williams also presents interesting "back stories" of the various philosophers, such as Peter Abelard, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham, which helped me to remember their key contributions. Dr. William's enthusiastic presentation kept my attention and led me to look forward to the next lecture. I hope that the Teaching Company provides future courses by Professer Thomas Williams, perhaps on the Philosphy and theology of John Duns Scotus, one of Dr. Williams favorite philospher theologians.
Date published: 2011-02-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb introduction to a complex topic I'd always had an interest in philosophy and relied on the Teaching Company to provide a sensible introduction to it. I got more than a merely sensible introduction in this course of lectures - wonderfully paced; beautifully, clearly and richly explained; and the evident love and enthusiasm that Thomas Williams has for this subject is infectious. I became so captivated by this area that I added two units of mediæval philosophy to the theology degree I have just completed. Thanks to the Teaching Company for making this subject so appealing to the lay listener!
Date published: 2011-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Comprehensive and Advanced I found this an illuminating collection of lectures. What I found particularly interesting was the contextualization of philosophy in its time. If I had a complaint it would be that some of the lectures, particularly on Aquinas and Duns Scotus, could have been covered over more lectures so as to provide greater clarity and elucidation.
Date published: 2010-12-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broad and Engaging course. Excellent! This course covers many of the great phisophers and theologians that influenced Christianity from their own time to today. Proj. Williams is a great presenter and ranks close to Prof Cary. His knowledge is truly solid and his delivery engaging. Prof. Williams presents so much information in the chapters that I found that I needed to rewind and listen to certain passages twice. It was always worth it. Another great course and booklet materials. The prices are great especially when these are on sale! The course chapters on Augustine and Aquinas were especially excellent. I will listen to this entire course again soon. Thanks TCC for another great course.
Date published: 2010-05-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Grinding Philosophy I have purchased, listened to and reviewed the audio versions of dozens of TTC’s fine Philosophy and Intellectual History courses. For me, ‘Reason and Faith’ is not, unlike most other similar TTC courses, ‘easy listening.’ I found it difficult to follow Professor Williams when I was driving, exercising or otherwise distracted. As another reviewer said, this course demands your full, undivided attention. I would also assert that ‘Reason and Faith’ is most certainly a postgraduate level course. Williams has a fine speaking voice. I also appreciated Williams’ pretty much avoiding clichés, jargon and political correctness. However, I heard him use the redundant phrase ‘general consensus’ in Lectures 1, 7, and 23. If I were grading Williams’ course in essay form, I would have drawn a bright red circle around ‘general consensus’ each time I saw it. Interestingly, after finishing the course, I waited a week before writing this review. There was something bothering me. I really enjoyed certain portions of the lectures, and was bored with others. Too often, I noticed my mind starting to wander; I could hear the professor’s voice and words, but I wasn’t really listening or understanding. Not good! The above issue may have been caused by 3 possibilities: (1) Professor Williams was not presenting the material in a clear enough manner; (2) I haven’t had enough philosophy courses to follow these complex ideas and was upset that I couldn’t multitask while listening; or (3) Neither Williams or any other teacher could do a truly great job explaining these philosophers because these thinkers had excruciatingly complicated ideas. After some reflection, I can’t completely fault the Professor. Truth is, the thoughts of Anselm, Abelard, Aquiinas, Scotus, et al., are, in a word, hard. ‘Reason and Faith’ is now high on my list for a second (or even a third) listening. But I probably won’t enjoy the task. However, these thinkers need to be understood and remembered.
Date published: 2010-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderfully relevant to today With a minor in philosophy, I have had expose to these authors; however, most courses concentrate on philosophy of the past 250 years. Yet I found the conversation and the evolution of faith seeking understand wonderfully relevant to the world today. Indeed, it only serves to show that there are very few original thoughts - many of the arguments one sees in modern discourse have been hashed over in many ways throughout the previous centuries. The course led me to re-exploring subjects long ignored. You should not plan on listening to this course one-time through - it will help to listen to these lectures several times to absorb the discussion and the depth of thought. However, as the course progessess, you will find more and more how similar the questions of 400 AD mirror those of today.
Date published: 2010-04-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Unreservedly Recommended Of dozens of worthwhile Teaching Company courses I've purchased, this is the best I have listened to. I only wish it were 48 lectures long instead of 24, though that is through no deficiency in content. I simply wanted to keep listening.
Date published: 2010-02-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enjoyable & Thought-provoking Having just listened to 3 courses on medieval politics and warfare (Late Antiquity: Crisis and Renewal, The Vikings and the Crusades - all excellent), it was a relief to return to this course about the thought and intellectual background of the Middle Ages. As someone whose faith also seeks understanding, I found it challenging to think about what I believe about the concepts presented. Professor Williams is an outstanding speaker. His delivery was excellent, clear and well organized for such a complex subject. This was my second time through the course. I will certainly be listening to it again. I hope Professor Williams will do more courses for The Teaching Company, perhaps focusing on just one of the philosophers in this course. I would certainly appreciate the opportunity to explore any of them in greater depth.
