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I've only done a small amount of reading on the middle ages, and on the history of Western philosophy, but from what I can glean education and religion were tightly coupled during the period, so most thought coming from that time came from religious thinkers.

It seems to me that secular thought started to come to the fore-front again during the late early-modern period, toward the enlightenment, but, if it ever existed during the middle ages it was mostly hidden away, or thinly veiled.

So, were there prominent secularists during the middle ages in which is now modern day Europe? Who were they?

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    This may get a better reception at the philosophy stack exchange. – Samuel Russell Dec 9 '14 at 2:29
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    Maybe I am missing someone, but I cannot think of any secular thinkers before Baruch Spinoza, 1632-1677. People like Roger Bacon were empiricists, but not secular. – Mike Dec 9 '14 at 3:19
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The most prominent voice for secular thinking in medieval Europe was undoubtedly Franciscan friar Roger Bacon (1214-1292). Even though Bacon was a monk, the experimental work he did led many people to start thinking and believing in natural phenomenon, whereas previously the trend was consider everything the "work of God". In this way he was the first great modern voice for reason over faith and presaged the Enlightenment.

Continuing in the vein of Bacon were such thinkers as Nicholas of Cusa and Rene Descartes who were also men of faith, but who emphasized natural phenomena and reason in their writings, thus promoting a secular view of the world.

In terms of secularist agitation, advocating the removal of the church from authority over daily life and separation of church and state, this was rare in the middle ages because it would have been considered heresy, a capital offense. A typical example of such a person was Reginald Pecock (circa 1395–1461) who was convicted of heresy and narrowly avoided being burned at the stake.

There are a number of philosophers who avoided heresy charges by simply never mentioning the church and focusing entirely on secular subjects, as though the church did not exist. An example is Niccolo Machiavelli (1469 – 1527), who was never charged with heresy, but nevertheless the church banned all of his books. Another such philosopher was Mirandola, who was arrested and escaped execution for heresy only through the influence of powerful Italian nobles.

  • +1 for Roger Bacon. The others are Renaissance rather than Medieval philosophers. – Michael Dec 10 '14 at 20:26
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I cannot think of any examples in mediaeval Western Europe. However, the Persian philosopher Muḥammad ibn Zakariyā ar-Rāzī (died 925) taught that all religions (Christianity, Islam etc.) were taught by false prophets who received their revelations from evil spirits. The Greek philosopher Georgios Gemistos Plethon (died ca. 1452) wanted to abolish Christianity and revive the religion of the ancient Hellenes.

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    I'm not sure that either of these are "secular" as I understand the term. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 9 '14 at 12:51
  • What is your definition of secular? – fdb Dec 9 '14 at 13:55
  • Not religious. worldly, apart from religion. Related to worldly concerns - I started to second guess myself and had to go look it up to confirm that I wasn't barmy. – Mark C. Wallace Dec 9 '14 at 13:57
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    @Rajib - Yes, (there are exceptions, but that discussion is definitely outside the scope of comments and probably outside the scope of H:SE). And now this will be my final comment <smile> – Mark C. Wallace Dec 9 '14 at 14:20
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    Understood. I was hoping to bring in "nastika" and atheism in Hinduism- but I agree this is a bad place. – Rajib Dec 9 '14 at 14:22

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