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Henry Osborn Taylor on the “Middle Ages”

Preface to the First Edition, 1911: The Medieval Mind (2 volumes), Vol.I, xi–xiv:

The Middle Ages! They seem so far away; intellectually so preposterous, spiritually so strange. Bits of them may touch our sympathy, please our taste; their window-glass, their sculpture, certain of their stories, their romances—as if those straitened ages really were the time of romance, which they were not, God knows, in the sense commonly taken. Yet perhaps they were such intellectually, or at least spiritually. Their terra—not for them incognita, though full of mystery rand pall and vaguer glory—was not the earth. It was the land of metaphysical construction and the land of spiritual passion. There law their romance, thither pointed their veriest thinking, thither drew their utter yearning.

Is it possible that the Middle Ages should speak to us, as through a common humanity? Their mask is by no means dumb: in full voice speaks the noble beauty of Chartres Cathedral. Such mediaeval product, we hope, is of the universal human, and therefore of us as well as of the bygone craftsmen. Why it moves us, we are not certain, being ignorant, perhaps, of the building’s formative and earnestly intended meaning. Do we care to get at that? There is no way save by entering the mediaeval depths, penetrating to the rationale of the Middle Ages, learning the doctrinale, or emotionale, of the modes in which they still present themselves so persuasively.

But if the pageant of those centuries charm our eyes with forms that seem so full of meaning, why should we stand indifferent to the harnessed processes of mediaeval thinking and the passion surging through the thought? Thought marshalled the great mediaeval procession, which moved to measures of pulsating and glorifying emotion. Shall we not press on, through knowledge, and search out its efficient causes, so that we too may feel the reality of the mediaeval argumentation, with the possible validity of mediaeval conclusions, and tread those channels of mediaeval passion which were cleared and deepened by the thought? This would be to reach human comradeship with mediaeval motives, no longer found too remote for our sympathy, or too fantastic or shallow for our understanding.

Not only shalt thou do what seems well to thee; but thou shalt do right, with wisdom. History has laid some thousands of years of emphasis on this. Thou shalt not only be sincere, but thou shalt be righteous, and not iniquitous; beneficent, and not malignant; loving and lovable, and not hating and hateful. Thou shalt be a promoter of light, and not of darkness; an illuminator, and not an obscurer. Not only shalt thou seek to choose aright, but at thy peril thou shalt so choose. “Unto him that hath shall be given”—nothing is said about sincerity. The fool, the maniac, is sincere; the mainsprings of the good which we may commend lie deeper.

So, and at his peril likewise, must the historian judge. He cannot state the facts and sit aloof, impartial between good and ill, between success and failure, progress and retrogression, the soul’s health and loveliness, and spiritual foulness and disease. He must love and hate, and at his peril love aright and hate what is truly hateful. And although his sympathies quiver to understand and feel as the man and woman before him, his sympathies must be controlled by wisdom.

Whatever may be one’s beliefs, a realization of the power and import of the Christian Faith is needed for an understanding of the thoughts and feelings moving the men and women of the Middle Ages, and for a just appreciation of their aspirations and ideals. Perhaps the fittest standard to apply to them is one’s own broadest conception of the Christian scheme, the Christian scheme whole and entire with the full life of Christ’s Gospel. Every age has offered an interpretation of that Gospel and an attempt at fulfilment. Neither the interpretation of the Church Fathers, nor that of the Middle Ages satisfies us now. And by our further understanding of life and the Gospel of life, we criticize the judgment of mediaeval men. We have to sympathize with their best, and understand their lives out of their lives and the conditions in which they were passed. But we must judge according to our own best wisdom, and out of ourselves offer our comment and contribution.

[2022 Summer] An Introduction to the Philosophy of Culture

As the world grew into and through modernity, and technology shrank the distances between centers of civilization, the very nature of culture itself became an explicit philosophical question: most especially when technology produced in the wider reaches of communication something akin to a “global consciousness”: an awareness of people and their cultures all across the world. But all too often, this awareness of culture has not resulted in an understanding of culture—and thus, this has extended into a mistreatment of cultural goods.

A new civilisation is always being made: the state of affairs that we enjoy today illustrates what happens to the aspirations of each age for a better one. The most important question that we can ask, is whether there is any permanent standard, by which we can compare one civilisation with another, and by which we can make some guess at the improvement or decline of our own. We have to admit, in comparing one civilisation with another, and in comparing the different stages of our own, that no one society and no one age of it realises all the values of civilisation. Not all of these values may be compatible with each other: what is at least as certain is that in realising some we lose the appreciation of others. Nevertheless, we can distinguish between higher and lower cultures; we can distinguish between advance and retrogression. We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline; that the standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and that the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity. I see no reason why the decay of culture should not proceed much further, and why we may not even anticipate a period, of some duration, of which it is possible to say that it will have no culture.

T.S. Eliot 1948: Notes Toward a Definition of Culture.

In this seminar, we shall introduce the philosophy of culture, defining what culture is and where the study of culture fits into philosophy. We will then explore how there exists a speculative dimension to the philosophy of culture (i.e., explaining how culture exists in reality through human subjectivity and how it is determined by human nature), as well as a practical dimension (i.e., cultural values). After establishing the principles of this study, we will then look to its application to Western culture, in particular, the transition between the three major epochs of antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modernity. We will then analyze modern culture in particular with an eye toward its trajectory into the next age. Finally, we shall conclude with a practical examination of what the philosophy of culture (as we have studied throughout the course) tells us about the present age and our expectations in this life.

June 4—30 July
Saturdays, 2:00-3:00pm ET /
6:00-7:00pm UTC

Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams

In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (with a break at the halfway point—see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will engage a broad range of literature discussing the nature, praxis, and historical epochs of culture in the Western world as well as cast an eye toward its future. The instructor for this seminar is Francisco Plaza, PhD, Faculty Fellow of the Lyceum Institute. You can read more about Dr. Plaza here.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.


[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).


[2022Su-A] Philosophy of Culture – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.