Aristotle’s Journey to Europe: A Synthetic History of the Role Played by the Islamic Empire in the Transmission of Western Educational Philosophy Sources from the Fall of Rome through the Medieval Period


After the fall of Rome, how did the work and words of the ancient Greek philosophers make their way, textually and intellectually, into later European thought? There were two primary and obvious paths that this Greek literature could have taken to reach medieval Europe after the splitof the Roman Empire into east and west sectors, but these two potential paths functionally became, instead, dual roadblocks to its transmission. In the western portion of the former Roman Empire, there was an overwhelming passive indifference to Greek philosophy coupled with a decline of culture generally in Western Europe during the so-called Dark Ages. In the eastern portion of the former Roman Empire, the attitude toward Greek philosophy was tempered by the imperial authority of Constantinople and eastern Christianity, and ranged from cautious acceptance to occasionallyactive censorship. In response to the research question, here is my thesis: The Islamic Empire of the Middle Ages was the primary and indispensable force behind the preservation, transmission and acceptance of the Greek philosophical tradition to later European thinking. I will contend that without the influenceof Muslim scholars during the medieval period, the foundational impact of Greek philosophy on later Western philosophy (including specifically, Western sourcesof educational philosophy) may have been greatly reduced (or potentially lost), used differently, and/or forced to find other sources of transmittal. My research will pursue the historical connections between classical Greece and pre-Renaissance Europe on three interrelated levels—textual, philosophical, and cultural. First, I will examine the textual transmission of specific works by Plato and Aristotle, looking at the translation and transmission work done over time and through several language and cultural groups. Second, I will seek to find how the ideas of Plato and Aristotle were used and transmitted, moving from text to philosophical patterns of thinking. Third, I will look more broadly at the acceptance of philosophical inquiry and the development of critical thinking within culture itself, in Greek, Arabic, and Latin settings, to see how the often competing ideas of faith and reason play out over the course of our historical framework.

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