The best Medieval philosophy books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Medieval philosophy and why they recommend each book.

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The Guide for the Perplexed

By Moses Maimonides,

Book cover of The Guide for the Perplexed

The classic 13th century medieval Jewish philosophic text that proposes a sophisticated—for that time—metaphysical model of spiritual experience; in this case, prophecy as articulated in the Hebrew Bible. The intellectual scaffolding for my attempt to resurrect a metaphysics of prophecy in my 2014 book "DMT and the Soul of Prophecy."


Who am I?

I’ve always been interested in the interface of biology and the mind, and between the mind and usually invisible worlds. Both Philip K Dick and the medieval Jewish philosophers labor mightily to unpack and communicate realms of the imagination residing in science fiction as well as Hebrew Bible prophecy. Likewise, the influx of Eastern religious practices and beliefs have pointed to areas of consciousness previously unknown to the West.


I wrote...

DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

By Rick Strassman,

Book cover of DMT and the Soul of Prophecy: A New Science of Spiritual Revelation in the Hebrew Bible

What is my book about?

After completing his groundbreaking research chronicled in DMT: The Spirit Molecule, Rick Strassman was left with one fundamental question: What does it mean that DMT, a simple chemical naturally found in all of our bodies, instantaneously opens us to an interactive spirit world that feels more real than our own world?

When his decades of clinical psychiatric research and Buddhist practice were unable to provide answers to this question, Strassman began searching for a more resonant spiritual model. He found that the visions of the Hebrew prophets--such as Ezekiel, Moses, Adam, and Daniel--were strikingly similar to those of the volunteers in his DMT studies. Carefully examining the concept of prophecy in the Hebrew Bible, he characterizes a "prophetic state of consciousness" and explains how it may share biological and metaphysical mechanisms with the DMT effect.

The Consolation of Philosophy

By Ancius Boethius, V.E. Watts (translator),

Book cover of The Consolation of Philosophy

This was a fellow who tried to do everything right, and yet, in the end, his whole worldly life seemed to go wrong. A senator, a scholar, and an advisor to a king, he found himself trapped in the usual sort of political machinations, and so was sentenced to death. He wrote this book while awaiting his execution. Lady Philosophy speaks to him, and he learns how his character matters more than his circumstances. 

“By Love are peoples too kept bound together by a treaty which they may not break. Love binds with pure affection the sacred ties of wedlock, and speaks its bidding to all trusty friends. O happy race of mortals, if your hearts are ruled as is the Universe, by Love!"


Who am I?

Building upon many years of privately shared thoughts on the real benefits of Stoic Philosophy, Liam Milburn eventually published a selection of Stoic passages that had helped him to live well. They were accompanied by some of his own personal reflections.


I wrote...

A Stoic breviary: Classical wisdom in daily practice

By Liam Milburn,

Book cover of A Stoic breviary: Classical wisdom in daily practice

What is my book about?

This book serves as a breviary in the classical sense: a collection of 365 passages from the great Stoic philosophers, for meditation on each day of the year. 
The author offers his own experiences, thoughts, and reflections on the original texts, so as to encourage the reader to apply ancient lessons to modern life.

Medieval Philosophy

By John Marenbon,

Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction

This is an engaging and wide-ranging survey of the topic written by one of the leading scholars of philosophy in medieval Latin Christendom. Marenbon actually wrote some earlier general introductions which were also very good. But I recommend this one because he casts a broader net, by looking at medieval philosophy not only in Christian Europe but in the Islamic world too.


Who am I?

I'm a professor of philosophy in Munich who has been working on various aspects of medieval philosophy for nearly three decades. My own research is on philosophy in the Islamic world but I've always been fascinated by philosophy in medieval Christian Europe. What I find most interesting is the way medieval philosophy constantly overturns our expectations: we imagine that this was a deeply conservative and highly controlled society where it was almost impossible to explore new ideas. Yet, it was an incredibly diverse and innovative time in the history of human thought. Thanks to my History of Philosophy podcast project I had the chance to delve deeply into medieval philosophy in Latin Christendom.


I wrote...

Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

By Peter Adamson,

Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

What is my book about?

A lively introduction to six hundred years of European philosophy, from the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century. The medieval period is one of the richest in the history of philosophy, yet one of the least widely known. Adamson introduces us to some of the greatest thinkers of the Western intellectual tradition, including Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon. And the medieval period was notable for the emergence of great women thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich. Original ideas and arguments were developed in every branch of philosophy during this period – not just philosophy of religion and theology, but the foundations of mathematics and natural science, and more.

