Thursday, July 26, 2012

Contra Celsum: The Myth of the "Dark Ages"

Making the case that the "Dark Ages" was a myth.

Contra Celsum: The Myth of the "Dark Ages"

21 comments:

B. Prokop said...

Actually, the whole myth of the "Dark Ages" was the result of laypersons not properly understanding a technical term being used amongst professional historians. They referred to the period in question as the Dark Ages, not because they were somehow more barbaric than other times, but because they left us a paucity of written records from which to work (as compared to the centuries immediately preceding this era) - thus they were "dark", as we used to say of "Darkest Africa", meaning the least explored part of that continent, and not literally the part with the least light.

PhilosophyKnight said...

That may have been a reason historians continued to use the term beyond its invention, but Stark does a pretty good job of showing the term was definitely supposed to be derogatory when it was first used.

That the term was still associated by most people to that original derogatory meaning is why historians now mostly use terms for early/high/late versus dark.

The Uncredible Hallq said...

I find it astonishing that anyone with philosophical training could believe the Dark Ages are a myth. Here's a fact: most of what we think of as medieval philosophy didn't happen until after the reintroduction of lost ancient texts into the west.

Nothing that happened after 1200 AD can sensibly be cited as evidence that there wasn't five or six centuries of darkness after the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century.

As for the technological advances that did happen during the first several centuries after Rome fell, Richard Carrier is pretty good on this. Yes, technological advances still happened, but medieval technology wasn't really that great, and science did in fact stop.

WMF said...

There comes Hallq, proving once again that unbelievers remain just as superstituous as the ones the love to ridicule.

B. Prokop said...

True indeed, WMF.

Someone please tell me how the Code of Justinian or The Consolation of Philosophy (6th Century) are the products of Barbarism. Anyone ever take a good look at the astonishing craftsmanship of the Sutton Hoo artifacts (7th Century) in the British Museum? How about the wonderful English parish church at Kilpeck (6th Century)? And I'm always amazed when I check out the acknowledgements at the bottom of the page for some hymn we might be singing at Mass and find the beautiful tune often dates back to the 8th or 9th Centuries. Or consider the astonishing architecture of the Palace of Charlemagne at Aachen (8th Century). Etc., etc.

Barbarism? I think not!

Was the European "standard of living" relatively low during this period? Absolutely! Was the level of violence higher, and consequently the level of security for the common person lower in these centuries? Unquestionably! But they were still better off than millions of Europeans living in the mid-20th Century. It wouldn't in the least surprise me to learn that future historians might someday regard the years through which I've lived as barbaric and uncivilized.

Karl Grant said...

As for the technological advances that did happen during the first several centuries after Rome fell, Richard Carrier is pretty good on this. Yes, technological advances still happened, but medieval technology wasn't really that great, and science did in fact stop.

Carrier is a joke. "Medieval technology wasn't really that great?" I suppose future generations might consider our technology as really not great either. But let's take a look at medieval tech. The heavy plough, horse collars and horse shoes were developed during the 5-9th centuries, which led to greater food production and eventually a significant population increase around 600 AD. Also during this time, the modern horse saddle and stirrups appeared allowing the introduction of heavy cavalry and completely reshaping the battlefield (the 'superior' Romans simply threw a blanket over the back of their horses when they rode them). Water mills appeared in the 5th century, tidal mills appeared in the 7th century, grindstones in the 8th century, soap in the 9th century. On the science front you have Geber laying the foundation for modern chemistry in the 9th century. Modern Algebra also appeared in the 9th century.

I could go on like this for a while.

BeingItself said...

Carrier and Sawyer on Stark:

http://www.jdsawyer.net/reprobates/uploads/reprobates_s3_e03_carrier_ancient_science.mp3

http://www.jdsawyer.net/reprobates/uploads/reprobates_s3_e04_carrier_ancient_science_2.mp3

finney said...

"philosophical training could believe the Dark Ages are a myth"

Nope. Don't recall my thought and reality prof. mentioning the Dark Ages.

However, I DO remember my medieval philosophy prof. referring to the "Middle Ages". Much of what he said though was in reference to Arabic philosophy as the mode through which much Aristotelian thought was preserved.

rank sophist said...

Worth mentioning that tremendous advancements were being made in the Middle Eastern, Indian and Chinese parts of the world during this time as well. A few examples:

1. The compass (11th century China).

2. Movable type (11th century China).

3. The Book of Ingenious Devices: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Ingenious_Devices (9th century Iraq).

