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date: 15 May 2021


Abstract and Keywords

This article introduces the main aims of the book and provides a thematic framework for the different articles. The “Survey” section divides its material into the four main traditions of medieval philosophy: Greek, Arabic, Jewish, and Latin. The “Issues” section ranges broadly, from logic and philosophy of language, to metaphysics, ethics, aesthetics, and philosophy of religion. The two sections of the Handbook contribute to a common goal: to consider medieval texts in their relation to contemporary philosophy. Nonetheless, there is a gap in approach between the “Survey” articles and at least some of those in the “Issues” section. How to bridge the division this book epitomizes remains a fundamental problem not just for medievalists, but for all historians of philosophy.

Keywords: medieval philosophy, Greek philosophy, Latin philosophy, metaphysics, aesthetics, contemporary philosophy

1. Aims

Oxford Handbooks are designed to show the state of the art in a specialised field. This volume presents the state of the art in medieval philosophy as studied in connection with contemporary analytical philosophy. The second and larger section (‘Issues in Medieval Philosophy’) consists of chapters that explore, topic by topic, the relationship between medieval thinking and the ideas and methods of contemporary philosophers in the broadly analytical tradition. The aim is not to give a complete coverage of every area of what is usually called ‘medieval philosophy’—something that several recent publications have done well1—but to concentrate on themes which offer the best opportunities for this sort of treatment and to give authors the space to develop important and original analyses. Contributors have been chosen who combine expertise in medieval material with an interest and training in contemporary philosophy. They have been encouraged to explore particular ideas and arguments in detail, using the scope that the size and sophisticated audience of an Oxford Handbook afford. Each chapter of the ‘Issues’ section does not, then, survey a field but provides an introduction to thinking philosophically about a topic discussed in the Middle Ages. No party line has been set about the character of the relationships between medieval questions and arguments and those of philosophers today, and the various contributors have a whole variety of different views and approaches.

The first section is a ‘Survey of Medieval Philosophy’. One of its aims is to provide a wider context for the detailed studies of issues (and, since recent general books have been topic-based, it provides the fullest up-to-date chronological-geographical account of medieval philosophy written by specialist authors now available). A second aim is to show that the scope offered by medieval thinking for interested philosophers is much wider than it would appear from the ‘Issues’ section alone. Most of the writers in the ‘Issues’ section chose to concentrate on philosophers writing in Latin in the hundred years from 1250 to 1350, and in particular on Aquinas, Duns Scotus, Ockham and Buridan. There are occasional glances back to (p. 4) Augustine, Boethius and Abelard, and a few forward, and only a very little on the Arabic, Hebrew and Greek traditions. This relative narrowness is no accident, but an accurate reflection of the state of the art among the medieval specialists who have the strongest links with contemporary philosophy. There is, however, a different side to recent work on medieval philosophy—a parallel state of the art—which has opened up the field both chronologically and geographically. It has shown that, from the beginning to the end of the Middle Ages, philosophy was practised at a high level, and that the traditions of thinking in Greek, Arabic and Hebrew should be considered together, as the branches of a single, broad tradition of medieval philosophy.2 The chapters in the ‘Survey’ explore this whole, wide tradition; one result is to show that the range of medieval philosophy that remains to be brought into relation with contemporary concerns remains enormous.

The ‘Survey’ section has a third aim, too—the most important of the three. It is to show that studying the philosophy of the past is a type of history: the study of thinking that went on in particular places and times, in a certain order and with certain internal relations. This objective might seem, at first sight, to be at odds with the declared intention of the Handbook to consider medieval texts in their relation to contemporary philosophy. It is worth pausing, before looking over the contents of each section, to explain why it is not. And the best way to do so is by raising an apparent objection to the special emphasis of this whole project.

Aiming to bring philosophy of the distant past into relation with contemporary work has a rather old-fashioned air about it. Fifty years ago the idea might have seemed bold. Now, and for some time already, it has been the normal way of studying texts of the past in philosophy departments, and it is how ‘historians’ within such departments distinguish their work from that of historians of ideas or intellectual historians in history departments. What is more, the tendency over the last two decades among those philosophers who are historians has been—whilst accepting the value of analytical techniques and an engagement with contemporary work—to stress the importance of recognising the differences between the present and the past, of paying attention to the varying contexts of the texts we now describe as philosophy and of studying their relations to what we distinguish as other disciplines, such as natural science.3 So, by setting out explicitly to look at medieval philosophy in connection with contemporary analytical philosophy, this Handbook might seem to be making a special feature of what should be taken for granted and, far worse, insisting on a narrowness of approach that recent research has rightly rejected. But this line of attack rests on two mistakes, one about the special conditions of work on medieval philosophy, the other about the nature of the objectives of this book.

Thirty years ago, when ancient and modern philosophy was already widely studied in a way that linked it to contemporary work in analytical philosophy, such work was rare in medieval philosophy. Norman Kretzmann and the other editors of the Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (1982) hoped to end the era when medieval philosophy ‘was studied in a philosophical ghetto’, with specialists ignorant of contemporary philosophy and contemporary philosophers ignorant of (p. 5) medieval achievements.4 Their hope has been fulfilled to a considerable extent. Articles and monographs have been written that bring medieval philosophers out of the ghetto, and there is now a group of specialists worldwide who are at home at once in the worlds of medieval and contemporary analytical philosophy—as the ‘Issues’ section here shows very clearly. Yet much remains as it was when Kretzmann wrote. On the one hand, medieval philosophy is still on the sidelines so far as most analytical philosophers are concerned: most departments—especially the most highly rated—lack a medieval specialist, and many students will still be expected to jump from Aristotle to Descartes. On the other hand, most work on medieval philosophy still goes on in at least partial ignorance of the techniques and discussions of contemporary analytical philosophy, undertaken by scholars with a mainly philological, historical and literary training.5 For these reasons, it cannot at all be taken for granted either that analytical philosophers will think that there are discussions by medieval thinkers they will find interesting or important (or, indeed, comprehensible), or that even learned and highly intelligent medievalists will have tried to make connections between their texts and contemporary discussions. Originally, this Introduction was entitled ‘Making the Case for Medieval Philosophy’. Such a declaration seemed, on reflection, too strident, but there is certainly a case that still needs to be made: to mainstream philosophers that medieval thinking has as much or more of value for them as that of any other period of the past, and to medievalists that knowing about current concerns in philosophy will deepen their understanding of texts from the Middle Ages and enable them to communicate the interest of what they study.

It is, however, no part of making this case to argue for the type of simple-minded analytical approach to philosophy of the past that flourished half a century ago, in which arguments from historical texts are treated in isolation, and as if they had been written yesterday. Contributors to the ‘Issues’ section were asked, rather, to consider an aspect of medieval thinking in its relation to contemporary analytical thinking. Some have taken the opportunity to explain how, once account is taken of context, very close links can be made (e.g., Chapter 13—logical consequence, 16—mental language & 19—states of affairs), even to the extent that lines of argument developed in the Middle Ages can contribute directly to present-day discussions (e.g., Chapter 17—universals). Others argue for a looser relationship, and a more indirect contribution (e.g., Chapter 22—mind and hylomorphism & 23—body and soul), or concentrate on showing how contemporary techniques and questionings can illuminate the medieval material (e.g., Chapter 14—modality & 20—parts and wholes). Others devote their chapters to showing the difficulties of making links and the ways in which the formulation of problems have changed (e.g., Chapter 12—logical form, 15—meaning & 26—freedom of the will).

From these two responses, it will be clear why there is no contradiction between the emphasis placed in the ‘Issues’ section on considering the links between contemporary and medieval philosophy, and insisting that the historical character of the subject, as brought out by the ‘Survey’ section, should not be forgotten. Medieval philosophy still needs the case to be made for it to the wider philosophical community, (p. 6) but philosophical acumen should not exclude historical understanding. The two sections of the Handbook contribute to a common goal. Nonetheless, there is certainly not a contradiction, but a gap in approach between the ‘Survey’ chapters and at least some of those in the ‘Issues’ section. How to bridge the division it epitomises remains a fundamental problem not just for medievalists, but for all historians of philosophy.6

2. The ‘Survey’

The ‘Survey’ section divides its material into the four main traditions of medieval philosophy: Greek, Arabic, Jewish (in Arabic and Hebrew) and Latin.7 Although by far the majority of specialists work on the Latin tradition, most would now accept that all four traditions are integral parts of the subject. They are not different plants of the same species (as might be said of the various ‘world philosophies’), but intertwined branches from the same trunk. All of them—as explained in Chapter 1—have the same point of departure, the late-ancient Greek tradition, to which they constantly look back. Moreover, they are intricately interlinked. Greek Christian philosophy influenced Latin thinking at least up until the thirteenth century, through translations made in antiquity and later. There was further, strong influence from the Greek tradition, both through the transmission of ancient texts and of current thinking, in the fifteenth century.8 In the opposite direction, from the later thirteenth to the fifteenth century a considerable variety of Latin philosophical material was translated into Greek.9 Although there were earlier translations of some scientific texts, the movement to translate Arabic philosophy (including works by Jewish writers) into Latin began in the twelfth century and continued into the fourteenth; further material was translated via Hebrew in the following two hundred years.10 Jewish philosophy in Hebrew was inaugurated by a movement to translate material from Arabic, and later on considerable amounts of Latin scholastic writing were put into Hebrew.11

The division of material between chapters dealing with each tradition is straightforward, except with regard to the relationship between ‘Arabic Philosophy’ and ‘Jewish Philosophy in Arabic’. In the early centuries of Islam, Muslims, Christians and Jews all engaged in the study of philosophy in Arabic, so that arguably there should not be a special chapter on ‘Jewish Philosophy in Arabic’. But there are some very particular considerations that set Jewish philosophers apart, and leading Jewish thinkers such as Solomon ibn Gabirol and Maimonides wrote both in Hebrew and Arabic. In order, therefore, to capture the multi-religious character of early philosophy in Arabic, the Jewish thinker, Sa‘ādia, is discussed in Chapter 3.3, on Arabic philosophy, along with the Christian, Yahya ibn ‘Adî, but the other Arabic-writing Jewish philosophers are treated in Chapter 7, which is specially dedicated to them.

In the Arabic world (Muslim, Jewish and Christian), the earliest philosophising in the eighth century conveniently marks the beginning of the medieval tradition (though the label is strange in the context). But when does medieval philosophy (p. 7) begin—and ancient philosophy end—in the Greek and Latin worlds? The usual solution is to begin medieval philosophy somewhere around the beginning of the ninth century, but to add a look back, as major influences and sources, to some of the Christian thinkers of earlier centuries. My own view is that this periodisation is muddled, and that a better understanding of philosophical developments would be gained by starting from the time of Plotinus (third century) and including both pagan and Christian philosophers.12 A Handbook, however, should be designed to meet usual expectations about the scope of its subject, and so c. 800 has been made the general starting point (slightly earlier for some work in Arabic), and a short first chapter (Chapter 1) in the ‘Survey’ section sketches some outlines of late-ancient thought and goes into a little more detail about Augustine and Boethius.13

Determining the end of medieval philosophy is even harder than finding its beginning. Philosophy in Greece, at least, did not flourish long after the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. Arabic philosophy, it used to be thought, died with Averroes just before the turn of the thirteenth century, but scholars now are increasingly aware cf. Chapter 4.6 of the vigour of philosophy in the East in the thirteenth century and continuing even into the eighteenth century. Historians of Latin philosophy (and Jewish philosophy in Latin Europe) usually think of the medieval period as ending sometime around 1500, although they often do not stick to this or any other date in a straightforward chronological manner. Some philosophers, such as Ficino and Pico, although they worked before 1500, are held to be, not of the Middle Ages, but the Renaissance (see Chapter 10.1). Yet the medieval tradition is also sometimes stretched forward to include later philosophers working within a scholastic tradition, up to Suárez, who died as late as 1617. My own view is that, even more than in the case of the starting point of medieval philosophy, it would be good to abandon these traditional demarcations and, whilst recognising different currents of thought, study together the material up to c. 1700.14 Again, however, usual expectations have been allowed to prevail in the Handbook, though with two small exceptions. First, Chapter 10 on 1350 to 1550 attempts to treat all the philosophical material from these years, rather than sectioning off the Renaissance authors. Second, Chapter 11 on ‘Medieval Philosophy after the Middle Ages’ makes it clear that the strand of sixteenth- to eighteenth-century philosophy that is continuous with medieval thinking was not a hangover from a well-forgotten past but an important aspect of thought in the period, which was deeply influential on the shape of what is now described as ‘modern philosophy’.

3. The ‘Issues’

The ‘Issues’ section, as was made clear at the beginning of this Introduction, does not aim to be comprehensive. Even some topics where excellent work linking medieval and contemporary thinking has been done recently had to be omitted, from (p. 8) shortage of space or failure to find suitable authors.15 The areas considered do, however, range broadly, from logic and philosophy of language, to metaphysics, to ethics, aesthetics and philosophy of religion.

A thorough training in logic was considered the foundation for the education of a philosopher, in the Middle Ages just as in analytical departments today. Logic was developed in the Latin world from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries to a level of sophistication that was reached again only in the twentieth century, and, as with contemporary analytical work, every area of philosophy was marked by this logical training. Although they also introduce important branches of the subject (syllogistic [Chapter 12], consequentiae [Chapter 13], and Obligations [Chapter 14.2]) in the Middle Ages, the main aim of the chapters on logic is to explore three questions about the relationship between medieval and contemporary approaches to it. How formal was medieval logic? Paul Thom (Chapter 12) argues that, although various notions of form in logic were widely discussed, and parts of some medieval systems functioned in a way we would judge as formal, it was never self-consciously formal, in the manner of much contemporary logic. But he also shows that the notion of logical form is not itself simple in meaning, nor is it fixed. Chris Martin (Chapter 13) is concerned with the relation of logical consequence. In classic contemporary logic, neither material nor strict implication includes any relevance conditions—hence the paradoxes of implication. Martin charts how the brilliant twelfth-century logician Peter Abelard, who succeeded in grasping the concept of propositional operation, absent in Boethius, his main source, created a system of relevantistic logic, akin to ones devised in twentieth-century non-classical logic. Abelard’s system, however, was internally inconsistent, and Martin goes on to show how, gradually, considerations of relevance were dropped by medieval logicians. Simo Knuuttila has been a pioneer in the study of medieval conceptions of modality and their relation to contemporary ideas. Thirty years ago, he suggested (Knuuttila 1981) that a conception akin to the idea of possible worlds, and different from any of the Aristotelian approaches to possibility, first emerged at the turn of the fourteenth century in the work of Duns Scotus. In his chapter here (Chapter 14), he preserves this original insight, much nuanced and qualified by his own and others’ work in the intervening period.

The two chapters on the philosophy of language tell contrasting stories. According to the ‘new theorists’ of the 1970s, especially Putnam, most previous theorists, including the whole ancient and medieval tradition, explained the way in which names and kind terms have meaning by concepts in the minds of speakers and listeners. They insisted, by contrast, that meaning is not ‘in the head’: names and kind terms are linked to objects in the world by an initial baptism and then by a continuing tradition of social practice. Medieval specialists, however, have argued that Putnam’s historical judgement was awry, since some philosophers in the twelfth and fourteenth centuries seem to have developed their own versions of the new, direct reference theory. Margaret Cameron (Chapter 15) gives a wide-ranging review of the positions from the Middle Ages and today, which suggests that, despite many interesting parallels, the framework of today’s discussion of meaning does not fit the (p. 9) medieval texts as closely as has been thought. Martin Lenz (Chapter 16) investigates the medieval debate over the ‘structure problem’. Are the sentences of mental language structured like those of conventional spoken language or not? He draws the conclusion that there are indeed important parallels between this discussion and the contemporary dispute over whether mental language is internalised conventional language or not, especially in the way that participants in both medieval and contemporary debates see that the best answers rise above the apparent opposition between the two views.

Writers in the medieval universities had a precisely circumscribed, though far-from-settled, conception of metaphysics, derived from Aristotle’s Metaphysics and the differing views of its subject matter proposed by the two great Arabic commentators, Avicenna and Averroes. One of Aristotle’s definitions held it to be the study of being as being, and so there was much medieval discussion about the notion of being. Anthony Kenny expressed, though more forthrightly, a view that many contemporary philosophers share, when he argued that Aquinas—in other areas, he believes, one of the greatest philosophers—was confused in his account of being. Gyula Klima (Chapter 18) tackles Kenny by providing a semantic analysis—using the logical tools commonly employed by philosophers today—that shows Aquinas to have a subtle and coherent account of being. Although this chapter’s focus is narrow, its implications are wide, not only with regard to other medieval theories of being, but also because Klima champions the idea that Aquinas is thinking in a different ‘conceptual idiom’ from ours, but one that we can learn to understand.

Medieval metaphysics is far wider than the topics linked to Aristotle’s text studied under that name in the medieval universities. There are treatments from all periods of the Middle Ages of the various different themes that are nowadays loosely gathered under the label ‘Metaphysics’. One (strongly linked to logic, especially then, since it was frequently examined in connection with a passage at the beginning of Porphyry’s Isagoge, the first work in the logical curriculum) is the Problem of Universals. As Claude Panaccio (Chapter 17) observes, this problem is very much alive among analytical philosophers today, even though their predecessors, a half-century ago, were confident that it was dead. But is our Problem of Universals the same as the medieval Problem of Universals? Panaccio argues, against the views of some recent writers, for a moderate continuist view and looks in some detail at William of Ockham’s theory, which he considers to remain philosophically appealing today. Another metaphysical problem closely linked to logic concerns the semantics of propositions. A simple proposition refers to some positive or negative state of affairs, but what is a state of affairs? Laurent Cesalli (Chapter 19) distinguishes five different types of solutions, ranging from ‘reism’, which constructs states of affairs from things in the world, to ‘eliminativism’, which does away with them entirely. He argues that each of the five sorts of medieval theory can be found also in some late-nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first-century philosophers.

An area of medieval metaphysics that has only recently begun to be explored in detail is mereology. Andrew Arlig (Chapter 20) uses the distinctions established by contemporary theorists to investigate how Abelard, Ockham and Buridan tackle the (p. 10) puzzles generated by their view that the whole is nothing other than the sum of its parts. This position is also at the centre of Henrik Lagerlund’s chapter (Chapter 21), but he is concerned with what might be called the metaphysical parts of a natural substance. Whereas thinkers such as Aquinas or Duns Scotus saw such substances as persisting thanks to either a single substantial form or a multiplicity of them, Ockham and Buridan, Lagerlund suggests, provided a mereological account of substances, in which the whole is simply the sum of its parts, form and matter, with none specially privileged. This analysis led away from an Aristotelian view towards the corpuscularianism that became prominent in the seventeenth century. The differences between the Aristotelian framework and the one prevalent since then make it hard to compare medieval discussions about substance with contemporary ones, but careful study of medieval developments throws light on the origins of the modern theories.

In thirteenth- to sixteenth-century Latin philosophy, considerations of this sort about the metaphysical structure of particulars belonging to natural kinds is intimately connected to what, for us now, is a quite different topic in metaphysics: the relation of mind and body. Robert Pasnau (Chapter 22) explains how, following Aristotle’s On the Soul, the idea of substantial form, which provides a general explanation for the unity and persistence of (natural) particulars, was used to explain the unity of human beings, their ability to think and the immortality of their thinking part, the intellective soul. His account brings to light the aspects of this Aristotelian picture that thinkers today would find unacceptable, while making clear the philosophical interest of a theory that uses a single item to explain both the substantial unity of humans and the fact that they think. Peter King (Chapter 23) also discusses theories about mind and body, concentrating on the distinctions between them rather than their metaphysical background. Platonic dualism, he argues, was very unusual in the Middle Ages. A materialist account of the mind was developed, especially in the Late Middle Ages, but the dominant theory (which goes back to Augustine, a thinker whom many consider wrongly to have been a Platonic dualist) is a property dualism, which was developed using the Aristotelian theory of matter and form. King shows why this hylomorphic theory is of value to philosophers by analysing in detail the sophisticated version of it developed by Duns Scotus.

Taneli Kukkonen’s discussion of eternity (Chapter 24) is deliberately placed at the end of this group of chapters on metaphysics. Although time and eternity are discussed by contemporary metaphysicians in ways that seem to link with the intricate treatments of the theme in the Middle Ages, for the medieval philosophers the topic is always linked with questions in what is now called the philosophy of religion. How is God to be described, in a way that respects his otherness and yet allows him to be a provident creator? A particular aspect of this concern, the Problem of Prescience (if God foreknows everything, how can humans be free to act one way or another?), is very frequently the occasion for medieval analyses of eternity. Kukkonen, who ranges widely over Latin and Arabic material, examines how philosophers today have tried to capture these debates in our contemporary terms but also shows how the character and variety of the positions have limited their success.

(p. 11) The single chapter on epistemology (Chapter 25) addresses an immediate question raised by the medieval discussions. We are used, from Descartes, to thinking of epistemological scepticism as a fundamental philosophical problem—one, some would say, that must be tackled before any progress towards solid knowledge can be made. There is an obvious absence of this sort of fundamental, Cartesian scepticism in the Middle Ages. Dominik Perler shows that it is missing, neither because of ignorance of the ancient sceptical tradition, nor because of the pressure of Christian belief or dogmatic Aristotelianism. Indeed, writers such as Aquinas and Buridan were willing to explore sceptical epistemological arguments, but from their hierarchical or teleological view of nature they derived a reliabilism that ruled out the possibility of being deceived about everything in the way Descartes would canvass. The moral Perler draws—which links this chapter with those preceding—is that differences between medieval and modern thinkers in their approach to scepticism depend on differences in their wider metaphysical framework.

Today, as in the Middle Ages, it is usually accepted that, for an action to be morally good or evil, it must be, in some relevant sense, free. Thomas Pink (Chapter 26) argues that this sense has not, however, remained at all the same. In the Middle Ages, an idea of freedom as a metaphysical power of the will underlay ethical discussion. By the time of Hobbes, freedom came to be conceived rather, as it is now, as a lack of constraint from exercising other powers. Instead of requiring a multi-way power of the will, we consider that an ethical action need just be voluntary. Ian Wilks, by contrast, argues (Chapter 27) for a continuity between medieval ethical theory and more recent, Kantian approaches, by looking at two intention-based theories of morals—those of Abelard and Ockham—and the background to them in the work of Augustine and Anselm. But the ‘staples’ of medieval ethics, as Wilks says, are virtue theory and natural law. They are discussed in the two following chapters. Terence Irwin points out (Chapter 28) that these two staples do not, in fact, combine together, since a theory of natural law would lay down certain sorts of actions as being obligatory, whereas virtue theory looks on actions as being good only because they are performed by virtuous agents. Irwin restricts his analysis to Aquinas and argues that he is not a virtue theorist, although he gives virtues an important role in his theory, which can be categorised neither as deontological nor consequentialist. The implication of Irwin’s discussion is that, in evading the main contemporary categories of moral theory, Aquinas’s may be all the stronger and worthy of the attention of moralists today. Aquinas’s theory of natural law is an area of his thought that lives on in contemporary theorising by a group of thinkers who are perhaps less troubled than Irwin by the tensions between virtue theory and natural law but concur in valuing an approach that avoids consequentialism and Kantian deontology. Anthony Lisska (Chapter 29) surveys this contemporary revival of a medieval approach.

The area of medieval political philosophy that has the closest links with contemporary questions is the theory of rights. There was, of course, plenty of discussion about legal rights, but did medieval thinkers anticipate, in their treatment of (p. 12) natural rights, modern political theories based on subjective rights? And was there any conception of human rights in the Middle Ages. Cary Nederman (Chapter 30) addresses these two questions, suggesting that the answer to the first is probably negative but that Marsilius of Padua and Bartolomé de las Casas do indeed have an idea of what we now call ‘human rights’.

Of all the branches of contemporary philosophy, none poses questions about the relationship with medieval thinking more sharply than aesthetics. On the one hand, there are a number of studies of ‘medieval aesthetics’ by distinguished scholars; on the other hand, there are good reasons to think that medieval authors never discussed the matters conceived as aesthetics since the eighteenth century. Andreas Speer (Chapter 31) addresses this question, showing that aesthetic theory is often discerned in medieval texts only by misreading them, and by pointing to the real characteristics of medieval theorising about beauty and the arts.

The field in which the connections with medieval philosophy have already been drawn most often and distinctly by contemporary analytical writers is the philosophy of religion. Just as, in epistemology and many other areas, the classic texts to which philosophers now look back, not as authorities but as points of departure for their debates, are from the early modern period, so in philosophy of religion the foundational ideas are provided by the thinkers of the Middle Ages (Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, Scotus). For example, most types of argument intended to demonstrate the existence of God are medieval formulations (in some cases, developing suggestions in ancient authors). Contemporary debate is couched in terms of whether, for example, some much adapted version of the ontological argument, or one of Aquinas’s cosmological arguments, is valid and what premises it asks to be accepted. Graham Oppy (Chapter 32) takes a variety of such medieval arguments, and their adaptations by philosophers today, and he argues that all of them are flawed.

Richard Cross’s chapter (Chapter 33) on philosophical analyses of the Trinity explores a more intricate relation between medieval and contemporary thinking, which links his discussion back to those on metaphysics. As mentioned above, much of the best medieval philosophising is done by theologians in the course of tackling problems that are ultimately theological ones. It might seem, then, from the point of view of the interested philosopher now, that the doctrinal subject matter is a mere distraction. It is a good thing that so many logically trained and brilliant minds were made to tackle difficult metaphysical questions in the course of examining dogma such as the Trinity, the hypostatic union or the Eucharist, but a pity—for anyone without an interest in Christian doctrine itself—that they could not have confined their speculations to the world. Cross, however, argues that for thinkers such as Duns Scotus, on whom he concentrates, the need to explain supernatural things, such as divine triunity, was a stimulus to developing theories about sameness and difference and other metaphysical matters to the highest degree of generality: the theological subject matter thus makes them better as philosophers.


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(1) . See Pasnau (2010), and the topics chapters in Lagerlund (2011); and, for a broader, more introductory treatment, McGrade (2003).

(2) . De Libera (1993) pioneered this approach, which I followed and tried to develop in Marenbon (2007). The approach is implicit in Lagerlund (2011).

(3) . An outstanding and influential example of this tendency is provided by the work of Dan Garber—for example, Garber (1992).

(4) . Kenny, Kretzmann and Pinborg (1982, 3).

(5) . Most work on medieval philosophy continues to be done in France, Germany and Italy, where the training, even in philosophy departments, is traditionally far more philological and historical than in the Anglophone world; important work in the field is also done by historians and other medievalists in English-speaking countries. This generalisation should not obscure the appearance of a new generation of specialists from Continental Europe, many of whose names figure among the contributors to this Handbook, who combine philological skill and historical sensibility with analytical training and ability.

(6) . This is not the place for me to develop my own views about methodology in the history of philosophy: for a sketch of them, see Marenbon (2011).

(7) . This list is not exhaustive. Were space available, discussion of the Syriac should have been included. Syriac was the language of many Eastern Christians, and as well as playing a very important role as intermediaries in translating Greek texts into Arabic, Syriac scholars had their own tradition of Aristotelian logical commentary, most stretching back to the sixth century (Sergius of Resh‘ainâ, d. 536; Paul the Persian), but stretching on until Bar Hebraeus in the thirteenth (cf. Brock 1993; Hugonnard-Roche 2004). It was also planned to have a chapter on philosophy in the Western European vernaculars. Much of it is of interest mainly because it shows the dissemination of ideas to a broader public, but some thinkers—almost always ones who wrote in Latin, too—arguably did produce strikingly original ideas, which should qualify as philosophy in a broad sense, in their vernacular works: especially Ramon Llull (in, for instance, his Dialogue of the Gentile), Meister Eckhart (in his German sermons) and Dante (in the Convivio and the Commedia) in the years after 1300, and Boccaccio (in the Decameron) a little later in that century (cf. Bray and Sturlese 2003; Imbach 1989; and, for Dante and Boccaccio, Chapter 10.2.3 below).

(8) . See below, Chapter 10.

(9) . See below, Chapter 2 and Pasnau (2010, 822–6).

(10) . See below, Chapter 9 and Pasnau (2010, 814–22; by Charles Burnett), which should be supplemented by his list and discussion in Burnett (2005), for further information and for the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century material. The most important of all Jewish philosophical writings in Arabic, Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed, was in fact put into Latin via a Hebrew translation, in the early thirteenth century—see Kluxen (1954).

(11) . See below, Chapter 7.

(12) . See Marenbon (2011, 71–2).

(13) . Chapter 2.1.2 looks back at the late-ancient Greek Christian tradition.

(14) . I have suggested this idea in Marenbon (2007, 349–51, and 2011, 71–72). Although they do not propose anything quite so wild, strong support for the idea that, at least, study of the history of philosophy should ignore the usual divisions and treat the whole period from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century as an area for research comes from Pasnau (2011) and Perler (2011), both of which range widely between 1270 and 1670, with impressive results.

(15) . Two obvious examples are theories of intentionality and mental representation (see Lagerlund 2007; Perler 2002) and theories of emotion (see Knuuttila 2004; Perler 2011).