Date published: 2009-12-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Very Clear Introduction to a Very Difficult Subj This is one of the best courses I have yet heard from the TC. This is tough stuff and yet Dr. Williams does an outstanding job of presenting this material--especially with Augustine and Anselm. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2009-10-20
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not for casual listening I enjoy these courses while I drive to and from work each day (2 hours round trip) and I look for courses that allow me to simply listen and soak in the information presented. The topic, however, is not one that lends itself to casual listening in my opinion. The information is fascinating if you have the time to sit with it, listen, read some of the text and really give it thought. For someone who has the time to do that, then this course should serve you well. For those who want to listen casually as they sit in traffic or as the world passes by, I think it is too advanced and detailed for that.
Date published: 2009-10-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Detailed history without context I have listened to dozens of TC courses. Most have been excellent. But this course disappointed me. Professor Williams is a clear spoken expert in the topic and his explanation of his subject was very thorough. But it was not sufficiently analytic for a course in philosophy. Perhaps he meant this as a course in the history of Church thought, for that is what it was. Medieval philosophy is interesting to most modern people for its position in the development of contemporary philosophy out of ancient thought. Professor Williams' detailed summary of the ideas of his subjects, without much reference to context, modern understandings or historical consequences, was intensive but incomplete.
Date published: 2009-09-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Series, Content, and Lecturer I can't say enough good things about this course. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I learned far more than I had anticipated. My main interest is in gaining a greater appreciation for the antecedents of the Protestant Reformation. The Greek history course by Jeremy McInerney provided a solid overview of the classical world upon which so much of the rest of European history and culture rests. (I haven't been able to manage purchasing anything on Roman society budget!). The series on Late Antiquity by Thomas Noble was simply superb. Although I disagree with his conclusions about the papacy, his erudition on all matters of late antiquity was truly impressive. His explanation of historical events was masterful but his teachings on core Christian doctrines (such as the Incarnation and the Trinity) were also very well done. Noble impressed on the student the sense that intellectual history played no less a leading role in the development of Christian Europe then political events. For instance, he attributes the dispute over competing versions of the doctrine of the Incarnation as the chief cause of some major clashes within Christianity. Thomas Williams lectures on Reason and Faith were an outstanding contribution to the project. I knew very little about Medieval philosophy before listening to Williams--that is, I took an intro course on philosophy, heard about Anselm and Aquinas, but paid no heed to them. I thought it was boring old stuff. But Williams takes the great Christian philosophers of the Middle Ages, pinpoints their salient points, and breathes life into their conceptual world. For non-philosophy types this may seem like an overly intellectual and obscure course. It is not! Much of the crisis of post-modernism (with its rabid distrust of absolute truth) finds its roots in that earlier period of intellectual ferment. (My opinion, not Williams teaching). My original aim, to gain a sense of what was going on before Luther nailed his protest to the door, was wonderfully answered by these exceptional good professors. They have given me a firmer grasp on the culture prior to the Reformation. Thank you, Dr. Noble and Dr. Williams, for showing a simple soul a glimpse of the vast wealth of the Christian intellectual heritage. By the way, Williams has the very best elocution I have ever heard. Also, he explains some extremely abstruse thoughts in a remarkably clear way. And his obvious passion for his subject made the entire series a genuine pleasure.
Date published: 2009-09-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very indepth philosophy course This philosophy course is extremely indepth and not for the people who multi-task and listen to lectures like I do at work so much of the time. To understand the concepts being presented, I had to follow with the outline and pay the utmost attention to each lecture. I would recommend taking Daileader's courses on the Middle Ages first to get some context, and his lectures will give you some brief descriptions of many of the people Prof. Williams goes over in this class. I believe this would give a better appreciation to the ideas being discussed in this class. After taking this class, I can understand where C.S. Lewis shaped many of his ideas. It's a wonderful class to a subject that usually is glossed over and poorly understood.
Date published: 2009-07-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superor Content, Delivery, Value This is one of the best TC courses- and I own over 100. Prof. Williams delivery is concise, direct, and engaging. The content is well organized, the presentation thoughtful, explanations clear, thorough and elegant. Pair this course with Prof. Dailedear's three Middle Ages Courses for an excellent survey of this important period of Eurpean History.
Date published: 2009-07-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of Medieval Philosophy I listened to this several months ago and look forward to hearing it again.  I hope the Teaching Company will engage Dr. Williams to teach more courses, especially on Aquinas. This course is an excellent overview of Medieval philosophy.  A great starter for Catholics looking for an intellectual understanding of the Faith.
Date published: 2009-07-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course!!! This is the best course from the Teaching Co. I have heard (among some twenty) yet. The lectures are thought-provoking, clear, and cogent. I am hoping the Teaching Co. will have Thomas Williams do a whole course on Thomas Aquinas. You will not regret getting this course.
Date published: 2009-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Welcome Additiion to the Curriculum Medieval philosophy tends to get short shrift in college. We study the ancient Greeks and then we often jump to the early modern period of Descartes. Contemparies tend to downplay the importance of medieval thinkers. But I think we miss out on a lot of important thinkers and a key link in our intellectual history if we make such an omission. The professor is very methodical in his presentaton and that makes it easy to follow the ideas of a distant time period. Highly recommneded.
Date published: 2009-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fabulous Course. Not one for the faint hearted. I agree with previous reviewers, this is a fabulous course on the most significant Christian Philosophers. It is an in depth subject and also often very profound. As it is so in depth, it works best with the study guides, and not so well as a background lecture in the car. In additon I would advise purchasers to have at least listened to one of the other philosophy courses (eg Augustine) or the Early, High, Late Middle Ages History Courses.
Date published: 2009-04-27
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