Philosophy 202
Great Traditions of Western Thought
The Modern Period


 Discussion Questions for Name of the Rose

One of the central issues upon which we will focus in this course is the impact that modern science had upon the world views of Western people. I have asked you to watch Name of the Rose because it conveys quite well a sense of how the medieval world was organized, at least in terms of how knowledge was structured.

The idea that different epochs organized knowledge in different ways may be a new one to you. Michel Foucault, a recent French philosopher, coined the term episteme to describe the structure of knowledge appropriate to an age. From this point of view, we can say that the medieval episteme was very different from that of our modern, or postmodern, world.

As you watch the film and then reflect upon it, I want you to focus upon the structure of the medieval episteme. That is, think about how the film presents knowledge as it was viewed by the medievals. It may help you to think about what counts as knowledge for modern folk who treat science as the paradigmatic form of knowledge. What is it to believe in science? How are truths established by science? What do the monks see as the source of truths? How are their truths established?

In a sense, I am asking you to focus less on the particulars of the story conveyed in this film than to think about the structure of the world it presents to you. It is a world that is ruled by very different assumptions than our world, so we need to work at developing our sense of what those differences amount to.

Please come to class ready to discuss these issues.

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