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Subverting Aristotle

, 272 pages
March 2014



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Subverting Aristotle

Religion, History, and Philosophy in Early Modern Science

"The belief that Aristotle’s philosophy is incompatible with Christianity is hardly controversial today," writes Craig Martin. Yet "for centuries, Christian culture embraced Aristotelian thought as its own, reconciling his philosophy with theology and church doctrine. The image of Aristotle as source of religious truth withered in the seventeenth century, the same century in which he ceased being an authority for natural philosophy."

In this fresh study of the complicated origins of revolutionary science in the age of Bacon, Hobbes, and Boyle, Martin traces one of the most important developments in Western European history: the rise and fall of Aristotelianism from the eleventh to the eighteenth century.

Medieval theologians reconciled Aristotelian natural philosophy with Christian dogma in a synthesis that dominated religious thought for centuries. This synthesis unraveled in the seventeenth century contemporaneously with the emergence of the new natural philosophies of the scientific revolution. Important figures of seventeenth-century thought strove to show that the medieval appropriation of Aristotle defied the historical record that pointed to an impious figure of dubious morality.

While numerous scholars have written on the seventeenth-century downfall of Aristotelianism, almost all of those works have examined how the conceptual content of the new sciences—such as the heliocentric cosmology, atomism, mechanical and mathematical models, and experimentalism—were used to dismiss the views of Aristotle. Subverting Aristotle is the first to focus on the religious polemics accompanying the scientific controversies that led to the eventual demise of Aristotelian natural philosophy.

Martin’s thesis draws extensively on primary source material from England, France, Italy, Germany, and the Netherlands. It alters present perceptions not only of the scientific revolution but also of the role of Renaissance humanism in the forging of modernity.

Craig Martin is an associate professor of history at Oakland University and author of Renaissance Meteorology: Pomponazzi to Descartes, also published by Johns Hopkins.

"In limpid prose, with unfailing exactness, and by dint of a remarkably non-polemical and non-ideological approach, Martin has written what will become the standard account of pre-modern Aristotelianism for a very long time to come. His book will be required reading for specialists and graduate students in multiple fields and will achieve authoritative status as a reference work."

"Academic and exuberant, the text provides a useful counter-reading of commonly held assumptions about the displacement of Aristotelian thought at the advent of the scientific revolution."

"Refreshingly clear and readable... A good introduction to Aristotelianism."

"Concise but very richly informative, Martin’s book with its clear vision and narrative will surely remain an essential work on the history of Aristotelianism for years to come."

"... [ Subverting Aristotle] effectively demonstrates the impossibility of completely disentangling the history of premodern philosophy from the history of premodern science, and the value of bridging the medieval and early modern periods even when endeavoring to account for the distinctiveness of the ‘new sciences’ of the later seventeenth century."

"Reading the wildly varying portrayals of Aristotle's relationship to religion, from virtual Christian to benighted atheist, which Martin has collected together in this rich study, one cannot but agree with the French Jesuit Rene Rapin that "it is difficult to understand how in the succession of time it has been possible to make such different judgments on the same person" (p.167)."

"[Subverting Aristotle] offers a lot of very useful and fine-grained research into the shifting fortunes of late-medieval and early-modern Scholasticism."

"... excellent contribution"

"... lucid and fascinating... Martin's book offers a necessary tonic to those texts that merely hold up religion as the adversary of science without explaining why."

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