Medieval Philosophy in Modern History of Philosophy

ERC Consolidator Grant  2013


Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

Philosophisches Seminar, Lehrstuhl für Antike und Mittelalterliche Philosophie

MEMOPHI plans the first comprehensive study of how eighteenth- and nineteenth-century historians of philosophy reconstructed medieval thought. Associating intellectual and cultural approaches, it investigates to what ends and how the history of philosophy has been written, used and institutionalised in European institutions of knowledge. In the 18th and 19th centuries, history and philosophy were at the center of the scientific endeavour. Philosophy gave itself a history in the scientific sense of the word, and the scientific practice of philosophy was secularized in the new academies and universities. Writing the history of philosophy was a process of introspection and discrimination, putting into play the self-conception of the discipline, a selection of its objective relevance and a legitimation of its scientificity. For this purpose, the Middle Ages occupied a central place: the first university was founded around 1200 and institutionalized the future practices of Western science. The scholastic Middle Ages and the modern period constitute indeed the two inaugural moments in the history of university thought. These two moments came precisely into contact in modern histories of medieval philosophy. While modern philosophers developed new scientific devices and defined new goals and methodologies for the discipline of philosophy, modern historians of philosophy reconstructed, evaluated and criticized the scientific practices of medieval authors whom they considered as medieval “philosophers” and thus as the first university philosophers. Furthermore, these modern reconstructions of medieval philosophy distinguished and described various medieval “cultures” – Jewish, Arabic, Neo-pagan, Byzantine Christian and Latin Christian – for the purposes of defining the cultural identity of modern Europe and of modern European nations. Thus, in a broader context, MEMOPHI addresses the intersection between cultural politics (notably the creations of national cultural identities) and reconstructions of philosophy’s past. It will bring to light not only the role played by the history of philosophy in the Social Sciences and Humanities, but also civil society’s expectations from the SSH, in the period running from the formation of the SSH to the present.