This page contains a list of the best books on Medieval philosophy. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Medieval philosophy. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Medieval philosophy. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on Medieval philosophy in no particular order.
Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction – John Marenbon
Publisher description: For many of us, the term ‘medieval philosophy’ conjures up the figure of Thomas Aquinas, and is closely intertwined with religion. In this Very Short Introduction John Marenbon shows how medieval philosophy had a far broader reach than the thirteenth and fourteenth-century universities of Christian Europe, and is instead one of the most exciting and diversified periods in the history of thought.
Introducing the coexisting strands of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish philosophy, Marenbon shows how these traditions all go back to the Platonic schools of late antiquity and explains the complex ways in which they are interlinked. Providing an overview of some of the main thinkers, such as Boethius, Abelard, al-Farabi, Avicenna, Maimonides, and Gersonides, and the topics, institutions and literary forms of medieval philosophy, he discusses in detail some of the key issues in medieval thought: universals; mind, body and mortality; foreknowledge and freedom; society and the best life.
An Introduction to Medieval Philosophy: Basic Concepts – Joseph W. Koterski
Publisher description: By exploring the philosophical character of some of the greatest medieval thinkers, An Introduction to Medieval Philosophy provides a rich overview of philosophy in the world of Latin Christianity.
- Explores the deeply philosophical character of such medieval thinkers as Augustine, Boethius, Eriugena, Anselm, Aquinas, Bonaventure, Scotus, and Ockham
- Reviews the central features of the epistemological and metaphysical problem of universals
- Shows how medieval authors adapted philosophical ideas from antiquity to apply to their religious commitments
- Takes a broad philosophical approach of the medieval era by taking account of classical metaphysics, general culture, and religious themes
Philosophy in the Middle Ages – A. Hyman, J. Walsh & T. Williams
Publisher description: Thomas Williams’ revision of Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh’s classic compendium of writings in the Christian, Islamic, and Jewish medieval philosophical traditions expands the breadth of coverage that helped make its predecessor the best known and most widely used collection of its kind.
The third edition builds on the strengths of the second by preserving its essential shape while adding several important new texts–including works by Augustine, Boethius, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Anselm, al-Farabi, al-Ghazali, Ibn Rushd, Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus–and featuring new translations of many others.
The volume has also been redesigned and its bibliographies updated with the needs of a new generation of students in mind.
The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy – A. S. Mcgrade
Publisher description: Spanning a millennium of thought extending from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas and beyond, this volume takes its readers into one of the most exciting periods in the history of philosophy. It includes not only the thinkers of the Latin West but also the profound contributions of Islamic and Jewish philosophers such as Avicenna and Maimonides. Leading specialists examine what it was like to study philosophy in the cultures and institutions of the Middle Ages. Supplementary material includes chronological charts and biographies of the major thinkers.
Confessions – St. Augustine
Publisher description: In his own day the dominant personality of the Western Church, Augustine of Hippo today stands as perhaps the greatest thinker of Christian antiquity, and his Confessions is one of the great works of Western literature. In this intensely personal narrative, Augustine relates his rare ascent from a humble Algerian farm to the edge of the corridors of power at the imperial court in Milan, his struggle against the domination of his sexual nature, his renunciation of secular ambition and marriage, and the recovery of the faith his mother Monica had taught him during his childhood.
The Consolation of Philosophy – Boethius
Publisher description: Boethius was an eminent public figure under the Gothic emperor Theodoric, and an exceptional Greek scholar. When he became involved in a conspiracy and was imprisoned in Pavia, it was to the Greek philosophers that he turned. The Consolation was written in the period leading up to his brutal execution. It is a dialogue of alternating prose and verse between the ailing prisoner and his ‘nurse’ Philosophy. Her instruction on the nature of fortune and happiness, good and evil, fate and free will, restore his health and bring him to enlightenment. The Consolation was extremely popular throughout medieval Europe and his ideas were influential on the thought of Chaucer and Dante.
Three Philosophical Dialogues – St. Anselm
Publisher description: In these three dialogues, renowned for their dialectical structure and linguistic precision, Anselm sets out his classic account of the relationship between freedom and sin–its linchpin his definition of freedom of choice as the power to preserve rectitude of will for its own sake. In doing so, Anselm explores the fascinating implications for God, human beings, and angels (good and bad) of his conclusion that freedom of choice neither is nor entails the power to sin.
In addition to an Introduction, notes, and a glossary, Thomas Williams brings to the translation of these important dialogues the same precision and clarity that distinguish his previous translation of Anselm’s Proslogion and Monologion, which Professor Paul Spade of Indiana University called “scrupulously faithful and accurate without being slavishly literal, yet lively and graceful to both the eye and ear.
The following sources were used to build this list:
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Interested in philosophy but don’t know where to start? Check out these resources:
- An Organized Collection of Online Philosophy Resources and Reading Lists
- A History of Western Philosophy in 66 Quotations (and 300+ online resources)
- A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations
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