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Publisher's Summary

Today we tend to separate questions of logic from questions of belief, philosophy from religion, reason from faith. But for 1,000 years during a pivotal era of Western thought, reason and faith went hand-in-hand in the search for answers to the most profound issues investigated by Christianity's most committed scholars. In 24 ambitious lectures, Professor Williams examines the great Christian philosophers from Augustine to Ockham, following their efforts to illuminate the full scope of Christian doctrine using philosophical tools inherited, in large part, from the ancient Greeks.

Far from being a "dark" age, this was an era when faith was not blind and reason was not godless, when the great philosophers and the great theologians were the very same people, and no one saw anything surprising about that.

Building on the work of Plato and Aristotle, medieval philosophers worked diligently to show how the Christian faith is consistent with what can be demonstrated by reason, asking such questions as: Can God's existence and attributes be established by reason alone? Are there Christian doctrines that are beyond the scope of logical demonstration? How can Christian beliefs be defended and shown to be internally consistent?

During this extraordinarily rich period of intellectual ferment, philosophers participated in a common struggle with transcendent questions, using reasoning in the service of faith. This course serves as a fascinating philosophical backdrop to illuminate the stimulating debates that occupied many of the greatest minds of the era.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2007 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2007 The Great Courses

What listeners say about Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages

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Professor Williams Blends Reason with History

If you could sum up Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages in three words, what would they be?

Organized, factual and informative.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages?

When Prof. Williams addressed the nature of Evil, he unleashed, in my mind, a new way of looking at things as they ought to be. By defining Evil as an absence of Goodness where Goodness ought to be, I thought of the light spectrum, where White is all colors and Black is no color at all. As different shades of light are removed from White it moves toward Black. Goodness works the same way demonstrating the continuity of the universe.

Which scene was your favorite?

Prof. Williams made a point that some philosophers participated in the quest for truth with a focus on the methods of reasoning rather than on the discovery of truth; it was more of a game than a search. Today there are many who employ philosophical reasoning in a quest to support a predetermined personal agenda much to the detriment of mankind's quest for truth.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

One point that bothers me still is the persecution of those who are truly in search of the truth. No single moment, unless it was chapters 5 and 6 with Boethius' Lady Philosophy dialogue about the fickleness of fortune, depicts the helplessness of the crusader in search of the truth.

Any additional comments?

The entire series of lectures puts the history of mankind's struggles with logical reasoning in perspective. It puts a spotlight on mankind's transition from infancy to adolescence to adulthood and God's grace in delivering knowledge at the appropriate time to a world hungry for the truth. Anyone with serious questions about his purpose should indulge themselves in this presentation.

11 people found this helpful

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Their Questions Were My Questions

“I got interested in philosophy…because of religious questions… how to make sense of the things I believed, how to defend them, how to make them square with other things I knew... And I quickly became attracted to Medieval philosophers precisely because their questions were my questions. Their project, like mine, was one of faith seeking understanding.” – Lecture 1

“…some people have lives. Not everyone can sit around talking about Aristotle all the time and producing arguments for the existence of God. We need people who work and produce things and keep the world going.” – Lecture 15

If these two excerpts describe your situation – if you have the same questions but the same limited time and energy to explore them – these lectures are for you. They are certainly for me; one of those who “keep the world going”, never an adept at tackling Anselm or Aquinas on the page, I found Professor Williams a lucid guide.

His tour of this vast and essential subject is, of course, cursory; he chooses points of agreement and dissent between thinkers to illustrate the profound achievements and seismic shifts that occurred in Western philosophy between roughly 400 to 1400. But it’s an approach that serves people like you and me admirably. These points of concord and contention outline what Williams calls the "Medieval project", and in the process our faith--like theirs--finds some greater understanding. As a lecturer, his method and manner could not be improved upon.

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Illuminates Dante’s Divine Comedy

I am taking a three-quarter course in Dante’s Divine Comedy and wanted some background on the spiritual and philosophical concepts he addresses. This course provided them. Lecture 19 on Aquinas’ ethics was pure gold in this respect, and would have justified my purchase for that lecture alone. Dante would have been familiar with much of the material presented in this course, which is devoted to thinkers who predated or were contemporary with him, excepting the last two lectures.

This is often chewy stuff and I listened to it while walking. It was not always easy going, but I found a used course book online that has helped my review. Some of the lectures dwelt with semantic distinctions that don’t seem all that relevant to me. I could have skipped those lectures without losing much. But on the whole I can enthusiastically recommend this course for those interested in medieval thought or the study of Dante.

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History of Medieval Thought

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

"Reason and Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages" checks religious and philosophical thoughts from Boethius and Augustine up till Aquinas and others... Contrary to the modern view that philosophy and reason are against faith and belief, this course is evidence that Christianity has been interested in "faith seeking understanding" since its beginning. The course is more of a Who said What and Why rather than an actual theology course, which, to some extent, is a bit disappointing, especially given other The Great Courses courses that do get more philosophical/theological.

Any additional comments?

Having studied many of these thinkers in my philosophy career, I can say that this course is good but I thought it'd be better, that it'd delve deeper into the thoughts instead of merely surveying them, almost superficially at points. Nonetheless, it's at least a very good introduction to Christian thought, which showcases that Christians throughout ages have indeed been interested in philosophy (and thus science) and have actually asked harder questions that modern atheists ask.

4 people found this helpful

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Excellent walk through Med. Philosophy

Short but informative series of lectures about the Med. Christianity and the greatest philosophers of the era.

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Not exactly what I expected but...

As a person who both loves history and philosophy I rate this 5 star however must admit this lecture series is MUCH more focused on philosophy on history.

That being said it is an amazing break down of various Middle Age philosophers ideas but it still very focused on the ideas more than how it pertains to the time period. Very useful if you are deeply interested in various points of view on religious thoughts. Also, and I must say this to be fair, it will be great if you already have a deep interest in a collaboration of secular and spiritual thought.

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Very interesting.

A great lecture series on the mix of philosophy and theology. The professor is well read and very clear in his explanations.

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Excellent course

excellent lecturer, excellent content. clear and interesting. very informative about medieval philosophy. I thoroughly enjoyed this course.

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great

loved the coverage of the multiple philosophers. However, it did not seem to have enough foucus toward the end. Still very good.

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Resolutions for Faith, resolve your doubts

Where does Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Enlightening, broadens scope of philosophical studies I have pursued. This course is excellent, although at times difficult to stick to.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages?

Exposition of Boethius plight in Consolation of Philosophy

Have you listened to any of Professor Thomas Williams’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Can't say, as this is first time I have listened to Professor Williams.

If you could give Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages a new subtitle, what would it be?

Dialog between Reason and Faith

Any additional comments?

None

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  • LM C
  • 12-09-18

Outstanding Work!

This has become one of my favourite audiobooks to listen to. It's so rich in content, yet so compact and easy to listen to. I'm so thankful for running into Thomas Williams' works and will definitely binge on them. Many thanks to The Great Courses & Dr. Thomas Williams himself. 10/10, easy recommendation.

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  • Alexander Marsh
  • 06-04-21

An excellent introduction to medieval philosophy

Highly recommended! However, be aware the focus is solely on *Christian* philosophy - no Jewish or Muslim thinkers are engaged with, sadly.