Ptolemy to Medieval Magic



Ptolemyto Medieval Magic


Ptolemyto Medieval Magic

Thesearch for meaning and perspective has been one of the longestjourneys undertaken by man. Many have sought to understand thepurpose of life owing in part to the fragility and unpredictabilityof human life. The constant pursuit of answers led to the emergenceof philosophy as an area of study. Perhaps the greatest thinkersstemmed from ancient Greece. In particular, Plato and Aristotle havebeen lauded as major contributors to the worldview of philosophy(Lindberg, 2007). Their musings and opinions have shaped the minds ofgenerations of humankind. Platonic and Aristotelian thinking havebeen used to provide philosophical support for mainstreamChristianity.

Thegradual shift from Plato to Aristotle was primarily caused by Musliminfluence. Events in the Arabian Peninsula contributed to thewidespread popularity of Aristotelian beliefs. Muslims alsocontributed to the infiltration of Aristotelian beliefs in Europe byferrying his works from the East. Nevertheless, Platonic metaphysicswas preferred in the early Middle Ages particularly by monks (Sallis,2004). The Platonic worldview presented several advantages in theexplanation of natural phenomena.

Adoptionof Platonic Metaphysics

Platobased his view on an immaterial world of forms as opposed to amaterial world undergoing constant changes. For a 10thcentury monk, the universe was viewed as immaterial and detached fromthe physical realm. Consequently, human existence could never betaken at face value. The belief system adopted by the monks fitperfectly into Platonic philosophy (Sallis, 2004). As discussed,human philosophy has long been interspersed with religion. Suchintegration has endeavored to make religion more palatable to themasses. Buddhists adopted the Platonic worldview since it emphasizedvarious aspects of their belief system.

Platonicbelief embraced the assertion that the universe was not external.Only life forms would continue to perpetuate themselves (Cairns,Herrmann &amp Penner, 2007). The monks firmly believed that humanlife would perpetually exist, albeit in various forms. The human soulwas presumed immortal and capable of rebranding itself as a differentorganism. For this reason, Platonic views became popular among themonks. Adopting a platonic worldview also enabled monks to ignore theconstant changes undergone by the physical world.

Passiveobservation and meditation formed the key pillars of Buddhists. Eachperson was to focus on their personality changes rather than shiftattention to the world. Self-fulfilment and personal satisfactionwere fundamental so as to secure a better future existence as adifferent organism. It was imperative for monks to focusunflinchingly on their meditation and silent observation. This wouldlay a necessity upon them to block out their immediate environment(Lindberg, 2007). Under such an obligation, adopting a Platonicworldview presented weighty advantages.

Meritsof Aristotelian Metaphysics

Asstated, ideas fronted by Plato gradually lost credibility relative tothe opinions made by Aristotle. For decades, Islamic influence hadinfiltrated into relatively few areas. However, as their populationscontinued to thrive, they required more land and resources for theircommunities. Additionally, Islam advocated for beliefs opposed toPlatonic thinking (Tahko, 2012). Within a short time, the number ofMuslims increased exponentially. Strained resources and amenities ledmany Muslims to seek for settlements in the West. Migration ofMuslims from the East to the West is a fundamental reason thatexplains the rapid spread of Aristotelian thinking.

Aristotelianmetaphysics provided several advantages relative to Platonicmetaphysics. Firstly, Aristotelian metaphysics held that the universewas eternal. This belief seemed to provide stability to humanexistence. Humankind would always have a home, no matter the multiplegenerations that lived. The aspect of uncertainty was much reduced ascompared to Platonic belief. Furthermore, Aristotelian thinkingemphasized the significance of the material world. It encouragedpeople to pay considerable more attention to the changes thatoccurred within their environment (Tahko, 2012). This was based onthe realization that human character and personality was not entirelygenetic. At least in part, observable traits were a reflection ofthe environment under which a person developed. Therefore, it wouldbe illogical, even irresponsible, to ignore the factors at play inthe environment.

Aristotelianmetaphysics also realized that people depended on the physicalenvironment for ultimate survival (Tahko, 2012). Air, water, and foodwere all richly available through the physical environment. It wouldbe quite ironic to depend on the material world for sustenance yet atthe same time underestimating its existence and influence. Moreover,human conduct towards the physical environment had a significantbearing on future generations. The course of wisdom would be to paykeen attention to the changing, material world. From that pointforward, one would be well-equipped to respond to emergent changesand hence perpetuate human life on earth (Lindberg, 2007). Suchadvantages convinced many to shift from Platonic views toAristotelian metaphysics.

Emergenceof Neoplatonists

Inthe 14thcentury, a breed of humanists rediscovered the fundamentals ofPlatonic metaphysics. The emergence of Aristotelian beliefs hadsubdued Platonic metaphysics for decades. The larger part of Europesubscribed to Aristotelian metaphysics (Gregory, 2014). However,Neoplatonists embraced Platonic metaphysics owing to several factors.Plato championed the philosophy of mysticism and otherworldlyexperiences. He highlighted the existence of supernatural, albeitinvisible, powers capable of devastating effects. Plato’s focus onan immaterial world of forms gave credence to supernatural belief.Some events during his time could not be seemingly explained by anyform of logic. Humans were severely limited in the control they hadover their lives. Therefore, Plato concluded that there existed someinvisible forces in the outer realm. Such forces had an unexplainedeffect on events in the physical realm.

Duringthe 14thcentury, various scientific discoveries were made. These discoveriesseemed to justify Plato`s previous assertions about the otherworldlyforces. For instance, the discovery of gravity explained why objectswere somehow confined to the earth`s surface. Despite itsinvisibility, gravity still had tremendous influence (Lindberg,2007). Besides the gravitational pull, other occult forces alsocontributed to the rediscovery of Platonic metaphysics.

Magnetismwas discovered through loadstone. A charged atmosphere surrounded theextreme ends of magnets. Additionally, metallic objects would beinstantly pulled towards the magnet when nearby. In later centuries,advanced discoveries were made concerning the magnetic pull exercisedby the earth. Another occult force was discovered in the form ofstatic electricity (Lindberg, 2007). Electrostatic forces seemed toattract unrelated objects to each other after sustained friction.Confronted with these occult forces, Neoplatonists rediscoveredPlatonic metaphysics.

Atthe same time, magic shows became widespread in the 14thcentury. Magicians seemed capable of harnessing the unseen power toperform unprecedented acts. Such magnificent displays defied naturallaw and conventional logic. If mere humans could manipulate invisibleforces to such an extent, then surely supernatural beings existed.From that point forward, magic served as a basis for contemporaryscience. It laid the groundwork for extensive experimentation aimedat unearthing new facts (Gregory, 2014). Consequently, Neoplatonistsfelt compelled to restate Platonic metaphysics in light of thesepieces of evidence.


Asdiscusses, philosophy emerged as an attempt to equate meaning tohuman life. Plato and Aristotle have been universally acclaimed asthe greatest thinkers in medieval times. Their ideas and opinionshave illuminated humans for centuries. Adherents subscribed toPlatonic metaphysics due to its rendering of the universe asimmaterial (Sallis, 2004). In particular, monks utilized Platonicmetaphysics in explaining natural phenomena. Their belief in theperpetual existence of the human soul had support in Platonicmetaphysics. In the west, Aristotelian ideas were reintroducedthrough the migration of Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula (Tahko,2012). In the 14thcentury, magic and occult forces convinced Neoplatonists torediscover Platonic metaphysics.


Cairns,D. L., Herrmann, F., &amp Penner, T. (2007). Pursuingthe good: Ethics and Metaphysics in Plato`s Republic.Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

GregoryJ. (2014). TheNeoplatonists.London, UK: Routledge.

Lindberg,D. C. (2007). Thebeginnings of Western science: The European Scientific tradition inphilosophical, religious, and institutional context, prehistory toA.D. 1450.Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press.

Sallis,J. (2004). Platoniclegacies.Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Tahko,T. E. (2012). ContemporaryAristotelian Metaphysics.New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.