The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy

By Robert Pasnau,

Book cover of The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy

A deep dive into medieval philosophy with chapters by many of the leading scholars in the field. It’s arranged by philosophical topic rather than chronologically or by figure. But it also has a very detailed list of medieval philosophers providing their dates and indications for further reading. This is only one of several useful appendices: also included are lists of medieval translations of philosophy between different languages. So again this book invites readers to go beyond the usual suspects of Latin scholasticism like Abelard, Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham.


Who am I?

I'm a professor of philosophy in Munich who has been working on various aspects of medieval philosophy for nearly three decades. My own research is on philosophy in the Islamic world but I've always been fascinated by philosophy in medieval Christian Europe. What I find most interesting is the way medieval philosophy constantly overturns our expectations: we imagine that this was a deeply conservative and highly controlled society where it was almost impossible to explore new ideas. Yet, it was an incredibly diverse and innovative time in the history of human thought. Thanks to my History of Philosophy podcast project I had the chance to delve deeply into medieval philosophy in Latin Christendom.


I wrote...

Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

By Peter Adamson,

Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

What is my book about?

A lively introduction to six hundred years of European philosophy, from the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century. The medieval period is one of the richest in the history of philosophy, yet one of the least widely known. Adamson introduces us to some of the greatest thinkers of the Western intellectual tradition, including Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon. And the medieval period was notable for the emergence of great women thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich. Original ideas and arguments were developed in every branch of philosophy during this period – not just philosophy of religion and theology, but the foundations of mathematics and natural science, and more.

Oxford Physics in the Thirteenth Century

By Cecilia Trifogli,

Book cover of Oxford Physics in the Thirteenth Century: (Ca. 1250-1270) Motion, Infinity, Place and Time

This book is perhaps aimed more at specialist scholars but I wanted to suggest it nonetheless because it does such a good job of getting across three important points about medieval philosophy. First, it is not about theology but physics so shows the thematic range of medieval philosophy. Second, it is mostly about works by philosophers who are anonymous: Trifogli talks about commentaries on Aristotle with no names attached to them. It turns out there are many, many such works and they tend to be overlooked even though they are innovative, simply because we have no name to put to the ideas. Third, it’s clear throughout the book that these commentators were responding to philosophers from the Islamic world, especially Ibn Rushd (Averroes). So it illustrates the relevance of cross-cultural contacts for medieval thought.


Who am I?

I'm a professor of philosophy in Munich who has been working on various aspects of medieval philosophy for nearly three decades. My own research is on philosophy in the Islamic world but I've always been fascinated by philosophy in medieval Christian Europe. What I find most interesting is the way medieval philosophy constantly overturns our expectations: we imagine that this was a deeply conservative and highly controlled society where it was almost impossible to explore new ideas. Yet, it was an incredibly diverse and innovative time in the history of human thought. Thanks to my History of Philosophy podcast project I had the chance to delve deeply into medieval philosophy in Latin Christendom.


I wrote...

Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

By Peter Adamson,

Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

What is my book about?

A lively introduction to six hundred years of European philosophy, from the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century. The medieval period is one of the richest in the history of philosophy, yet one of the least widely known. Adamson introduces us to some of the greatest thinkers of the Western intellectual tradition, including Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon. And the medieval period was notable for the emergence of great women thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich. Original ideas and arguments were developed in every branch of philosophy during this period – not just philosophy of religion and theology, but the foundations of mathematics and natural science, and more.

Scholastic Affect

By Clare Monagle,

Book cover of Scholastic Affect: Gender, Maternity and the History of Emotions

When comparing the Protestant and Catholic versions of Mary, the Catholics always come out on top. The Protestant Mary is little more than a vessel to house the Godhead, while the Catholic Mary is the Queen of Heaven. Indeed, medieval sermons stories and miracles align Mary most closely with the superheroes of the modern era: ready to help at a moment’s notice, she takes on the worst of villains and always wins. Yet, there’s something about Mary… despite being best known for a quintessentially feminine act (giving birth), she’s really not your typical woman.  Why is that?

In this movingly written book, Monagle explains how scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages refashioned the ideal Mary by stripping away the inherent messiness of femininity. Monagle explores also the pitfalls of this perfection for the modern woman, taking aim at Gwyneth Paltrow, Marie Kondo, and Jordan Peterson, all of whom seek to…


Who am I?

I am King George III Professor in British History at the Ohio State University. While later medieval England is my specialty, I approach it through a study of the legal record. Medieval people were highly litigious – the average person ended up in court far more often than we do today, making legal records the best means to unearth information about the lives of normal people from the era.  Most of my research has been sparked by questions students have asked me in class, such as: did medieval women stay with their abusive husbands? Did medieval children have rights? What was it like to be a single woman in medieval England?


I wrote...

Divorce in Medieval England: From One to Two Persons in Law

By Sara M. Butler,

Book cover of Divorce in Medieval England: From One to Two Persons in Law

What is my book about?

Divorce is usually considered to be a modern invention. This book challenges that viewpoint, documenting the many and varied uses of divorce in the medieval period and highlighting the fact that couples regularly divorced on the grounds of spousal incompatibility.

Because the medieval church was determined to uphold the sacrament of marriage whenever possible, divorce in the medieval period was a much more complicated process than it is in the modern West. This book steps readers through the process, including: grounds for divorce, the fundamentals of the process, the risks involved, financial implications for wives who were legally disabled thanks to the rules of coverture (the fictive unity of person imposed on married couples by common law), the custody and support of children, and finally, the difficulty of staying divorced.

Holy Feast and Holy Fast

By Caroline Walker Bynum,

Book cover of Holy Feast and Holy Fast: The Religious Significance of Food to Medieval Women

This choice might surprise you: it’s a famous book in medieval studies circles but not the sort of thing a historian of philosophy would usually pick up. But its exploration of the role of the body in writings by female medieval authors is foundational for understanding what is sometimes called “affective mysticism.” That topic expands our sense of what medieval philosophy could be. Other scholars whose work is worth checking out on this topic include Amy Hollywood and Christina Van Dyke.


Who am I?

I'm a professor of philosophy in Munich who has been working on various aspects of medieval philosophy for nearly three decades. My own research is on philosophy in the Islamic world but I've always been fascinated by philosophy in medieval Christian Europe. What I find most interesting is the way medieval philosophy constantly overturns our expectations: we imagine that this was a deeply conservative and highly controlled society where it was almost impossible to explore new ideas. Yet, it was an incredibly diverse and innovative time in the history of human thought. Thanks to my History of Philosophy podcast project I had the chance to delve deeply into medieval philosophy in Latin Christendom.


I wrote...

Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

By Peter Adamson,

Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

What is my book about?

A lively introduction to six hundred years of European philosophy, from the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century. The medieval period is one of the richest in the history of philosophy, yet one of the least widely known. Adamson introduces us to some of the greatest thinkers of the Western intellectual tradition, including Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon. And the medieval period was notable for the emergence of great women thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich. Original ideas and arguments were developed in every branch of philosophy during this period – not just philosophy of religion and theology, but the foundations of mathematics and natural science, and more.

Medieval Trinitarian Thought from Aquinas to Ockham

By Russell L. Friedman,

Book cover of Medieval Trinitarian Thought from Aquinas to Ockham

A prejudice people have about medieval philosophy is that it is all about theology, and theology isn’t philosophy (or isn’t philosophically interesting). There are two answers to be given here: first, medieval philosophers thought about lots of things apart from theology, like logic, physics, ethics, and so on. But also, when they did theology the results could be philosophically fascinating! In this case, discussions of the Trinity turn out to involve explorations of such topics as the nature of relations and the philosophy of mind (because one idea was to understand the Trinity as being akin to interrelations between aspects of human psychology). Other topics worth looking at to show how philosophically rewarding theology could be would be the eucharist and angels.


Who am I?

I'm a professor of philosophy in Munich who has been working on various aspects of medieval philosophy for nearly three decades. My own research is on philosophy in the Islamic world but I've always been fascinated by philosophy in medieval Christian Europe. What I find most interesting is the way medieval philosophy constantly overturns our expectations: we imagine that this was a deeply conservative and highly controlled society where it was almost impossible to explore new ideas. Yet, it was an incredibly diverse and innovative time in the history of human thought. Thanks to my History of Philosophy podcast project I had the chance to delve deeply into medieval philosophy in Latin Christendom.


I wrote...

Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

By Peter Adamson,

Book cover of Medieval Philosophy: A History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps, Volume 4

What is my book about?

A lively introduction to six hundred years of European philosophy, from the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century. The medieval period is one of the richest in the history of philosophy, yet one of the least widely known. Adamson introduces us to some of the greatest thinkers of the Western intellectual tradition, including Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon. And the medieval period was notable for the emergence of great women thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich. Original ideas and arguments were developed in every branch of philosophy during this period – not just philosophy of religion and theology, but the foundations of mathematics and natural science, and more.

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