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Reason and Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages

Discover answers to the most profound issues investigated by Christianity's most committed scholars of the Middle Ages.
Reason & Faith: Philosophy in the Middle Ages is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 96.
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Rated 3 out of 5 by from Defense of Christianity I bought this course on sale, but did not expect it to be little more than a defense of Christianity, but something much broader and less biased. Perhaps the problem lies in the literature about it and not the course itself. I probably should have given that more reasonable thinking.
Date published: 2024-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Clear, Thorough, thought provoking I am a retired philosophy professor who, like most of my colleagues, studied Plato Aristotle, then skipped 1000 years to study Descartes through Kant. I was amazed to study discover how many ideas attributed to those "Modern" Philosophers were first stated by the Great Philosophers of the Middle Ages, especially in the Free Will Question. Descartes and Kant had obviously read these thinkers, even though I hadn't. There is a lot of nonsense being spouted by the so-called "New Atheists" about religious people being incapable of rational thought. These lectures demolish that Idea. I'm not a Christian, but I wouldn't give Dawkins or Harris any chance of beating Anselm or Duns Scotus in an argument.
Date published: 2023-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Among my most favorite This is one of the best courses I've ever taken. It is totally engaging and very intellectually stimulating. I liked it so much that I purchased the transcript and read it over after first listening to each lecture. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in philosophy, theology, or history of the Middle Ages.
Date published: 2023-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Scholarly yet comprehensible Bought this to supplement another course I am taking. Did not listen to entire course, but focused on Scholasticism. This course greatly enhanced my understanding of very dense, abstruse source writings I was assigned to read on this topic. (Yeah, Aquinas was right about how humans are too dumb to understand God!) Outline is very well organized/written, with clear explanations/comparisons, and made a complex topic much more comprehensible. So glad to have this course after busting my brain trying to figure out Aquinas’s what/who moved what/when! The medieval revival of Aristotle and his influence on medieval theologians fascinated me! Who woulda thought—a bonus course in ancient philosophy, too! This segment alone and the superb course outline earn this course its well-deserved stars. When time permits, I intend to study this course from beginning.
Date published: 2022-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Be prepared for some deep thinking. This is not casual listening. Read other "students" reviews. You might want to review some of the philosophers that the Prof examines. The Prof is excellent. He tries to be very precise and explains things very carefully. You need to pay attention to definitions of words. I found myself rewinding the tape numerous times to make sure I grasped the meaning. In each case the Prof tries to lead you through the train of logic that the theologian/philosopher is following. The video version had numerous displays of the verbiage being spoken or the points the Prof was about to make. I stopped the tape many times to read displays carefully to be sure I got the point. I recommend the video version. This is a class where I think carefully reading the guidebook before listening to the lecture is important.
Date published: 2022-06-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good exposition of the development theology The professor gave good lectures on the thinking of early thinkers and theologians. He delved into the arguments and counter arguments of opposing and supporting "philosophers". When there was an effective argument destroying an earlier argument he followed it with the changes in thought it precipitated in later philosophers/theologians. I think he spent too much time on many philosophers as he made his points in the first lecture for several of them, but followed it up with 3 or 4 lectures on the same person. I was hoping to see more on the conflict between faith and reason, but that must come with the following period of enlightenment as these lectures ended with the 15th century and the end of the dark ages.
Date published: 2022-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great information Listened while on a 2400 miles road trip. So informative. Very thought provoking. Brain cells got a great work out too.
Date published: 2019-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the very best Professor Williams takes a scalpel to the sophistries of medieval philosophy, how to square the circle, how to coalesce faith and reason, how to prove transsubstantiation, the Trinity, divine omniscience, among other Christian mysteries, all of which is to say the existence of God, and delivers one of the very best lecture series The Great Courses has to offer, he is articulate, thorough, and utterly and consistently fascinating
Date published: 2019-09-27
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For 1


Thomas Williams

I got interested in philosophy as a teenager because of religious questions—questions about how to make sense of the things I believed…I quickly became attracted to medieval philosophers because their questions were my questions.


