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Byzantine philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B024-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved December 04, 2022, from

Article Summary

In Byzantium from the ninth century through to the fifteenth century, philosophy as a discipline remained the science of fundamental truths concerning human beings and the world. Philosophy, the ‘wisdom from without’, was invariably contrasted with the ‘philosophy from within’, namely theology. The view that philosophy is ‘the handmaiden of theology’, which the Greek Church Fathers derived from Philo and the Alexandrian school of theology, was not the dominant position in Byzantium as it was in the West; philosophy, and logic in particular, was never treated as a mere background to, or tool of, theology. By the same token, theology in Byzantium never developed into a systematic method of dialectical inquiry into Christian truths, or a science. Thus the initial distinction between philosophy and theology remained intact.

In terms of institutional practice, theological schools and studies did not exist in Byzantium and the main purpose of higher studies was to train state functionaries. This instruction, based on philosophy and the quadrivium, was mainly private, but it received support from the emperor and the church and we do hear of occasional interference by the secular or ecclesiastical authorities, perhaps because of professional or personal rivalries among the philosophy teachers. Furthermore, Byzantium had no independent universities or centers of study instituted by monastic orders as there were in the West, where social and political conditions were different.

Philosophy in Byzantium also steered clear of involvement in the theological controversies that arose from time to time. The prevalent model of the thinker in Byzantium was a sort of encyclopedic teacher of philosophy, an erudite scholar who kept in touch with the sciences of the quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music) and other disciplines and set the philosophical tone of the scientific curricula. The development of philosophy in Byzantium was thus very different from that of Western scholasticism.

Citing this article:
Benakis, Phil Linos. Byzantine philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B024-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2022 Routledge.

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