A Philosophical Perception

Submitted by:
S. Sibi


Perception of Philosophy

The intensity of arguments in the secondary literature about what "philosophy" would have meant to the author of the Divine Comedy s hows that the question may be unanswered . Still, because the question is caught up in Dante\'s representations of both philosophers and theologians, it is bound up with many of the text\'s most important concerns. In fact, it is worth keeping in mind that students will first come across the question of the Divine Comedy \'s perception of philosophy very early in t he text, certainly no later than in the depic tions of those who inhabit the segment of Limbo usually interpreted as Dante\'s illustration of the Elysian Fields. In its narrative voice, the Divine Comedy states that these souls, with slow, serious eyes and great authority in their countenances, speak occasionally and with soft voices among them, Dante portrays Aristotle as enthroned, as it were, "among a philosophical company" in which "all gaze at him, all do him honor" .

First-time readers of the Divine Comedy commonly seem tempted to read Inferno as identifying philosophy with a particular kind of spiritual failure, most likely because they tend to harbor a superficial perception of medieval thesis of the association between faith and reason. This perception is also possibly abetted by symbolic readings of the Comedy that openly relate Virgil with reason and so interpret Virgil\'s fate as manifestation for Dante\'s own theoretical reflection of reason\'s importance in human dealings . In any case, the text tells us only that souls in Limbo are hopeless because of a lack of faith or signs of proper worship of God. Thus, it is helpful to recommend to those who rapidly indict philosophy at this early point in the journey that the pilgrim will come across other souls, souls of the elect who represent virtues that Dante may intend to relate with the authority of philosophy. Still, the supposition that Inferno condemns philosophy, false though it may be, harbors a sensible perception about the poem\'s distinction between the respective dependability of theology and philosophy. While medieval European thinkers tended to be adamant on the overlapping concerns of philosophy and theology, appreciating the Divine Comedy \'s conception of philosophy requires attending to the ways in which the poem separates these two fields. These differences are, of course, rooted in these disciplines\' respective attitudes toward the authority of faith as a structure of knowledge about possibilities for human bliss . As a result , teaching the Divine Comedy \'s perception of philosophy depends upon the extent to which a professor is willing to take up the topic of Dante\'s perception of the connection between faith and reason.

‘I believe in one God, sole and eternal, who moves all the heavens, unmoved, with love and desire, and for this belief I have not only proofs physical and metaphysical, but that provided me by the truth that rains down from here through Moses, through prophets, and through psalms, through the Gospel and through all of you, who wrote when the burning Spirit made you nourishers \' ". Similarly, in Paradiso , when John the Apostle question s what authority compelled the pilgrim\'s determination to aim at the Good, the pilgrim\'s reply appears to restate Canto\' s earlier indications that reason is indeed involved in the development of the theological virtues, "By philosophical debates and by authority downhill from here, that love is necessarily imprinted on me". On the other hand, even though reason and particularly philosophical arguments is involved in the fostering of the theological virtues, it is true that for Dante faith is the root of the theological virtues since only it can provide the essential knowledge concerning an end that is past the grasp of reason . The issue of the connection between reason and the theological virtues is but one way of approaching the question of Dante\'s perception of the importance of philosophical activity. Philosophy, according to the tradition of its own self- perception , does not depend upon faith for grounds in its arguments. But because Dante likely accepted the usual medieval doctrine that truth cannot disagree with truth, the Divine Comedy likely expresses the conception that, even without relying on principles