4. The Kitab al-Tasrif: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-Zahrawi#Kitab_al-Tasrif (11th century Spain--written by a Muslim).

5. Decimal number system (9th century India; probably earlier).

6. Sine and versine functions in trigonometry (5th century India).

This does not even scratch the surface.

B. Prokop said...

All one need do is peruse the highly sophisticated and deeply insightful political documents that have survived from the era of Charlemagne and the early Holy Roman Emperors to see what a laugh the idea is that there was no meaningful philosophy in Europe during the so-called "Dark Ages".

I might recommend in this context the eye-opening book The Holy roman Empire by James Bryce.

cl said...

Hallq,

"I find it astonishing that anyone with philosophical training could believe the Dark Ages are a myth."

Spoken like a true Gnu Atheist: dodge the main point of the OP and run with open arms toward the ad hominem strategy.

"Yes, technological advances still happened, but medieval technology wasn't really that great, and science did in fact stop."

Ignorance and denial. Again, spoken like a true Gnu.

BeingItself said...

If anyone is serious about this topic read this:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Closing-Western-Mind-Reason/dp/140004085X

Most of you would enjoy it as Aquinas is the big hero at the end.

rank sophist said...

BI,

No one here is interested in reading more post-Enlightenment echo chamber back-slapping. Even Publishers Weekly isn't buying it: "While Freeman tells a good story, his arguments fail to be convincing."

PatrickH said...

As to Freeman, read atheist Tim O'Neill's review at Armarium Magnum. Save you the money.

http://armariummagnus.blogspot.ca/2009/06/closing-of-western-mind-by-charles.html

By the way, he devastates Stark in a different review, so no comments about partisanship, please.

BeingItself said...

Rank,

Have you ever considered thinking for yourself?

Karl Grant said...

BI,

If anyone is serious about this topic read this:

http://www.amazon.com/The-Closing-Western-Mind-Reason/dp/140004085X


Read it. It's crap.

rank sophist said...

Thanks for that link, Patrick. Excellent review. I liked this part:

Of course the real reason for the centuries-long hiatus in intellectual development between the Fifth Century and the Tenth was the collapse of the Western Roman Empire and the subsequent centuries of chaos, fragmentation, invasion and then slow recovery. By carefully avoiding key elements in the story, Freeman creates an illusion by which this hiatus was substantially caused by a rejection of reason by Christendom, where in fact reason was preserved so that as soon as the west emerged from that period of social, political and economic turmoil one of the first things its scholars did was go in search of the books of reason and inquiry that had been lost in the wreck.

And they found them amongst the Muslims of Spain and Sicily because Sixth Century Christians had taken them to Persia where they had been absorbed by Arabs who also embraced a concept parallel to that of Augustine's "gold of the Egyptians" argument. There was no "closing of the Western mind" at all. It is just that for several long centuries western minds had other things to think about, like surviving the next Avar or Viking incursion or getting through the next winter.

physphilmusic said...

Have you ever considered thinking for yourself?

LOL, if "thinking for yourself" means flat-out rejecting all values associated with tradition and religion and adopting the new left-liberal gods of materialism, "equality", feminism, multiculturalism, "social justice", Big Government, and then calling everyone who disagrees with you as "ignorant", then I don't think many people here would want to "think for themselves".

cl said...

physphilmusic,

Not only that, but when challenged to provide evidence for libel about others, BI responds, not by thinking for himself but by linking to Hallq, ala "Hallq said it, I believe it." BI also admits, not to thinking for himself, but to lumping believers together based on the behavior of others (as opposed to thinking critically on a case-by-case basis). Pure hilarity.

Think for *YOURSELF* , BI.

rank sophist said...

Admittedly, while BI is a troll, I don't think it's worth getting into a namecalling match with him and/or attacking him and his beliefs. That puts us on his level--in a perfect world, he would rise up to that of the other posters here. Best to just point out his trolling and leave it at that.

cl said...

"Admittedly, while BI is a troll, I don't think it's worth getting into a namecalling match with him and/or attacking him and his beliefs."

I agree, and let the record reflect that I've generally eschewed both in favor of condemning BI's libelous accusations. I could care less about what BI believes regarding the roles of government or religion, it certainly isn't grounds for personal attack. But go and just make flat-out libelous accusations against others, them's fightin' words. They better come with some real proof, not this lame "Hallq said it, I believe it" chicanery. Yeah, it's the internet, I get it, but we have to have some kind of standards.