Medieval Philosophy


Medieval philosophy is the philosophy of Europe in the era now known as medieval or the Middle Ages, the period roughly extending from the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD to the Renaissance in the sixteenth century. It is defined partly by the process of rediscovering the ancient culture developed in Greece and Rome in the classical period, and partly by the need to address theological problems and to integrate sacred doctrine with secular learning.

The history of medieval philosophy is traditionally divided into two main periods: the period in the Latin West following the Early Middle Ages until the twelfth century, when the works of Aristotle and Plato were preserved and cultivated and the 'golden age' of the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Latin West, which witnessed the culmination of the recovery of ancient philosophy, along with a reception of its Arabic commentators, and significant developments in the fields of the philosophy of religion, logic and metaphysics.

The medieval era was disparagingly treated by the Renaissance humanists, who saw it as a barbaric 'middle' period between the classical age of Greek and Roman culture, and the 'rebirth' or renaissance of classical culture. Yet Jorge Gracia, Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Philosophy and Comparative Literature in the State University of New York at Buffalo,
has argued that 'in intensity, sophistication, and achievement, the philosophical flowering in the thirteenth century could be rightly said to rival the golden age of Greek philosophy in the fourth century BC.'  The problems discussed throughout this period are the relation of faith to reason, the existence and simplicity of God, the purpose of theology and metaphysics, and the problems of knowledge, of universals, and of individuation. For a more detailed outline of the subject of medieval philosophy go to the following link:


The Renaissance(re-birth, to be reborn) was a cultural movement that spanned the period roughly from the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. Though availability of paper and the invention of metal movable type sped the dissemination of ideas from the later 15th century, the changes of the Renaissance were not uniformly experienced across Europe. As a cultural movement, it encompassed innovative flowering of Latin and vernacular literatures, beginning with the 14th-century resurgence of learning based on classical sources, which contemporaries credited to Petrarch, the development of linear perspective and other techniques of rendering a more natural reality in painting, and gradual but widespread educational reform.

In politics, the Renaissance contributed the development of the conventions of diplomacy, and in science an increased reliance on observation. Historians often argue this intellectual transformation was a bridge between theMiddle Ages and Modern history. Although the Renaissance saw revolutions in many intellectual pursuits, as well as social and political upheaval, it is perhaps best known for its artistic developments and the contributions of such polymaths as Leonardo da Vinci andMichelangelo, who inspired the term "Renaissance man". For more on this bridge, this transition, go to:


Part 1:

Michel de Montaigne(1533-1592) was one of the most influential writers of the French Renaissance, known for popularizing the essay as a literary genre. He became famous for his effortless ability to merge serious intellectual exercises with casual anecdotes and autobiography—and his massive volume Essais contains, to this day, some of the most widely influential essays ever written. Montaigne had a direct influence on writers all over the world, including René Descartes, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Albert Hirschman,William Hazlitt, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Friedrich Nietzsche, Stefan Zweig, Eric Hoffer, Isaac Asimov, and possibly on the later works of William Shakespeare.

In his own time, Montaigne was admired more as astatesman than as an author. The tendency in his essays to digress into anecdotes and personal ruminations was seen as detrimental to proper style rather than as an innovation, and his declaration that, 'I am myself the matter of my book', was viewed by his contemporaries as self-indulgent. In time, however, Montaigne would be recognized as embodying, perhaps better than any other author of his time, the spirit of freely entertaining doubt which began to emerge at that time. He is most famously known for his remark, 'What is it that I know?' Remarkably modern even to readers today, Montaigne's attempt to examine the world through the lens of the only thing he can depend on implicitly—his own judgment—makes him more accessible to modern readers than any other author of the Renaissance. Much of modern literary non-fiction has found inspiration in Montaigne and writers of all kinds continue to read him for his masterful balance of intellectual knowledge and personal story-telling. For more on Montaigne go to:

Part 2:

