Double-Truth Theory

03.05.2015 |

Episode #8 of the course “Brief history of Medieval philosophy”

In the Middle Ages, a debate raged among scholars about whether there were multiple paths to one truth, only one path to one truth, or multiple paths to multiple truths. This debate was often simplified to a basic argument about whether the study of philosophy and the study of religion led a person to the same knowledge. Some theorists at the time claimed that the studies were the same, while others saw that the two fields of study produced different types and depths of knowledge in a student. Of those who saw the two fields as separate, there were some who believed that reconciliation between religious knowledge and philosophical knowledge was possible, and there were others who believed it was not. The “double-truth theory” in particular is the theory that both religious knowledge and philosophical knowledge may arrive at different, contradictory truths, but that those truths do not need to be reconciled.

The philosophy of Johannes Scotus Eriugena is perhaps one of the most radical forms of medieval argument against double-truth theory, as he declared philosophy and religion to be the same thing. If ultimately God is the source and end of all knowledge and truth, there is no need for reconciliation, but there is also no contradiction. His works were a popular as texts for philosophers who supported double-truth theory to critique.

Many theorists in the Middle Ages encountered difficulty in proposing that there was a source of knowledge and truth that was not God. The most famous to do so is Averroes, the Islamic philosopher who stated that there was an inner truth and an outer truth to all things, including scriptural stories. He heavily influenced later philosophers of the High Middle Ages, such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham.


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