Medieval classifications of knowledge (divisiones scientiarum) were created to impose order on the ever-expanding breadth of human knowledge and to demonstrate the interconnectedness of its several parts. In the earlier Middle Ages the trivium and the quadrivium had sufficed to circumscribe the bounds of secular learning, but the eventual availability of the entire Aristotelian corpus stimulated a reevaluation of the scope of human knowledge. Classifications emanating from the School of Chartres (the Didascalicon of Hugh of St. Victor and the anonymous Tractatus quidam) did not venture far beyond Boethius, Cassiodorus, and Isidore of Seville. Dominic Gundissalinus (fl. 1144––64), a Spaniard who based parts of his elaborate analysis of music on Al-Fāārāābīī, attempted to balance theory and practice, in contradistinction to the earlier mathematical emphasis. Aristotle had rejected musica mundana, and his natural science left little room for a musica humana based on numerical proportion. Consequently, both had to be reinterpreted.
Robert Kilwardby's De ortu scientiarum (ca. 1250) sought to integrate the traditional Boethian treatment of musica with an Aristotelian perspective. Responding to the empirical emphasis of Aristotle's philosophy, Kilwardby focused on music as audible phenomenon as opposed to Platonic ““sounding number.”” Medieval philosophers were reluctant to assign (audible) music to natural science or to place it among the scientie mechanice. One solution argued that music, though a separate subiectum suitable for philosophical investigation, was subalternated to arithmetic. Although drawing its explanations from that discipline, it nevertheless had its own set of ““rules”” governing its proper activity.
Thomas Aquinas proposed to resolve the conflict between the physicality of musical sound and abstract mathematics through the theory of scientie medie. These stood halfway between speculative and natural science, taking their material objects from physical phenomena but their formal object from mathematics. Still, Thomas defended the superiority of the speculative tradition by asserting that scientie medie ““have a closer affinity to mathematics”” (magis sunt affines mathematicis) than to natural science.
- ©© 2007 by the Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved.