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  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: July 2014

5 - Materialism: Thomas Hobbes and the human machine


For eleven long centuries after St. Augustine, Western Europe’s perspective on psychology remained overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. During this period, a feudal system emerged, subjecting peasants to their lords, lords to their kings, and kings to the Pope. Western Europe was loosely united as a vast, ramshackle hierarchy called “Christendom.” The early part of this eleven-century period is sometimes called the “Dark Ages” because, apart from Church doctrine, the art and philosophy of the fallen ancient world lay dormant.

Yet, from the first centuries after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in AD 476, technological innovation flourished (Noble, 1997, chaps. 1–2) and vigorous local communities filled the political vacuum left by the Imperial collapse (Toynbee, 1935, Vol. 2). A rebirth of formal scholarship, primarily as study of Aristotle and logical analysis of theological questions, occurred roughly between AD 1000 and 1300, even though the Roman Church continued its tight control over what could be written and said. Toward the end of this period, St. Thomas Aquinas showed how religion and science could function semi-independently, maintaining separate domains of knowledge in which each could pursue its truths without great offense to the other.

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