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I asked this question on history exchange here:

https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/17462/were-there-prominent-secular-philosophers-in-the-european-middle-ages-if-so-wh

And they suggested I give it a go on this site.

I've only done a small amount of reading on the middle ages, and on the history of Western philosophy, but from what I can glean education and religion were tightly coupled during the period, so most thought coming from that time came from religious thinkers.

It seems to me that secular thought started to come to the fore-front again during the late early-modern period, toward the enlightenment, but, if it ever existed during the middle ages it was mostly hidden away, or thinly veiled.

So, were there prominent secularists during the middle ages in which is now modern day Europe? Who were they?

  • Mauro's answer sums it up. If you were curious about why that is, a few of the episodes of the Yale open course about the Middle Ages (specifically #12, #13 and #20 if memory serves) discuss why this would be: the only literate people who had access to books were members of the clergy. – James Kingsbery Dec 10 '14 at 22:55
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I think that the issue regards the meaning of "secular"; do you mean - not-religious [priest or monk] or whose work was not involved with religion and theology ?

You can see SEP's entry regarding Medieval Philosophy with related entire to all main authors.

We can list :

  • the Franciscan Roger Bacon (1214/1220–1292)

  • the secular John Buridan (ca.1300-1358) whose main works was on logic and natural philosophy.

  • the philosopher Nicola Oresme (ca.1320-1382) that wrote influential works on economics, mathematics, physics, astrology and astronomy; he was Bishop of Lisieux and a counselor of King Charles V of France.

A brief overview of SEP's entry will show you that you cannot separate the "secular" from the "non-secular", neither in medieval philosophy topics nor in the social environment.

University was a "religious" institution and teachers had to be graduated in philosophy and theology.


You can see :

for more than 100 brief "portarits" of Islamic and European medieval philosophers.

  • Thanks. My meaning was a bit of both: non-religious works, as well as non-religious people. But based on your answer it seems that while the former existed, the latter was more or less absent. – Canadian Coder Dec 9 '14 at 18:18

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