Montaigne was a skeptic. He didn’t want to take things just on trust. As it happened, there were lots of things he did take on trust.  If he liked the sound of an ancient legend, he would refer to it as if it must have been true. He thought astrology had something to it, and his position on the religious quarrels of his own time was that all this Lutheranism could undermine the church and lead to atheism, substance abuse and the contemporary equivalent of reality television. From our viewpoint, he often doesn’t seem very skeptical at all. But at the time, he seemed skeptical enough to excite a whole generation of readers with the idea that some falsehoods might masquerade as facts, and that an enquiring, critical attitude was the one to have. For more on this essay by Clive James on Montaigne and his skepticism go to:


The whole of Dante’s Paradiso is an opening and a clearing of Dante's eyes. I could very well see my own poetic opus with this aphoristic note. To return to God, a man must open his eyes, open them to and into a just self-love. Bahá'u'lláh says in one of His many aphorisms on introspection and the love of self and God: “man must open one eye to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved and close the other to the world and all that is therein.” And again: “One speck of chastity is greater than a hundred thousand years of worship and a sea of knowledge.” The mystic vision and narcissism are perilously similar in their function and structure. Dante, profound theologian as well as poet, acknowledges that this peril is a crucial element in life’s pilgrimage. This theme is also mentioned again and again in my poetry. I discuss again and again the poet’s, the pilgrim's, slow and painful emergence from narcissism to a just, a necessary, self-love and to the acquisition of chastity. Scribe that he is (Paradiso, 10.27), Dante transcribes his memory and his vision in his canto. I transcribe my view, my reflection, in booklet after booklet of my poetry. The whole movement of vision in Paradiso is from sight to reflection. In my poetry the movement is back and forth, up and down, around and around in an interdependence of diverse points of view rather than the totality of a single vision. -Ron Price with thanks to R. A. Shoaf, Dante, Chaucer, and the Currency of the Word: Money, Images, and Reference in Late Medieval Poetry, Pilgrim Books, 1983.

I’d like to think I had the power
of precise statement found in all
great poets and again and again
in every new phrase but, sadly,
I describe things hazily with an
intense personal way of feeling
because I feel but do not see
with the necessary particularity.

But out of what seems a slimy
mud of words, a lotus-flower
grows & with it imprecisions
which approximate my little
thoughts and feelings to some
order of speech which springs
like an incantation with its beauty
and truth to all that I feel, and to
complex states, recreated for
readers by the letter and the
symbolic spirit rooted in and
nourished by my emotions.

I put so much down as if by
mystic vision and narcissism
so firmly intertwined, kneaded
into the very clay of everyman.

Ron Price
28/5/'06 to 10/6/'14.


In the century, 1450 to 1550, European society was rapidly transformed(1). The monopoly held by the then dominant institution, the Catholic Church, was placed in serious dispute. Ten million books were produced in the decade Columbus sailed the Atlantic to the New World raising all sorts of questions and doubts about legitimate authority. Medieval society, seemingly stable and secure in 1450, was anything but. The stability was only a veneer. The world that my years of pre-pioneering and pioneering attempt to describe in both an indirect and direct, both a discursive and an intuitive, both a personal and analytical way, if it continues in the same direction for much more of this century, will indeed tell the story of a similar transformation. The church, religion and the nation, the state, democracy and Christianity, highly entrenched in 1953 may, by 2053, prove to be based on outworn shibboleths and historical anachronisms.

The transformation, the tempest, that was unleashed with the coming of the Bab and Baha'u'llah in the nineteenth century, and that has been blowing through my life time, my pioneering days, these earliest generations under the guidance of the Universal House of Justice, with continued force, deranging the world's equilibrium and 'uprooting its institutions'(2) is leaving the world, at least so it seems to me after the passing of my forty years of pioneering(1962 to 2002), unable to undertake the fundamental reorientation(3) required without a great deal of suffering and despondency. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) James Davidson and William Rees-Mogg, The Sovereign Individual, MacMillan, NY, 1997, p.99; (2) Shoghi Effendi, The Promised Day is Come, 1976(1941), p.1; and (3) The Universal House of Justice, ""Letter to the World's Religious Leaders," April 2002, p.3.

