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The Scholastics

Students of Medieval Bologna

The "Scholastics" refer to the 13th to 15th Century Christian scholars and theologians.

Following the collapse of the western Roman Empire in 476, western Latin-speaking Europe had declined into the Dark Ages.  In 1086, the Christian conquerors of Toledo stumbled on a trove of lost books from the Ancient Greeks and their Arab commentators. The Corpus of Roman law was also recovered around this time. Universities soon began to pop up, as centers where scholars gathered to pore over these new old writings, and reconcile pagan wisdom with Christian teachings. Notable Scholastics like Thomas Aquinas revisited the dogma of the Catholic Church in light of the resurrection of the works of Greek philosophy, notably Aristotle, in the 13th C.

At the same time, Europe was beginning to crawl out of the Dark Ages. Trade was re-emerging, and with it came a new class of people - merchants, with fortunes - who seemed to have no assigned place in the traditional feudal order. The Medieval Scholastics deployed their new knowledge to try to make sense of this strange new world of markets and money.  Scholastics pored over questions of just price in exchange, usury, role of merchants, inequality, slavery,  etc. 

Among the great scholastic economic questions was the issue of value - whether value is whatever society says it is  (Valor impositas), or whether things have intrinsic worth (Bonitas intrinsica).  Scholars like Aquinas opted for the former, but his great rival John Dun Scotus proposed value reflected cost of production. Later Scholastics, like Nicolas Oresme and Jean Buridan emphasized usefulness as the source of value.

(See also our pages on the Ancients and Islamic Economics and Medieval universities.  For the continuation of economic thinking in the 16th Century, see our page on the First Economists).



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Resources on  on Scholastics

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