The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

December 16, 2015

December 16, 1931

The man we call Saint Albertus Magnus was over 80 when he died November 15, 1280. Albertus Magnus, who was canonzied on December 16, 1931 was more prolific even than his famous student, St. Thomas Aquinas. He taught philosophy at the University of Paris and according to his Encyclopedia Britannica article, "He established the study of nature as a legitimate science within the Christian tradition."

It was probably at Paris that Albertus began working on a monumental presentation of the entire body of knowledge of his time. He wrote commentaries on the Bible and on the
Sentences [[Peter Lombard’s Sentences, [was] the theological textbook of the medieval universities]]; he alone among medieval scholars made commentaries on all the known works of Aristotle, both genuine and spurious, paraphrasing the originals but frequently adding “digressions” in which he expressed his own observations, “experiments,” and speculations. The term experiment for Albertus indicates a careful process of observing, describing, and classifying. His speculations were open to Neoplatonic thought. ... Albertus undertook—as he states at the beginning of his Physica—“to make . . . intelligible"....all the branches of natural science, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, ethics, economics, politics, and metaphysics.....

Albertus distinguished the way to knowledge by revelation and faith from the way of philosophy and of science; the latter follows the authorities of the past according to their competence, but it also makes use of observation and proceeds by means of reason and intellect to the highest degrees of abstraction. For Albertus these two ways are not opposed; there is no “double truth”—one truth for faith and a contradictory truth for reason. All that is really true is joined in harmony. Although there are mysteries accessible only to faith, other points of Christian doctrine are recognizable both by faith and by reason—e.g., the doctrine of the immortality of the individual soul. He defended this doctrine in several works against the teaching of the Averroists ...., who held that only one intellect, which is common to all human beings, remains after the death of man.

It is my understanding the Aquinas espoused a dual truth, with the knowledge of revelation on one side, and philosophic logic on the other. And so were I to be superficial and cheap I would say we could blame Aquinas for the illiteracy of modern science.

But now I only want to be nice, and quote Albertus Magnus, on -- cats:

"This animal loves to be lightly stroked by human hands and is playful, especially when it is young. When it sees his own image in a mirror it plays with that and if, perchance, it should see itself from above in the water of a well, it wants to play, falls in, and drowns since it is harmed by being made very wet and dies unless it is dried out quickly. It especially like warm places and can be kept home more easily if its ears are clipped since it cannot tolerate the night dew dripping into its ears.
" ~ Albertus Magnus, De animalibus (c.1260)

Apparently the 13th century in Europe was one in which people aspired to get the whole thing down in words, all that which people knew. We see above that Albertus used direct observation in his conclusions and relied too heavily sometimes on the conclusions of others. Is that really different from today though? Now the natural scientists think they are on the verge of understanding -- everything. Just a few gaps left to fill in. They may even be rasher than Albertus was. Cats still like warm places and scientists to extrapolate beyond the evidence. 

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