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Jacques Le Goff: the Terms “Intellectual” and “Labor” Essay

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The term “intellectual”

The term “intellectual” in the Middle Ages

We have seen the term “intellectual” itself as a word representing a certain kind of a person, a member of a special class. “Intellectual” is also a modern term. How do we historicize this modern category? We study its relations taking into account past examples of intellectual work and professional status. This is a key question for modern study of medieval learning.

The term “intellectual” had no meaning during the Middle Ages, as various scholars applying the term to the history of medieval schools and universities have acknowledged. There is no medieval term that would understand the social and ideological component of the meaning which the modern word “intellectual” has. (Rubin, 1997)

Le Goff’s meaning of the term “intellectual”

On the other hand, the history of applying the term “intellectual” to the Middle Ages has been well established since the appearance, in 1957, of Jacques Le Goff’s Intellectuals au moyenâge. Le Goff used the term in the meaning which was similar to the meaning used in Gramscian analysis. But he did not use the term to define some historical concept, instead he used the term to name a specific historical moment.

For Le Goff, intellectuals formed a group since they practiced a particular activity, the profession of thinking and sharing their thoughts which characterized intellectuals: the “alliance between personal reflection” and its spread with the help of instruction. (Le Goff, 1992) Yet, despite the success of Le Goff’s historical re-evaluation of the concept, the term “intellectual” is still not accepted or used comfortably by medievalists in all cases. The term has found a more restricted use among French and other continental historians of the middle Ages than among Anglo-American historians of medieval Irish universities. (Classen 2006)

The term “intellectual” in the university

If we look through bibliographies used in the medieval university of France, we will see that the terms appear quite commonly; such would not be the case in bibliographies of British scholarship on medieval Oxford and Cambridge (and here American scholarship tends to resemble its British counterpart).

We will not find the terms, as nouns, used with any confidence or freedom in, for example, the History of the University of Oxford to characterize university schoolmen and their professional associates in the surroundings of the universities as a group of people who share the same viewpoints.

Obviously this is a question of national, cultural factors that shape particular historio-graphical traditions. As noted earlier, the concept of an intellectual class that would cross academic, political, and professional lines has had a mixed reception in English history and social thought from the late eighteenth century.

Such ideological doubt of this broad concept may be reflected in traditions of the history of the university that resist such a large concept which could replace a positivist model of academic professionalism with other model which did not have such definite socio-cultural background. This resistance to the term “intellectuals” as outdated when applied to pre-modern academic culture may be used for the specialist role that British and American historical scholars see themselves occupying as academic professionals.

Whatever their success in changing various national historio-graphical traditions, are the terms “intellectual” and “intellectuals” applied to the later Middle Ages necessarily outdated? (Le Goff, Jacques, Lloyd, Janet, 2005)

The meaning of the term labor

Money landing

In the Middle Ages particular controversy surrounded the question, a controversy that Jacques Le Goff describes as the “labor pains of capitalism” (Le Goff 1980). He traces the long Christian tradition accusing the lending of money at interest, a practice banned to ministers around A.D. 300 and to Christian laymen in A.D. 626. (Le Goff 1980). During the profitable revolution of the 12th and 13th centuries, when a developing money economy was frightening the usual values and beliefs taught by the Church, there was growing criticize of usury in both worldly law and standard law.

Thus English law, for example, does not allow citizens from establishing themselves in business as private moneylenders. In contrast, prior to their removal in 1290 by Edward I, Jews were expelled from all professions except money lending; they became servants of the king and acted as his bankers.

Jews were not officially readmitted to England until 1656. The removal of Jews from France in 1306, however, was short-lived. They were readmitted in 1315 after appeals against the excessive interest rates of Christian moneylenders. But for Christian’s usury was not only a crime, it was a sin, a form of greed or meanness. (Kaplan 1984)

The usurer

The usurer, described by Le Goff as a “pre-capitalist Dracula,” had an image that makes the modern loan crook look humane. He is the one who lends money at very high interest rates. Unfriendliness to usurers often spread to merchants usually, mainly merchant bankers.

The legal and moral prohibitions and restrictions on usury gave banking a dishonest image in medieval times. One of the penalties of Christianity’s opposition to commerce in general and money lending in particular was that trading and banking was often left to non-Christians.

For example, Jews and Lombards controlled banking developments. Indeed, as Leon Poliakov (1977) demonstrated, the Jewish community enjoyed special protection from the Church, a protection that had both economic and theological foundations. (Bak 1990) Talmudic tradition took a much more useful view of banking and money lending. Trading in money was not judged a good or evil, but, rather, looked at in terms of its penalty for Judaism and the Jewish community. (Petkov 2003)

The Church’s attitude towards usurers

Le Goff’s work shows how an ideological obstacle such as the Church’s teachings about usury “can fetter or delay the development of a new economic system” (Le Goff 1980). It also demonstrates the slowness of the changeover from one economic system reflected in social relationships to another.

Le Goff in addition examines how the Christian Church adapted its knowledge in reply to the new economic realities of a market economy.

He suggests that three complementary forces led to the greater acceptance of the Christian usurer. One was the appearance of new values in the empire of economic activities, particularly ideas related to risk and uncertainty. This divided completely forms of lawful profit making and usury, a form of risk less profit. Profit from lending at interest was authorized if it provided a reasonable income for risk and effort.

A second development was in the practices of money lending, particularly in control of interest rates. Thus usury came more and more to mean extreme profit making, an illegal and criminal activity. Finally, and most importantly in Le Goff’s view, the Church changed its religion to criticize the usurer to make them realize so that they may go to heaven rather than to hell.

This allowed some hope that the usurer’s soul could be saved from a very bad afterlife and that with suitable repayment of his property, and prayers, offerings and negotiation on his behalf by his loved ones after his death, his soul could finally enter paradise. However, it was not until 1830 that the Catholic Church formally reversed its opposition to usury and conceded that the charging and taking of interest did not necessarily imperil the soul’s salvation. (Platt, Peter G, 1999)

The Church’s attitude towards labor

Le Goff argued that the middle Ages saw a reversal of the traditional attitude of the church toward “labor”, whereas once it had been defined as a form of blame or regret, from the twelfth century on a positive image of labor appeared, so that by A.D. 1200 the image of working saint was replaced by the image of the saintly worker.

Le Goff also pointed out that at the very point the church was giving way to social pressure for a review of worldly activity, the rise in trade, credit, and monetary payment posed new challenges to this spirituality.

Adjusting the older idea of labor as toil, as suffering; the church effectively disagreed that in these new social relations on markets, payment was necessary only if labor had been given. Although the modern idea of an economic task performed for others existed in practice in the markets that were rapidly developing, the church could not use this idea.

But the meaning of labor as suffering helped reconsider the meaning of labor. Several centuries later people gave a new meaning to labor: that people should work and become a member of ruling class of workers. This was, maybe, the last example of discussion in which there were groups that did not accept the greatness of pain. (Lynch, Patricia A. Fischer, Joachim,Coates, Brian, 2006)

Reference List

Bak,János M. (1990) . Web.

Classen,Albrecht (2006) . Hubert and Company. Web.

Kaplan,Steven L. (1984) . Walter De Gruyter and Co. Web.

Le Goff, Jacques (1980). , Translated by A. Goldhammer, Chicago. Web.

Le Goff, Jacques (1992) .

Le Goff, Jacques, Lloyd, Janet (2005) . Web.

Lynch, Patricia A. Fischer, Joachim,Coates, Brian (2006) : Irish writing and …, Volume 2 Radopi B. V. Web.

Petkov, Kiril (2003) . Brill NV. Web.

Platt, Peter G. (1999) . Associated university Press. Web.

Rubin, Miri. (1997) . The Boydell Press. Web.

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