These questions did not exist
for me the year I got my first
baseball glove, my mother saw
that ad in the Burlington Gazette
and they finished that temple in
Chicago back when I was only 9.

But the world was changing under
my feet as I grew into a man and
then into an old man......It was all
becoming irrelevant........first that
hopeful, Communism, then slowly
it would appear, democracy itself
emerging as it had when Shaykh
Ahmad was in his last years in
Arabia preparing himself for his role
as precursor to the Promised One.

As the Holy Church gained
ascendancy from 390 to 420
and lost it from 1490 to 1520,
so will there be in my day a
deliberate and decisive break
with religion and the ideology
of the nation state.....and this
Faith I have come to believe---
Where will it be in all this???

Ron Price
2 August 2002 to 18 May 2011



In 1953 the Baha’is began a ten year teaching program and in that same year the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote his famous-in some philosophical circles--Philosophical Investigations. Wittgenstein said much that was relevant to the Baha’i Plan then and our lives now. He stressed, among many things, that: (a) we fail to notice the unique, the momentary, fleeting, peculiar, influences on our conversations and our daily lives, (b) there are accompanying phenomena that are important when we talk that are missed when one talks without thinking, (c) we go out to meet the activities of those around us with a certain structure of embodied anticipatory feelings, (d) our talk gets its meaning from the rest of our surroundings and the intricacies of those specificities involved are important, (e) just being able to get on with each other so that relationships become possible comes first, is basic, (f) it is our inner sense of the relations of the various forms of life which determine their reality for us and (g) our lives have their being within a stream or several streams of spontaneously responsive activity flowing continuously, largely unnoticed.–Ron Price with thanks to Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Blackwell, Oxford, 1953.

So much is unnoticed in the background
of our lives with their unending, and their
spontaneous calls from within like some
tennis player for 24 hours a day: practice,
practice, practice--always anticipating the
responses to our expressions, our words,
our forms of life open and clear as glass...
as daylight, on the water of the oceans!!#

This is the reality we create in our talk like
the ghosts and spirits of medieval times as
our streams mingle and flow forever, all our
days, swifter than the twinkling of an eye &
it seems, largely unnoticed, those intricacies
and peculiarities that surround as always!!#

Ron Price
June 27th 2005


The theme of life being a battle goes back a long way in the western intellectual tradition. Epictetus writes that “the life or every man is a soldier’s service.” Seneca writes that “we also must be soldiers and in a campaign where there is no intermission and no rest.” The prize is virtue, strength of mind and peace. ‘Abdu’l-Baha writes in a similar vein in many places. The inner conflict involved is not an accident but the essence of moral life. Character is what is produced. The adversary is endless and immoderate. Our appetites, like thieves, lie in wait to strangle us. On this journey of our days we will often be weary, suffer loss and be afraid. It is an inner exploration, inner battle, which contains a vivid sense of both delight and horror, shame and honour. -Ron Price with thanks to C.S. Lewis, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition, Oxford UP, Oxford, 1958(1936), p.63.

Again and again I come
to these wide fields and pavillions
of memory, deep and boundless,
immeasureable, uncountable,
testing all my powers,
endless, winding, roads
and the carnal robe
whispering to me
and fixing its hold,
keeping me back,
impossible it seems
to live without it.
The adventure is strange,
and the forward movement
twists and turns
with such sinuous complexity
that it beats the best of analysts,
of this inner life, its bellum intestinum.(1)

(1) inner war

Ron Price
12 October 2000


"For a comparatively brief interval(1259-1338) between two centuries of profitless fighting in France, the union of the British peoples under the English crown became an object worthy of steady attention." So writes H.A.L. Fisher in his two volume History of Europe(1936). Stimulated by the comparatively brief intervals(1914-1918 and 1939-1945) of tragic fighting within one century in Europe and the far East and by the effects of a global tempest, a global catastrophy, that played itself out in a host of complex ways in the last half of that century, the union of the peoples of the earth became an object worthy of the steady attention of increasing numbers of people.

