In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Medieval Philosophy

  • Introduction
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographical Resources

Philosophy Medieval Philosophy
John Marenbon
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 June 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0172


Medieval philosophy includes the four branches of a single tradition, rooted principally in the Platonic-Aristotelian schools of Late Antiquity: Latin philosophy (from western Europe), Greek philosophy (from Byzantium), Arabic philosophy (in Islam), and Jewish philosophy (in Arabic and Hebrew). Although most writers follow this division, some group Jewish philosophy in Arabic along with Islamic and Christian philosophy in that language. The chronological boundaries of the period are disputed. Although “medieval” philosophy in Latin begins only at the Court of Charlemagne (late 8th century), surveys usually begin with Boethius (d. c. 525) or go back to Augustine (d. 430). The Arabic tradition begins shortly after the Islamic empire has been established, in the mid-8th century, and Jewish-Arabic philosophy begins a little later. Some historians of Byzantine philosophy start with ancient Greek Christian writers such as Origen (d. c. 254), whereas others begin with Photius, in the 9th century. The end point of medieval philosophy is even less easily discernible, except for the Greek tradition, which dwindles after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Many historians of Latin medieval philosophy bring their subject to a close by this date or before, but philosophers such as Suárez (d. 1617) are considered to be strongly medieval in their outlook and methods. Fifteenth and 16th-century Latin philosophy, or some of it, is often labeled as “Renaissance” rather than medieval, but there seems to be no principled criteria for the distinction, which is also sometimes applied to Jewish philosophy (in Hebrew and by then in Latin too). As for Arabic philosophy, historians now recognize that it did not die with Averroes in 1198 but continued to flourish in the Islamic East until the 17th century and beyond. Given the restrictions of space, this bibliography starts from c. 500 and goes to c. 1500, but these starting and stopping points are arbitrary. Until the 1970s or 1980s, the historiography of medieval philosophy tended to be Christian in perspective, much of it heavily influenced by Neoscholasticism. Aquinas (d. 1274) was seen as the outstanding figure, and the Islamic and Jewish traditions were studied merely for their contribution to the Christian tradition he represented. Recent work, however, has brought out the importance of the Islamic and Jewish traditions in their own right, and of Latin philosophy before and after the 13th century. It has also recognized especially the importance and technical sophistication of medieval logic and the closeness in philosophical method and approach between medieval and contemporary analytic thinkers.

General Overviews

Although there are many general surveys of medieval philosophy available, most reflect a rather narrow view of the subject, dominated by Latin philosophy in the 13th century, and fail to introduce the range of the subject as it has emerged in the light of recent research. For this reason, the General Overviews is divided into three sorts: those that try to look at each of The Four Main Traditions, those that concentrate mostly or exclusively on The Latin Tradition, and those devoted to one of the Non-Latin Traditions.

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