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Grosseteste, Robert (c.1170–1253)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B049-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Grosseteste’s thought is representative of the conflicting currents in the intellectual climate of Europe in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. On the one hand, his commitment to acquiring, understanding and making accessible to his Latin contemporaries the texts and ideas of newly discovered Arabic and Greek intellectual traditions places him in the vanguard of a sweeping movement transforming European thought during his lifetime. His work in science and natural philosophy, for example, is inspired by material newly translated from Arabic sources and by the new Aristotelian natural philosophy, especially the Physics, On the Heavens and Posterior Analytics (Aristotle’s treatise on the nature of scientific knowledge). Similarly, in his work in metaphysics, ethics and theology Grosseteste turns to ancient sources previously unknown (or incompletely known) to Western thinkers, prominent among which are Aristotle’s Ethics and the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. His work as a translator of and commentator on Aristotle and Pseudo-Dionysius places Grosseteste among the pioneers in the assimilation of these important strands of the Greek intellectual heritage into the mainstream of European thought.

On the other hand, Grosseteste’s views are in significant respects conservative. His greatest debt is to Augustine, and his most original ideas – such as his view that light is a fundamental constituent of all corporeal reality – are extensions of recognizably Augustinian themes. Moreover, although his work on Aristotle is groundbreaking, his approach is judicious and measured, lacking any hint of the crusader’s zeal that marks the work of the later radical Aristotelians. In general his practice conforms to the traditional Neoplatonist line, viewing Aristotle as a guide to logic and natural philosophy while turning to Platonism – in Grosseteste’s case, Augustinian and Pseudo-Dionysian Platonism – for the correct account of the loftier matters of metaphysics and theology.

Citing this article:
MacDonald, Scott. Grosseteste, Robert (c.1170–1253), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B049-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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