The union with Wales, though, was a long and a difficult process not finally achieved until 1485 on Bosworth Field. For the Welsh were a warlike, a stubborn and quarrelsome people. The union with Scotland, on the other hand, was a more "natural arrangement," certainly more natural than that with Wales. But still, the history of Scotland in this medieval period was "a tangle of savage broils and convulsions."(1) And in Ireland the story is even more tragic.

The long struggle for unity that humankind had embarked upon in 1919 at Versailles thanks to Woodrow Wilson and which still occupied its attention nearly a century later when even the wisest and most consistent statesmanship was unable to achieve stable and harmonious international relations, was as sorry, as tragic and as catastrophic a process as any attempt at unity at previous ages in history. Some saw the opening years of the new millennium as the darkest hours in history, darker even than those dark years in the middle of the fifth century AD when the great legacy of European civilization, Greece and Rome, survived by the "skin of its teeth," to use a phrase of Kenneth Clark's in his book Civilization.(2) -Ron Price with thanks to (1) H.A.L. Fisher, A History of Europe,Vol.1, Fontana, London, 1936, p.326; and (2) Kenneth Clark, Civilization, Penguin, London, 1969, p.28.

The autobiographies of nations,
wrote Ruskin, come in three
manuscripts: deeds, words & art.
The most trustworthy one is art.(1)

I think this is largely true of people
and their individual autobiographies.
But art, in my case, prose-poetry,
is not all there is for civilization to
achieve its very highest peaks:

the panacea is divine religion
administered by wise physicians
who possess the bright candles,
the many virtues, the excellent
qualities the water of life that
flows from the gardens of God.(2)

(1) Clark, op.cit., p.17; 
(2) 'Abdu'l-Baha, Secret of Divine Civilization, p.98.

24 November 2001.


Most of us, without particularly meaning to, have accumulated--from commercials, from ads in magazines, from picture books, from movies--a mental archive of images of the West, a personal West-in-the-Mind’s eye in which we see an eternal pastoral, very beautiful but usually unpeopled. These potent images, pelting us decade after decade, finally implant notions about how the West was explored and developed, in a word, won that are unrealistic. Photography has helped to redress the balance little by little with its rich but disordered resource. Over the last seventy years studies of various kinds and the occasional autobiography, like We Pointed Them North(1939), have helped to alter the picture that is engraved on all our brains from TV and the movies: Roy Rogers, Gene Autrey, the Lone Ranger, Butch Cassidy, et al. -Ron Price with thanks to Larry McMurtry, “High Noon”, a review of The New Encyclopedia of the American West, editor Howard R. Lamar, Yale UP, in The Australian Review of Books, December 1998, pp.17-19.

The enterprise began, perhaps as early as 1894 when the first Baha’is landed in America from the Middle East, or even when the Letters of the Living travelled throughout Iran in 1844 and thereafter. The twenty-five years from 1894 to 1919 was a precursor to the year 1919 when the Tablets of the Divine Plan were read and a pioneering program began that is now eighty years old. It is a program that is immensely diverse and operates at local, regional, national and international levels. It is important, as the Baha’i community comes to describe this vast and complex story, that it avoids a tendency to an affinity with the reverential writers of medieval England, to endless edification and to what is called hagiography. There is a need to emotionally individualize stories so that readers will not have to piously wade through hundreds of pages of lifeless prose.-Ron Price with thanks to Edward Morrison,”When the Saints Come Marching In: The Art of Baha’i Biography”, Dialogue, Vol.1 No.1, Winter 1986, pp.32-35.

Defining character,
determining worth,
touching on the personal,
bringing people out of
verbal concrete,
through understanding.

Needing an eye
for telling detail,
a certain dramatic power,
analysis and interpretation,
with incisiveness and conviction,
with no doubt about its being true,
a willingness to deal with the unpleasant,
for we need more than a glimpse.
We need the story of the saintliness
in all its unsaintliness.