University of South Florida

Dr. Thomas Williams is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of South Florida. He earned his B.A. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. Professor Williams's research interests are in medieval philosophy, theology, and the philosophy of religion, with a focus on Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. Before joining the faculty at the University of South Florida, he taught at Creighton University and the University of Iowa, where he received a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Teaching Award in 2005. Professor Williams was the Alvin Plantinga Fellow at the Center for Philosophy of Religion at Notre Dame from 2005 to 2006. He is the coauthor of Anselm, a volume in the Great Medieval Thinkers series from Oxford University Press, and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas: Disputed Questions on the Virtues. His translations include Augustine's On Free Choice of the Will and Anselm: Basic Writings. Professor Williams also has contributed essays to many publications including Modern Theology, Philosophy and Literature, and Faith and Philosophy. He serves on the editorial board of Studies in the History of Ethics.

Faith Seeking Understanding

01: Faith Seeking Understanding

The great medieval Christian thinkers would have been bewildered by today's idea that faith and reason are fundamentally at odds. Although their outlooks varied widely, they agreed that philosophical reasoning could and should be used to defend and elucidate the doctrines of the Christian faith.

33 min
Augustine's Platonic Background

02: Augustine's Platonic Background

Augustine found Platonism compelling and adopted much of it, while seeing that Christian belief required him to modify it in several ways. The doctrine of the Incarnation in particular challenges Platonism's negative view of the body and the material world, in contrast with the perfect realm of the mind.

30 min
Augustine on Authority, Reason, and Truth

03: Augustine on Authority, Reason, and Truth

Augustine argued that the search for truth must begin with the acceptance of authority. Historical claims must be accepted or rejected on the basis of authoritative testimony. Christianity involves such historical claims, and Augustine sought to show that it is reasonable to accept the testimony on which Christianity rests.

31 min
Augustine on the Origin of Evil

04: Augustine on the Origin of Evil

According to Augustine, because God is good, everything he creates is good; and because God is creator, nothing exists that he does not create. The origin of evil is therefore perplexing. Part of Augustine's solution was to argue that evil, in itself, is not anything. It is a mere privation: a lack of measure, form, or order.

30 min

05: Boethius's "The Consolation of Philosophy"

Awaiting execution, Boethius wrote one of the most beloved books of the Middle Ages, "The Consolation of Philosophy." Why does he seek comfort in philosophy and not in scripture? His inability to see the universe as a rationally coherent system called for the therapy of reason, as manifested in philosophy.

29 min
Boethius on Foreknowledge and Freedom

06: Boethius on Foreknowledge and Freedom

"The Consolation of Philosophy" discusses the problem of divine foreknowledge and human freedom. If God's foreknowledge is infallible, our actions are necessary. Boethius used the doctrine of divine eternity to show how our actions are not necessary in any sense that threatens freedom or moral responsibility.

31 min
Anselm and the 11th-Century Context

07: Anselm and the 11th-Century Context

Anselm helped revive the technique of philosophical argument known as dialectic, applying it systematically to theological discussions. The doctrines of the Christian faith are, to Anselm, intrinsically rational because they concern the nature and activity of God, who is himself supreme reason.

31 min
Anselm's Proof That God Exists

08: Anselm's Proof That God Exists

Anselm asserted that we can prove God's existence and attributes by exploring the idea of God as "that than which a greater cannot be thought." A monk named Gaun­ilo countered that Anselm's argument - now known as the "ontological argument" also proved the existence of the greatest conceivable island, which is nonsense.

31 min
Anselm on the Divine Attributes

09: Anselm on the Divine Attributes

The ontological argument establishes so many different divine attributes that it is difficult to see how one and the same being can possess all of them at once. Anselm resolved this problem by using dialectic to analyze each case, such as the apparent conflict between God's mercy and his justice.

31 min
Anselm on Freedom and the Fall

10: Anselm on Freedom and the Fall

If everything we have is received from God, then God deserves all the praise for our good works and all the blame for our evil deeds. In a move typical of medieval philosophers, Anselm simplifies this problem by looking at the case of angels. God gave all the angels the will to persevere in justice, but the evil angels abandoned that will.

30 min
Abelard on Understanding the Trinity

11: Abelard on Understanding the Trinity

Famously scandalous in his personal life, Abelard courted controversy in philosophy and theology as well. He gave a brilliant analysis of the Trinity in three treatises: the first was condemned and burned; the second was left unfinished; the third was also condemned, ending Abelard's teaching career.

31 min
Abelard on Understanding Redemption

12: Abelard on Understanding Redemption

Abelard's theory of the Atonement shows the complexities of his engagement with both authority and reason. According to Abelard, the death of Christ delivers us from the punishment for the sin of our first parents, thereby inspiring our gratitude and enabling us to serve God out of love rather than out of fear.

31 min
The Rediscovery of Aristotle

13: The Rediscovery of Aristotle

The recovery of most of Aristotle's works by the middle of the 13th century coincided with the rise of the universities. Aristotle's thought was attractive because it was wide-ranging, systematic, and rigorously argued; it seemed dangerous because many of its teachings contradicted Christian doctrine.

30 min
Bonaventure on the Mind's Journey into God

14: Bonaventure on the Mind's Journey into God

Bonaventure's account of the mind's journey to God takes a critical approach to Aristotle. In his account of creation, Bonaventure rejects the Aristotelian doctrine that the world has always existed; but in his account of theoretical knowledge, he tries to synthesize the Aristotelian and Augustinian views.

30 min
Aquinas on What Reason Can and Cannot Do

15: Aquinas on What Reason Can and Cannot Do

Regarded as one of the three luminaries of medieval philosophy's golden age (together with Scotus and Ockham), Aquinas followed Aristotle in contending that all knowledge derives from sense experience. Thus humans can know only those facts about God that are evident from reflection upon sense experience.

30 min
Aquinas's Proof of an Unmoved Mover

16: Aquinas's Proof of an Unmoved Mover

In his five proofs for the existence of God, Aquinas first answers objections that the existence of God cannot be proved, using the scholastic method to examine the two sides of the question. Then he proceeds to the five proofs, the first of which argues that there must be an initial, unmoved mover: God.

30 min
Aquinas on How to Talk about God

17: Aquinas on How to Talk about God

How can the words we use for ordinary objects be meaningful when applied to God? Aquinas answered that created things resemble their Creator; we can therefore use the language of ordinary experience to speak meaningfully about God, although our words cannot have exactly the same meanings in both spheres.

30 min
Aquinas on Human Nature

18: Aquinas on Human Nature

Aristotle's view that the soul is the form of the body implies that when a human organism ceases to live, the soul ceases to exist. But Aquinas argued that we can prove philosophically that the soul survives bodily death. The resurrection of the body, however, is a mystery of faith that cannot be proved by reason.

30 min
Aquinas on Natural and Supernatural Virtues

19: Aquinas on Natural and Supernatural Virtues

For Aquinas, natural happiness sets the standards of natural law, and natural virtues dispose us to attain such happiness. But in addition there must be supernatural virtues that dispose us to attain supernatural happiness. Natural virtues are attained by moral development; supernatural virtues are acquired by divine gift.

30 min
Scotus on God's Freedom and Ours

20: Scotus on God's Freedom and Ours

Even during his life, the adjective "subtle" had come to be associated with Scotus's thought, which is ingenious, difficult, and inventively defended. As a Franciscan, he regarded the will as a power higher than the intellect, and he followed this emphasis in his account of both divine and human freedom.

31 min
Scotus on Saying Exactly What God Is

21: Scotus on Saying Exactly What God Is

Scotus went much further than Aquinas in rejecting the approach to discourse about God that emphasizes what God is not. Scotus argued that it is possible by natural means (i.e., without supernatural help) for the human intellect in this present life to acquire a concept in which God, and God alone, is grasped.

31 min
What Ockham's Razor Leaves Behind

22: What Ockham's Razor Leaves Behind

Ockham employed the principle that has come to be called "Ockham's razor" in reducing the basic categories in the Aristotelian inventory. He also argued against the reality of universals entities like "whiteness" that exist beyond the whiteness of a particular piece of paper, snowdrift, and so on.

31 min
Ockham on the Prospects for Knowing God

23: Ockham on the Prospects for Knowing God

Ockham rejected the idea that Christian theology is an intellectual enterprise that aspires to the same standards as pagan philosophy. Although he agreed with Aquinas and Scotus that reason needs to be supplemented and repaired by faith, he was deeply skeptical about the prospects for proving that God exists or showing that the mysteries of faith are consonant with reason.

31 min
The 14th Century and Beyond

24: The 14th Century and Beyond

By the 14th century the loss of confidence in Aristotelian philosophy had led some philosophers to conclude that the domain of Christian faith and the domain of philosophical reasoning have no overlap. With the dawn of the Renaissance, Aristotelianism was rapidly losing ground to a new, more mystical version of Pla­ton­ism.

32 min