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Warriors of the Cloisters

Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World

Christopher I. Beckwith
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Warriors of the Cloisters
    Book Description:

    Warriors of the Cloisterstells how key cultural innovations from Central Asia revolutionized medieval Europe and gave rise to the culture of science in the West. Medieval scholars rarely performed scientific experiments, but instead contested issues in natural science, philosophy, and theology using the recursive argument method. This highly distinctive and unusual method of disputation was a core feature of medieval science, the predecessor of modern science. We know that the foundations of science were imported to Western Europe from the Islamic world, but until now the origins of such key elements of Islamic culture have been a mystery.

    In this provocative book, Christopher I. Beckwith traces how the recursive argument method was first developed by Buddhist scholars and was spread by them throughout ancient Central Asia. He shows how the method was adopted by Islamic Central Asian natural philosophers--most importantly by Avicenna, one of the most brilliant of all medieval thinkers--and transmitted to the West when Avicenna's works were translated into Latin in Spain in the twelfth century by the Jewish philosopher Ibn Da'ud and others. During the same period the institution of the college was also borrowed from the Islamic world. The college was where most of the disputations were held, and became the most important component of medieval Europe's newly formed universities. As Beckwith demonstrates, the Islamic college also originated in Buddhist Central Asia.

    Using in-depth analysis of ancient Buddhist, Classical Arabic, and Medieval Latin writings,Warriors of the Cloisterstransforms our understanding of the origins of medieval scientific culture.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4517-0
    Subjects: History, Education, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
  6. Chapter One Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    The recursive argument method was “the basic vehicle for the analysis of problems in natural philosophy and theology”¹ from the medieval intellectual revolution to the scientific revolution. It was the actual medieval “scientific method,” and it is apparently the source of what may be called the “ideal” modern literary scientific method. The origin of the recursive argument method has long been a mystery. Those who have tried to solve it have sought to explain it as an outgrowth of one or more earlier European traditions, but their proposals do not answer the most important questions, so the problem has remained...

  7. Chapter Two The Recursive Argument Method of Medieval Science
    (pp. 11-36)

    The distinctive argument method used in scientific literature from the High Middle Ages to the Enlightenment was the “scientific method” until the scientific revolution. It is traditionally referred to in earlier scholarly literature as the ‘scholastic method’ orquaestiones disputatae‘disputed questions’ method.¹ Unfortunately, because of increasing scholarly confusion about the origins and meaning of the traditional termscholastic method, and even of the termquaestiones disputatae, it has been necessary to adopt a purely descriptive term, namelyrecursive argument method, or more briefly, therecursive methodorrecursive argument. All refer to the same thing: the highly distinctive argument...

  8. Chapter Three From College and Universitas to University
    (pp. 37-49)

    Science apparently requires a permanent, independent, self-supporting institution devoted to advanced learning, in order to ensure the continuity and growth of knowledge from generation to generation and provide a tradition or “normal science paradigm” against which revolutionary scientists young and old can struggle.¹ It is uncontested that the first college in Europe was established in Paris in 1180. It is also established that the earlyuniversitasof the period was actually a trade guild; it was not even remotely like a university in the sense of the worduniversityor its equivalents in modern European languages for the past half...

  9. Chapter Four Buddhist Central Asian Invention of the Method
    (pp. 50-75)

    There does not seem to be anything like a recursive argument in the Buddha’s own teachings, as far as we can now tell. Because there are no written records of actual Buddhist texts for several centuries after the Buddha’s death, little can be said for certain about him. Nevertheless, some Buddhist teachings, which are found in all Buddhist traditions—indicating that they may be inherited from early Buddhism—contain embedded sets in the form of linked lists, which are suggestive of recursion. It is also emphasized that the Buddha reached enlightenment specifically by analytical thinking. His feats of the mind...

  10. Chapter Five Islamization in Classical Arabic Central Asia
    (pp. 76-99)

    The Arab Empire founded by the prophet Muḥammad (d. ad 632) expanded rapidly, defeating the Byzantine Empire and capturing Syria (637) and Egypt (640). At the same time, the Arabs defeated the Sasanid Persian Empire (637) and raced across Persia into Central Asia, where they took Marw in 651, and Nishapur and Balkh in 652.¹ Soon after, they began the conquest of Transoxiana, establishing a lasting presence there within the next couple of decades, consolidating their control and expanding north to Khwārizm and northeast to Ferghana by 715. Almost simultaneously they moved through Sīstān (Sijistān, ancient Sakastāna, now southwestern Afghanistan),...

  11. Chapter Six Transmission to Medieval Western Europe
    (pp. 100-120)

    The appearance of the recursive argument method in Latin texts was preceded by more than a century in which Classical Arabic learning was increasingly translated and introduced to the Medieval Latin world. A trickle of translations of Arabic scholarly books into Latin had already begun to appear in Italy and Spain by the mid-eleventh century,¹ but none of the works known to have been translated at that time seem to use the Arabic version of the recursive argument method.

    Intellectual culture in Western Europe remained very conservative until the second half of the twelfth century. Despite the undoubtedly important advances...

  12. Chapter Seven India, Tibet, China, Byzantium, and Other Control Cases
    (pp. 121-146)

    The first civilization in the world to develop a full scientific culture was medieval Western Europe. It led directly to the scientific revolution—during which some changes to the details of the constituent elements took place—and continued on down to modern science. But the reason such a “scientific culture complex” developed uniquely in Western Europe has remained unclear.

    The essential elements of medieval science were introduced to Western Europe via Classical Arabic civilization. Previously, the same elements had similarly been introduced to the Islamic world.¹ There the Classical Arabic form of science developed and was eventually transmitted, together with...

  13. Chapter Eight Conclusion
    (pp. 147-166)

    In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Europe underwent radical cultural changes that affected most of the major fields of human activity studied by historians and have been referred to collectively as a medieval “intellectual revolution.” The origins and consequences of some of these changes for the development of a full scientific culture in Western Europe have been examined above in some detail.

    In this chapter, three objections are raised and answered about the development of a full scientific culture, and the modern descendants of the recursive argument method are described and discussed.¹

    1. Why should it have been specifically the combination...

  14. Appendix A: On the Latin Translations of Avicenna’s Works
    (pp. 167-170)
  15. Appendix B: On Peter of Poitiers
    (pp. 171-185)
  16. Appendix C: Charter of the Collège des Dix-huit
    (pp. 186-186)
    (pp. 187-198)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 199-211)