It is as difficult to write
a good life as to live one.
We want to know we are not alone:
for the community is its own ritual,
the greatest drama in the world of existence,
something forever new and unforeseen,
devoid, in writing, of appearances and pretentions,
a mysterious development, this writing, of many values,
conveying to the reading public
insight and a knowing who they are
into their lives.

Ron Price
1 February 1999


I want to thank Keven Brown his writings on the internet.  Brown is a biographer and essayist; he has authored or contributed to 4 books, and written dozens of articles and reviews on: art, cinema, dance, literature, music and politics for publications such as The Nation, Threepenny Review, (London) Times Literary Supplement, Washington Post Bookworld and others since 1978. He is the author of Malcolm X : His Life and Legacy which was published in 1995. He was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1960, raised in San Francisco and the Bay Area.  He then settled in New York City in 1985, and completed his education at Columbia University.  One of his essays begins as follows:

The Bahá’í teachings on creation correspond, Brown writes, with many of the central ideas affirmed in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, in Greek philosophy, and, in places, they parallel theories found in non-Western religions. Taken as a whole, they present a new synthesis of ancient and more recent cosmological teachings. Their importance to the history of intellectual thought derives in part from the fact that they appear in the form of a “prophetic revelation” at a time when modern Western ideas were also beginning to penetrate nineteenth century Iran and intermix with its enduring medieval conceptual milieu.  Some of this 'enduring medieval conceptual milieu' is evident in the following lengthy essay. The essay is too lenghty for this section, but the essay concludes with the following:

The Bahá’í concept of “Manifestations of God” as intermediaries between God and man is an essential element of Bahá’í cosmology.  These intermediaries are "the divine Gardeners Who till the earth of human hearts and minds,” causing man to “pass from degree to degree of progressive unfoldment until perfection is attained."  Although such perfection is relative, not absolute, it is referred to in the holy books as the “second birth” into the spiritual life of the Kingdom and “eternal life." In this station man comes to know God insofar as he comes to know and abide by the spiritual perfections latent in his own reality. The coming of one of these Manifestations of God renews the world spiritually and is referred to in the Bahá’í scriptures as “a new creation” (Kitáb-i-Íqán, p. 115). Some of the bibliography of that essay is as follows:

‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Má’idiy-i Ásmání (The Heavenly Bread). Comp. ‘Abdu’l-Hamíd Ishráq Khávarí.
New Delhi: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1984. (Reprint of vols. 2, 5, and 9 formerly published in Tehran.)
-----. Khiṭábát (Talks of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá). Hofheim-Langenhain: Bahá’í-Verlag, 1984. (Reprint of 3
volumes: Vol. 1 Egypt 1921; Vol. 2 Egypt 1942; Vol. 3 Tehran 1970.
-----. Makátíb-i 'Abdu'l-Bahá (Collected Letters). Volumes 1-3. Cairo 1910, 1911 and 1921.
-----. Mufávaḍát (Table Talks). New Delhi: Bahá'í Publishing Trust, 1984. (Reprint of the 1920
Cairo edition.)
-----. Muntakhabát (Selections). Vol. 3. Langenhain: Bahá’í Verlag, 1992.
-----. The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Talks Delivered by 'Abdu'l-Bahá during His Visit to
the United States and Canada in 1912. Comp. Howard MacNutt. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 1982.
-----. Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. Haifa: Bahá’í World Centre, 1978.
-----. Some Answered Questions(SAQ)Trans. Laura Clifford Barney. Wilmette: Bahá’í Publishing Trust,1981.
Afnán, Muḥammad. “Tafsír-i-Bismilláh ar-Raḥmán ar-Raḥím.” Áhang-i-Badí‘, vol. 24, no. 5-6 (126 B.E.) pp. 121-126.
Aristotle. A New Aristotle Reader. Ed. J. L. Ackrill. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987.

There is a strong element of medieval philosophy in this essay and I encourage readers to go to the essays of Keven Brown if they are interested---at this link: