Monday, February 28, 2011

Wikipedia's "Scholasticism" - A Piece of Rubbish


Dear Scholastic Thomists,

I usually pay little to no attention to errors and misinformation in wikipedia articles, because its democratic approach to truth is as nonsensical as the relativism that it presupposes.  But the fact remains that people do go to Wikipedia for basic information (including myself, for topics with which I'm unfamiliar at least), so when  Wikipedia misrepresents an important Catholic topic, we must not ignore it.  

Wikipedia's "scholasticism" article (English) is just about the worst presentation of scholasticism I've ever encountered.  In my humble opinion, even the simple English version is more satisfactory.

1) The English article does have a fairly decent, albeit selective and incomplete, historical exposition of the early and high scholastic movements.  Yet, strangely, it leaves later Scholasticism (14th-20th centuries) for other articles, as if these did not belong to the subject of scholasticism.  I would say that these centuries represent the most interesting part of the history of Scholasticism!

2) The reference to a "Second Scholatsicism" perpetuates the myth of the discontinuity of Scholasticism, in particular the supposed 'decline of Scholasticism' after Ockham and its sudden reappearance after Trent; similarly, its reference to "Neo-Scholasticism" perpetuates the same myth, insofar as it gives the impression that Scholasticism somehow disappeared after the "Second Scholasticism" and was resurrected by Pope Leo XIII.  Sed contra, Scholasticism has always been practiced with varying degrees of enthusiasm since St. Anselm, at least until Vatican II; cf. the chronology of authors at the bottom of the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Thomism.

3) "Post-Thomistic Scholasticism."  Since when did Scholasticism outlive Thomism?  If anything, the opposite has been the case: Thomism has outlived Scholasticism, in the sense that, today, scholasticism is (practically) dead and Thomism lives on.  That's just about the whole point of my blog: to say that we need to be, not "Existential" Thomists, or "Analytical" Thomists, or "Historical" Thomists, but we need to abandon all that novelty go back to traditional, i.e., Scholastic Thomism (or what our enemies and detractors mockingly call "Thomism of the Strict Observance" or "Barroque Thomism").  Or, to use Fr. Z's glorious expression, we need to be "ossified unreconstructed manualists" (Fr. Z, can you tell I want one of those mugs?).  I propose that this section of the article be renamed Post-Scholastic Thomism.

4) That same section has questionable content.  It says, as of today (?!):
"Still, those who had learned Scholastic philosophy continued to have unresolved questions about how the insights of the medieval synthesis could be applied to contemporary problems. This conversation left the academic environment for internet discussion groups such as Aquinas,[13] Christian Philosophy,[14] and Thomism,[15] and websites such as Open Philosophy,[16] where it continues today."
That first sentence is poppycock.  It is an implicit universal affirmative, as in "all those...."  Some of us don't: we know that the 'medieval synthesis' (i.e., Thomism), at least in its principles, is universally true for all ages, regardless of what 'contemporary problems' might arise.  And the second sentence is guilty of being obvious propaganda for those discussion groups (I'm not jealous, I promise).  It goes against Wikipedia rules to do this.  But if you're going to do it, why not advertise something more serious, like the Societas Scholasticorum, which is not a mere 'internet discussion group' but a non-profit organization for the restoration of Scholasticism.  Plus, the scholastic-thomistic 'conversation' has not left the academic environment.  There has always been a handful of scholastic Thomists in academia, even throughout the post-conciliar crisis.  We might not be the hotshots of the academic world, and we certainly are not appreciated by our less-conservative colleagues, but we are there nonetheless, a thorn on their sides.

5) "Analytical Scholasticism".  That's just an oxymoron.  Maybe they  mean "Analytical Thomism."  But, apart from its merits, Analytical Thomism (if it can be called 'Thomism' at all) does not follow the scholastic method.  Period.  We must not confuse Thomism with Scholasticism.  And, assuming that Analytical Thomism is (a version of?) Thomism, we cannot  therefore conclude that it is "Analytical Scholasticism."

6) The Scholastic Method.  This section in particular has made me sad, given the energy I'm putting into teaching the scholastic method in the Quaestiones Disputatae Forum.  It describes what is actually the lectio element of scholasticism, or what has also be called 'positive theology' in the modern manuals.  But what makes scholasticism scholaticism is not positive theology, but the disputatio element, or in modern terms, scholastic theology, i.e., the element that seeks to derive theological conclusions from the articles of the faith (discovered by positive theology) by means of demonstrative syllogisms.  This information does not come until the last section, called "Scholastic Instruction" (different from "The Scholastic Method").  The information is not detailed.

7) What to do? I propose that we, traditional-minded Thomists, make a collaborative effort to re-write that article altogether. We should especially give examples of scholastic argumentation.  What say you!?


Simon said...

No Wikipedia article is better than the sum of the knowledge and skills of the editors who have worked on it; often it is worse. While Wikipedia does encourage a species of bold editing, I suggest that the fastest route to getting the article fixed is likely to start with a talk page post identifying particular problems with content and structure and proposing the solutions. Simply editing the page directly may work, but it's an invitation to being reverted if one or more editors regard the page as their own fiefdom.

Simon said...

Not for nothing, after all, is there a motto attributed to Wikipedia: "Experts are scum."

Doodler said...

I am always being amazed by how many people resort to Wikipedia as the fount of all knowledge. It is a symptom of the serious decline in rigorous academic scholarship. Best left well alone!!


Don Paco I can't help you but please do it. Also you can ask them to include an external link to the definition of Ite Ad Thomam.

Simon said...

Doodler, I think your conclusion is a serious mistake given that your premise is right. As you say, "many people resort to Wikipedia as the fount of all knowledge." Students quote uncritically from it and even judges are cautiously making use of it. We can lament these things all we like but it won't make them any less true. And if they are true, the correct response cannot be to leave it alone (or retreat to silly echo chambers like "conservapedia"). The response to widespread error must be truth. Unless there is reason to think that Wikipedia will suddenly become obsolete or less widely-used, our response must be to fix it not ignore it.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

I sense an edit war coming up on wiki ... there was a time when I was edit-warring myself, articles geocentrism and parallax. French editions.

Of course, the parallax actually observed 1838 was not the kind that St Robert Bellarmine would have accepted as proof, and I said so much. Guess if my edit eventually got deleted?

Evoken said...

When it comes to the history of Scholasticism would this book (which you link to in our Links Library) be a good source?

Don Paco said...

Evoken, I've only read some parts of it, so I cannot really give an assessment. But it looks good so far.

Evoken said...

It looks like the author is one who is sympathetic towards Scholasticism, from what he states in the preface. It is a short book too, so I might just jump into it. Thanks!

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Anyone of you ever DID try to edit wikipedia?

As for changing terminology accepted by experts of history of learning (who need not be scholastics), such as second scholasticism, neo-scholasticism, if you try to take that away, your edit will be treated as vandalism, but add or correct facts about each item, and you will of course leave traces there.

Did you try it or not?