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The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
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    The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
    • Online ISBN: 9781139095433
    • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168
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Book description

The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy comprises over fifty specially commissioned essays by experts on the philosophy of this period. Starting in the late eighth century, with the renewal of learning some centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, a sequence of chapters take the reader through developments in many and varied fields, including logic and language, natural philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, and theology. Close attention is paid to the context of medieval philosophy, with discussions of the rise of the universities and developments in the cultural and linguistic spheres. A striking feature is the continuous coverage of Islamic, Jewish, and Christian material. There are useful biographies of the philosophers, and a comprehensive bibliography. The volume illuminates a rich and remarkable period in the history of philosophy and will be the authoritative source on medieval philosophy for the next generation of scholars and students alike.

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Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - Origins in Baghdad
    pp 9-25
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.003
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Philosophy died a lingering death before Islam appeared. The emphasis on the language is intended to highlight the fact that philosophy in antiquity was done in Greek. After the advent of Islam, the resurrection of philosophy as Arabic philosophy is intimately connected with the Graeco-Arabic translation movement that started in Baghdad shortly after its foundation in 762 and lasted through the end of the tenth century. Arabic philosophy internationalized Greek philosophy, and through its success it demonstrated to world culture that philosophy is a supranational enterprise. This, it seems, is what makes the transplantation and development of philosophy in other languages and cultures throughout the Middle Ages historically possible and intelligible. Colossal as al-Kindi's achievement (and that of the society which fostered it) was, the practice of his immediate line of successors slowly evaporated into apologetics. The cause of philosophy was taken up by a new generation of thinkers, however, who reintroduced it, as it were, to Baghdad.
  • 2 - The emergence of medieval Latin philosophy
    pp 26-38
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.004
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter first outlines the places, institutional and intellectual, where philosophy took place from the late eighth to the twelfth century. Philosophizing in medieval Latin Europe began in the eighth century, in the royal court of Charlemagne. The chapter looks at the ways in which thinkers thought philosophically within them, both externally, through written forms, and internally, through forms of argument. Grammar provided opportunities for philosophizing, in two distinct ways. First, the textbook for the advanced study of grammar was the Institutions, written by Priscian in the early sixth century. Second, ancient Latin texts were studied as part of grammar. The practice of commentary is central to how philosophy was taught and ideas were developed from mid-antiquity until the seventeenth century. The chapter also provides justification for naming the period of circa 780 - circa 1200, the early Middle Ages, as a discrete period in Latin philosophy.
  • 3 - Byzantium
    pp 39-49
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.005
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The Greek-speaking scholars of Byzantium have often been praised for their diligence in copying a great number of ancient philosophical texts. There is ample evidence that the Byzantines seriously engaged in a fervent dialogue with the different ancient philosophical traditions. This dialogue resulted in the composition of many philosophical works that belong to various genres of philosophical writing, including paraphrases, extended commentaries, commentaries in question-and-answer form and letters and orations with philosophical content. As with most issues, it has been widely supposed that Byzantine philosophers followed the Neoplatonic commentators of late antiquity with respect to their position on universals. According to Ammonius, the seal on the ring represents the universal before the many particulars, the imprint on the different pieces of wax represents the universal in the particulars, and the common characteristics as the observer mentally retains them represent the universal after the particulars. Many more Byzantine philosophers discussed the issue of universals, especially during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
  • 4 - The rise of the universities
    pp 50-62
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.006
  • View abstract
    Summary
    In the fourteenth century formal universities were set up in German-speaking regions, the first so-called German university was constituted at Prague in 1348. By the end of the fifteenth century universities were to be found all over Europe. Responsible for the equivalent of the modern undergraduate education, the arts faculty was present at every university, usually dominating the governing apparatus and enrolling far and away the largest number of students. Within each faculty, it was the professors who established the curriculum, fixing the subject matter, required texts, and sequence of courses. Thomas the theologian continued to tackle issues of sometimes exclusively philosophical import, making room for them extensively in his theological writings. It is no accident that his Commentary on the Sentences and Summa theologiae figure prominently in discussions of medieval philosophy. Theological writings might easily be read and appreciated for their philosophical worth, without sacrificing even the most rigorous division between reason and revelation.
  • 5 - Monks and friars
    pp 63-75
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.007
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Most medieval Christian philosophers were clerics and priests, who staffed the schools in towns and cathedral cities. Many of these were also monks and friars. Monks contributed to philosophy in the cloisters of their monasteries and in universities, and friars also contributed both in the schools or studia of their orders and within universities. Monasteries and nunneries in medieval Europe were numerous. Some ran schools for boys or girls, while others were also important centers of scholarship and of book production. In Paris, Oxford, Cambridge, and elsewhere, as well as in Toulouse, mendicant studia generalia were implanted within university towns. In many important universities, including Oxford, the teaching of theology was at times dominated by mendicant friars. In some southern universities, where there was for a long period no faculty of theology, mendicant studia had a monopoly in the teaching of theology.
  • 6 - Platonism
    pp 76-85
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.008
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Medieval Platonism originated from two sources, a direct tradition, based on translations of Plato's own works, and an indirect one through the intermediary of authors who transmitted essential doctrines of Platonism in their own accounts. This chapter focuses on the Latin Plato as Raymond Klibansky stresses, a full understanding of the role of Platonism in the Middle Ages has to take the Arabic tradition into account. The information medieval thinkers had on Plato's philosophy was much more comprehensive than one would possibly expect on the basis of the few translations in the Plato Latinus. From the end of the thirteenth century an immediate knowledge of Proclus was possible through the Latin translation of some of his works. One should focus on the Proclus Latinus, since the translation Elementatio theologica had several effects on medieval philosophy. The Latin translation of the Timaeus provided an immediate access to Plato's teaching; an important secondary source was Augustine's short treatise Quaestio de ideis.
  • 7 - Augustinianism
    pp 86-98
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.009
  • View abstract
    Summary
    St. Augustine, bishop of Hippo, was both a theologian of great influence and a philosopher of remarkable originality. He helped shape Christian orthodoxy by identifying the Christian heresies of Pelagianism, Manicheanism, and Donatism, the first two of which have special philosophical interest. This chapter focuses on several features of Augustine's philosophical thinking: his first-person point of view, his doctrine of illumination, his ideas about the relationship between faith and reason, and his argument for the existence of God. Some other features that are discussed in the chapter are: his discussions of God's nature, his attempts to solve the problem of evil, his discussion of the problem of God's foreknowledge and human free will, his psychological voluntarism, and his internalism in ethics. Augustinians in the thirteenth century began to modify and adapt Augustine's teaching on illumination.
  • 8 - Censorship
    pp 99-113
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.010
  • View abstract
    Summary
    A great many medieval thinkers were involved in the process of censure, either as defendants or as members of an inquiry commission. Often nothing came of the process beyond suspicions or denunciations; other times judicial procedures were initiated. According to Godfrey, the articles condemned in 1277 hinder scientific progress, create scandal in the academic world, and are harmful to the irreplaceable doctrine of Thomas Aquinas. Within the Christian context, this chapter deals with extra-academic condemnations, including those that were prior to the creation of the universities. In his Dialogus, crafted after he had fled the pontifical court of Avignon to take refuge in Munich with the Emperor Ludwig of Bavaria, William of Ockham presents a set of conclusions in favor of the freedom of thought. Ockham died at the court of the emperor, most likely in 1347. The task of policing educational practices meant that the Ockhamist reading of it had to be proscribed.
  • 9 - Modernity
    pp 114-126
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.011
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Numerous elements in Rene Descartes's Meditations have been considered modern and contrasted with scholastic philosophy; these have included his use of radical skepticism and his appeal to the first-person perspective as the first principle of knowledge. The modernity of the cogito as first principle of knowledge derived through a skeptical method is challenged when one sees a cogito used as a response to Montaigne's and Charron's brand of skepticism. Although anti-scholasticism comes in countless forms during the seventeenth century, Cartesianism was clearly the "other doctrine" against which the 1671 decree was directed. A significant variation in late Aristotelian matter theory was the theory of minima naturalia, generally discussed in the context of rarefaction and condensation, or change of quantity. There is a natural minimum of any given element, which is to say that late scholasticism could countenance a kind of atomism. This doctrine of a natural minimum became a bridge between Aristotelian and alchemical theories of matter.
  • 10 - The development of logic in the twelfth century
    pp 127-145
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.012
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The twelfth century was one of the most important and exciting periods in the history of logic. This chapter focuses on the work done on theories of meaning, modality, and the relation of logical consequence. Peter Abaelard is the outstanding logician of this period and is, indeed, one of the greatest of all logicians. To grasp the importance and originality of Abaelard's work, it is first necessary to understand the character of the semantical and logical theories that Boethius bequeathed to the Middle Ages. Abaelard's essentialism and his theory of imposition entail that natural kind and proper names rigidly designate the kinds and the individuals on which they are imposed. The most characteristic feature of twelfth-century logical commentaries is their analysis of arguments in terms of the topical warrant involved. Abaelard's development of Boethius's treatments of conditional propositions and the topics into a unified treatment of inference is one of the most remarkable achievements in the history of logic.
  • 11 - Terminist logic
    pp 146-158
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.013
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Terminist logic is a specifically medieval development. Logic was at the heart of the arts curriculum, for it provided the techniques of analysis and much of the vocabulary found in philosophical, scientific, and theological writing. The core of the logic curriculum was provided by the works of Aristotle with supplements from Boethius, Porphyry, and the anonymous author of the Liber sex principiorum, once attributed to Gilbert of Poitiers. The new developments of the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries were presented via new techniques and new genres of writing. The new techniques grew out of late twelfth-century use of instantiae or counterexamples, and they involved the use of sophismata or puzzle-cases intended to draw attention to difficulties and weaknesses in logical definitions and rules. The vocabulary of supposition theory seems to be first found in the grammarians.
  • 12 - Nominalist semantics
    pp 159-172
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.014
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The most significant development in the history of late medieval philosophy and theology was the emergence of late medieval nominalism, eventually culminating in the quasi-institutional separation of the realist "old way" and the nominalist "modern way". This chapter discusses the fundamental changes in semantic theory initiated by William of Ockham, and brought to fruition by John Buridan. It begins with a brief sketch of those common characteristics of the "old semantics" that Ockham abandoned. After presenting Ockham's main reasons for breaking with the older model and sketching his alternative ideas, the chapter proceeds to a more detailed analysis of Buridan's radically new approach to constructing semantic theory. Buridan deploys an impressive array of arguments to show that logical validity in his framework cannot be defined in terms of truth, but rather in terms of the correspondence conditions of propositions in different possible situations.
  • 13 - Inferences
    pp 173-184
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.015
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Much of the recent attention of historians of medieval logic has focused on medieval semantics. This chapter focuses on the work done by the fourteenth-century Latin authors on the topic of inference. The medievals introduced many and varied divisions of consequentiae. One such division was between formal and material inference. In John Buridan and the Parisian tradition, a formal inference was indeed one that held solely in virtue of its form, whereas a material inference held in virtue of its descriptive terms. The idea of formal inference has been said to appear for the first time in Simon of Faversham at the end of the thirteenth century, and to be consolidated by William of Ockham in the early fourteenth century. Thomas Bradwardine's term intelligitur has been described as psychological or epistemic, and identified as a peculiarly English phenomenon, though mostly in English authors of the latter half of the fourteenth century.
  • 14 - Sophismata
    pp 185-195
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.016
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The medieval sophismata literature is a genre of academic argument that began to take shape by the early twelfth century and lasted to the end of the Middle Ages. This chapter offers the briefest overview of that literature. Plato's hostility to the sophists is well known, and indeed he is probably the one most responsible for the disparaging connotations 'sophist' and related words commonly have today. Sophisma and sophismata were taken over intact into classical Latin, where they were usually but not always used in the negative or pejorative sense. Sophisms cannot be sharply distinguished from other formats and styles of discussion in the Middle Ages. Still, one can find the word starting to be used with some frequency as early as Adam of Balsham's Ars disserendi, mainly as a way of describing fallacies of ambiguity.
  • 15 - Grammar
    pp 196-216
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.017
  • View abstract
    Summary
    This chapter describes the major contribution of the modistae of the late thirteenth century. The group modistae is most closely associated with the development of theoretical grammar. The speculative grammarians took over an old idea, already found in the twelfth century, that words belonging to different word-classes can signify the same "thing" in different modes. The modistae devised a complex system to explain the relationship between language, thought, and things, inspired by Avicenna's theory of common natures. For the modistae, the independence of syntax from semantics was grounded in the Aristotelian potency-act distinction. The modes of signifying were the features of a word that gave it the potency to act or have a function in a given construction. The philosophical principles defined by the modistae became the target of strong criticism from the beginning of the fourteenth century onwards.
  • 16 - Natural philosophy in earlier Latin thought
    pp 217-231
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.018
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Modern scholars have commonly held that the beginnings of a scientific interest in natural phenomena among medieval authors appear only in the early twelfth century. Given the importance of authors such as Macrobius, one might suppose not only that their early medieval successors had a notion of physics but also that they identified it primarily with astronomy and only subsequently with other fields. This chapter focuses on two issues. The first issue is the late ancient heritage of natural philosophy within the realm of astronomy. The second issue is the "sublunar turn": natural questions and the search for the elements and principles of the physical cosmos. Early medieval scholars defend a geocentric worldview, which they owe to late ancient authors such as Macrobius and Pliny. The most detailed body of knowledge addresses the movements of the sun and the moon.
  • 17 - Creation and causation
    pp 232-246
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.019
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Medieval philosophers inherited the dominant philosophical view that the sensible world has always existed, a sempiternal beneficiary of an eternal agency. Despite the centrality of Aristotle for the tradition as a whole, early medieval cosmological speculation is best viewed as a series of attempted mediations between Scripture and the theoretical considerations introduced by Plato's Timaeus. Plato's philosophical authority is surpassed by Aristotle's while Moses is presented as holding the strictly opposing viewpoint of a creation out of nothing in a limited time. According to Averroes, when positing a God whose action consists in constantly recreating the world ex nihilo, the Muslim theologians did not postulate an Agent resembling empirical agents. As in the late ancient system, matter, form, and worldly motion become contributing causes which take a back seat to the more primal modes of truly efficient as well as final causation.
  • 19 - Change, time, and place
    pp 267-278
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.021
  • View abstract
    Summary
    For Aristotle, the natural world is the world of things subject to change. Accordingly, Aristotle's natural philosophy essentially consists in a philosophical investigation of change. The commentaries on the Physics from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are the main sources for the study of the Latin assimilation of Aristotle's natural philosophy. This chapter discusses three fundamental topics from medieval Latin philosophical discussions of Aristotle's natural philosophy: change, time, and place. Historically, Latin medieval philosophers were inspired to debate the ontological status of change by Averroes, whose commentary on the Physics was translated into Latin in the first half of the thirteenth century. An issue of major controversy among medieval commentators is what kind of attribute of change time is. Medieval commentators generally agree with Aristotle that place must be defined without positing the existence of an incorporeal space and that being a container is an essential property of place.
  • 20 - The nature of change
    pp 279-290
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.022
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The central place that motion occupied in medieval thought can be understood only in the context of Aristotelian natural philosophy, particularly as it was set out in Book III of Aristotle's Physics and developed by medieval thinkers. This chapter focuses on what one might call the "ontological" aspects of motion. The Physics was only one of Aristotle's works on natural philosophy, but from the medieval perspective it was the most important one. In contrast to human-made objects, a natural object's specific nature disposes it to certain kinds of behavior, most notably to all kinds of natural change. In an influential passage in Book III of the Physics, Aristotle maintains that motion does not constitute a separate category of its own over and above the things that are moving, but is placed in several categories of entities that are capable of change: Substance, Quantity, Quality, and Place.
  • 21 - Soul and body
    pp 291-304
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.023
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Most religions and pre-modern philosophies advance some idea of the soul. The principal philosophical sources of medieval speculation about the existence, nature, and possible immortality of the soul derive from the works of Plato and Aristotle. In the Meno and the Phaedo, Plato explores the idea of the soul as an immaterial substance that animates a body, but that is itself an independently existing intellectual subject. Syrian Christians, began to translate Aristotle's Greek into Syriac in the fourth century, and these texts remained in Byzantine hands until the Islamic conquests of the seventh and eighth centuries. This chapter describes five thinkers whose views proved particularly influential: the Dominicans Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, and the Franciscans Bonaventure, John Duns Scotus, and William of Ockham. Almost more interesting than Ockham's views on the relation of body and soul are his anticipations of difficulties that would come to loom ever larger in subsequent scholastic and post-scholastic thought.
  • 22 - The soul’s faculties
    pp 305-319
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.024
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Most medieval thinkers assume that the human soul has several faculties or powers: basic faculties such as digestion or growth, more elaborate faculties such as movement, vision, or imagination, and the characteristically human faculties of will and intellect. Avicenna is the single most influential source for medieval faculty theory, in both the Arabic and the Latin world. This chapter present his system of faculties, before turning to disputed issues. In later medieval faculty theory, several attempts were made to reconcile Aristotle's theory of touch with later theories. One solution was to save Aristotle's view that the organ lies close to the heart by distinguishing between a primary organ of touch, the heart, and a secondary organ, the nerve. Plato had maintained that all odor is vapor or mist, which most likely is the position Aristotle was targeting when he refuted the theory that odor is smoky evaporation.
  • 23 - The nature of intellect
    pp 320-333
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.025
  • View abstract
    Summary
    The views of medieval philosophers on the nature of the intellect were framed around the interpretation of Book III of Aristotle's De anima. Aristotle's method for determining the nature of the intellect and other psychological faculties is to analyze the operations for which the faculty is responsible. In the later Christian tradition the agent intellect was generally viewed as a faculty within the individual human soul. The Islamic philosophical tradition accepted the basic framework of Aristotle's agent and material intellects. But Islamic philosophers recognized that in many of the Greek commentaries on the De anima, the term 'intellect' was often applied to the various developmental stages in the material or potential intellect's acquisition of knowledge. Jewish philosophers after the twelfth century were most influenced by Averroes's earlier reading of the De anima. The most detailed account of the nature of the intellect among later Jewish philosophers is found in Levi ben Gershom's magnum opus, the Wars of the Lord.
  • 24 - Perception
    pp 334-345
  • https://doi.org/10.1017/CHOL9780521762168.026
  • View abstract
    Summary
    Early Latin accounts of classical Greek theories of perception were channeled through such encyclopedic thinkers as Pliny, Macrobius, and Martianus Capella, as well as Augustine and Boethius. Perhaps the most important among these channeling agents was Calcidius. In contrast to the Greco-Latin tradition, the Greco-Arabic stream was primarily Aristotelian in emphasis, with particular attention paid to the De anima and De sensu et sensato. The Arabic tradition also accommodated Aristotle's account of sense perception to Galenic anatomy and physiology by abandoning the perceptual role Aristotle had given to the heart, and identifying the brain as the main locus for the perceptual process. By the second half of the thirteenth century, the internal-sense model of faculty psychology had taken firm root within the scholastic community that it became the canonical framework for the analysis of perception. Several features made the species theory of perception compelling to high medieval scholastic thinkers.

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