One could see how originality and the Middle Ages could conceivably be construed on oxymoronic. There are many aspects to thought within this time period which do not seem to be conducive individual thought, and original ideas. The importance of the scholastic method would seem to be at the center of that argument. With an emphasis on knowledge being derived from texts, appropriately designed questions which are used to highlight the validity of the arguments of texts, and dialectical arguments with the aim of reconciling opposing views, the goal of this method was, first and foremost, consistency. There is also the issue of the fact that many of the arguments conceived were new (and I will discuss later because of their originality), but were working to still try to fit within the Aristotelian model. However, much in the same way that Francesco del Punta argued, originality does not have to be the wholescale dismantling of previous schools of thought in order to be original, but instead, creative thought which shows some independence towards texts.

While Murdoch was quick to point out that the Condemnations of 1277 may not have been as fundamental to changing natural philosophy as some historians, such as Thjissen, were quick to jump on, they do show a change in medieval thought towards Aristotle. While it is true that there is not an attempt to remove the place of Aristotle from medieval universities, or to diminish the importance of his writing, the Condemnations do show a growing level of comfort with the material. The commentaries which this was reacting to are evidence of some questioning of how some things, like the movement of planets, described by the Greeks, fit with observations of that natural world. Generations of scholars becoming familiar enough with materials to commentate on them, does show some level of originality.

Joel Kay spent the bulk of his book discussing how economics and natural philosophy and mathematics shared a close relationship with the market, which did lead to some changes within the practice of natural philosophy. Different Aristotelian sources were being consulted in order to come to terms with economic models, specifically the Ethics and the Politics, a fact which in and of itself can show some originality. This in turn may have lead, according to Kay, to the geometric models of Oresme, which were so paramount to his discussions of motion and continuity. There was also a very important reactionary push in the opposite direction to distance natural philosophy from society, or as Murdoch calls it “natural philosophy without nature.”

Murdoch also speaks of a shift to the growing importance of new languages of analysis within natural philosophy and its relationship with theology, especially during the fourteenth century. These languages of analysis (proportions and relations, intension and remission, beginning and ceasing, and theory of supposition), may have fundamentally changed the way that people were thinking about natural philosophy, because the language they were using fundamentally changed. Discussions became much more quantitative, rather than qualitative, which was a major shift from Aristotelian thought. Murdoch does stress, though, that while the language was quantitative, the shifts and accomplishments during the fourteenth century were not due to raised empiricism, but instead simply to an increase and shift in these analytical languages.

Geometry was severely limited and restrained during the middle ages due to a number of reasons, but mostly because of the fragmented nature of the texts for much of the period, the lack of proofs of major concepts, and the emphasis on practical applications rather than theoretical research. However, despite these limitations, the field of geometry did lend itself to some original works of theory. Geometrical models played an important role for Nicole Oresme in his “Configurations of Qualities and Motions” and were key to his contributions to new discussions of motion during the middle ages. Moreover, geometry lead to some interesting and new understandings of the way that the creation worked, with a new idea of God as a geometer in his formulation of creation. This is a rather fundamental theological shift.

William of Ockham was another individual who contributed greatly to shifts in medieval thought and understanding, with commentaries on texts which could easily be described as original. Most famously, in the modern era, he is known for the concept of “Ockham’s Razor” which essentially says that one should not posit objects without necessity, that we should not manufacture entities without good reason, specifically speaking to manufacturing ideas and concepts. By doing this, Ockham was getting rid of metaphysics, because now everything becomes a concept, so it does not make sense to question the cause of the concept. This removes metaphysics from being the job of natural philosophy. It also removes the causal interpretation of motion, with Ockham’s motion simply being an object existing in successive places in successive nows.

Discussions of infinity, continuity, and the void all also play a large role in thought in natural philosophy, and all also show the close relationship between mathematics, logic, and natural philosophy, because all of these issues were solved using mathematical logic. Infinity was addressed in multiple arenas, but the issues of the void, continuity, and infinity were specifically addressed in relationship with changing conceptions of motion. The issue of how to understand the relationship to speed and to motive and resistive power was a particularly difficult issue which was addressed by Bradwardine’s Law. Since originally the relationship was conceived to be speed as proportional to motive power divided by resistive power, this caused issues in two particular places: when resistive power went to zero, and the transition between motive power being less than resistive power to the two quantities being equal. The first issue dealt with speed going to infinity and ultimately implying the existence of the void, while the second issue deals with discontinuity, which is impossible since nature was believed to be continuous. Bradwardine addressed this issue by raising the relation to a scalar power, which solved the issue of introducing the possibility of the void, and because the math still did not end up working for the issue of infinity, it was considered solved because it still fit within Aristotle. Others, such as Aquinas and Avempace, proposed changing the relation to resistive power subtracted from motive power, but it was also problematic because it got rid of the argument against the existence of a void. However, both instances show great individuality and originality of thought.

Within motion, while there was still a great deal of emphasis on Aristotle and working to fit within his texts and his system, there were major changes to ideas about motion. Causality was still crucial, but the cause of motion changed during the middle ages. There was a shift from the medium causing motion (an outward force), to impetus (something innate within the object causing it to move). While this still fit within the Aristotelian system, where there needs to be a cause for motion, it is fundamentally different and original. Outside of motion, there was also a shift within the practice of astrology, precipitated by Nicole Oresme, who argued, while at the court of the French kind, that the practice of astrology created a deterministic world and removed the concept of free will from humanity. Astrology, which still was practiced but lost much of its former pull, had been fundamental to human understanding and the practice of medicine for centuries.

The Middle Ages are not often looked upon as the most innovative and original period of human understanding (they had been, and still are, called the Dark Ages colloquially). However, to not appreciate the work which theologians and natural philosophers did at universities during this period is nearly as ignorant as the moniker Dark Ages. Working within the parameters of commentaries on Aristotle, and trying to remain within the Aristotelian system, there were very clear changes and shifts in thought. Motion fundamentally changed from an outward to an inward cause of motion, which is no small step in the understanding of motion. Analytical languages led to an increase in thought experiments, which in turn led to logic crossing genera and mathematics infiltrating arguments across different fields. All of these changes may have been small at the time, and may not have been lasting, but they were fundamentally original and new, and adding substantial change to the conversation surrounding Aristotle and understandings of nature.