What Was Medieval Scholasticism?

Medieval scholasticism is both a school of philosophy and a method for learning developed between the 12th and 16th centuries A.D. Best understood for its attempts to reconcile classical philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle, with Christian theology, it grew to include epistemology, the philosophy of knowledge; philosophies of science and nature; psychology; and economic theory. Medieval scholasticism was taught in cathedrals and universities.

The six fundamental characteristics of medieval scholasticism are accepting Catholic orthodoxy; within orthodoxy, accepting Aristotle as a greater thinker than Plato; recognition that Aristotle and Plato’s disagreement about universals was a principle question to resolve; using dialectical thinking and syllogistic reasoning; accepting distinctions between “natural” and “revealed” theology; and disputing everything at length and in detail.

In medieval scholasticism, the “scholasticus,” a professional philosopher, used dialectic, or investigation and discussion, to teach critical and analytical thinking and reasoned debate. Although it changed over time, the scholastic curriculum included the seven liberal arts: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric for the trivium and arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy for the quadrivium. The school of thought is also a system of Moderate Realism, that outside the mind, universals exist that correspond to universal ideas, and Moderate Intellectualism, where all knowledge is derived from sense-knowledge but intellectual knowledge and sense-knowledge differ in degree and kind.