Author by : Alex J. Modeled on Socratic and Aristotelian methods of argumentation, this rhetorical style was refined in the monasteries of the early Middle Ages and rose to prominence during the twelfth-century Renaissance. Strict rules governed disputation, and it became the preferred method of teaching within the university curriculum and beyond. Novikoff has written the first sustained and comprehensive study of the practice of scholastic disputation and of its formative influence in multiple spheres of cultural life. Using hundreds of published and unpublished sources as his guide, Novikoff traces the evolution of disputation from its ancient origins to its broader impact on the scholastic culture and public sphere of the High Middle Ages. The polemical value of disputation was especially exploited in the context of competing Jewish and Christian interpretations of the Bible.

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Abelard was born into the lesser nobility around in Le Pallet, a small town in Brittany near Nantes. He received early training in letters, and took to his studies with enthusiasm; his later writings show familiarity with Cicero, Horace, Juvenal, Ovid, Lucan, Seneca, and Vergil.

Abelard eventually renounced his inheritance, including its attendant knighthood, to pursue philosophy. He did so by travelling to study with well-known philosophers, most notably Roscelin and William of Champeaux. During the first years of the twelfth century, Abelard felt confident enough to set himself up as a lecturer, first at Melun and then at Corbeil, competing mainly with William of Champeaux Paris for students and reputation.

Abelard returned to Paris sometime between and with his health restored and his ambition intact. Around Abelard decided to study theology; he sought out the most eminent teacher of theology of his day, Anselm of Laon not to be confused with Anselm of Canterbury , and became his student.

It would be the last time he studied with anyone. After his recovery, Abelard resumed teaching at a nearby priory, primarily on theology and in particular on the Trinity. It was not to be. Abelard says that poverty forced him to resume teaching.

He and the students who flocked to him in droves constructed an oratory named the Paraclete, where he continued to write, teach, and research. Abelard found the monks of Saint Gildas difficult and obstructive—even dangerous—and he claims that there were several attempts on his life while in residence. By the mids Abelard was given permission to return to Paris retaining his rank as abbot and to teach in the schools on the Mont Ste.

After some inconclusive attempts to resolve their differences, Abelard asked the archbishop of Sens to arrange a public dispute between himself and Bernard on 3 June , to settle their disagreements. When Abelard discovered that there was no debate but instead a kangaroo court, he refused to take part, announcing his intention to appeal to the Pope directly.

He walked out of the proceedings and began travelling to Rome. The Council condemned nineteen propositions it claimed to find in his works and adjourned. Bernard launched a successful campaign petitioning the Papal Court before Abelard was out of France; a letter from the Pope upholding the decision of the Council of Soissons reached Abelard while he was at Cluny; Abelard was ordered to silence.

By all accounts Abelard complied immediately, even meeting peacefully with Bernard in reconciliation. Abelard remained under the protection of Peter the Venerable first at Cluny, then at St. Marcel, as his health gradually deteriorated. Abelard died on 21 April The Ethics offers an analysis of moral worth and the degree of praise or blame that should attach to agents and their actions; it breaks off at the beginning of the second book. The Conversations is a pair of debates among characters who appear to Abelard in a dream over the nature of happiness and the supreme good: the Philosopher, who claims to follow only natural reason, first debates with the Jew, who follows the Old Law; the Philosopher then debates the Christian, who defends Christian ethics from a philosophical point of view.

The first version of the Theology seems to have been the work condemned at the Council of Soisssons, the last the work condemned at the Council of Sens. Abelard does not attempt to harmonize these apparently inconsistent remarks, but in his preface he lays down rules for proper hermeneutic investigation: look for ambiguity, check the surrounding context, draw relevant distinctions, and the like.

It is possible some of these works may yet be found. He is an irrealist not only about universals, but also about propositions, events, times other than the present, natural kinds, relations, wholes, absolute space, hylomorphic composites, and the like.

Instead, Abelard holds that the concrete individual, in all its richness and variety, is more than enough to populate the world.

Abelard preferred reductive, atomist, and material explanations whenever possible; he devoted a great deal of effort to pouring cold water on the metaphysical excesses of his predecessors and contemporaries. Abelard defends his thesis that universals are nothing but words by arguing that ontological realism about universals is incoherent. Hence, Abelard concludes, universality is not an ontological feature of the world but a semantic feature of language. Suppose universals were things in the world, so that one and the same item is completely present in both Socrates and an ass at the same time, making each to be wholly an animal.

Abelard points out that then the same thing, animal, will be simultaneously rational due to its role in constituting the species human being and irrational due to its role in constituting the species ass.

But then contraries are simultaneously present in the same thing as a whole, which is impossible. To the rejoinder that rationality and irrationality are not actually present in the same thing, Abelard offers a twofold reply.

First, he rejects the claim that they are present only potentially. Each species is actually informed by a contrary, and the genus is actually present in each as a whole; hence it is actually informed by one contrary in one species and by the other in the other; since it is wholly one and the same in each, it is therefore actually informed by contraries, and the contradiction results.

Second, Abelard undertakes to establish that contraries will be present not merely in the genus but even in the selfsame individual. For Socrates is an animal, and so is Brunellus the Ass; but by transitivity—since each is wholly and completely animal—Socrates is Brunellus, and hence both rational and irrational. Put a different way, each is essentially an animal, and furthermore essentially rational and essentially irrational. Prospects are no better for realism if the universal is identified not with a single thing but with a collection of things.

Abelard points out that collections are posterior to their parts, and, furthermore, the collection is not shared among its parts in the way a universal is said to be common to many.

Nor does it help to try to identify the universal with the individual in some fashion, for example in claiming that Socrates qua human is taken as the universal human being; Abelard argues that if the universal really is the individual, then we are stuck with the consequence that either individuals such as Socrates are common to many, or there are as many universals as there are individuals, each of which is absurd.

Abelard concludes that universality is merely linguistic, not a feature of the world. These terms are semantically general, in that their sense applies to more than one thing, but they do not thereby name some general thing; instead, they distributively refer to each of the individuals to which the term applies.

Abelard maintains that everything in the world apart from God and angels is either form, matter, or a composite of form and matter. The matter of something is that out of which it is made, whether it persists in the finished product as bricks in a house or is absorbed into it as flour in bread.

Ultimately, all material objects are composed of the four elements earth, air, fire, and water, but they do not retain their elemental forms in most combinations. Forms are therefore supervenient on matter, and have no ontological standing independent of it.

This is not to deny that forms exist, but to provide a particular explanation of what it is for a form to inhere in a given subject, namely for that subject to have its matter configured in a certain way. For example, the inherence of shape in the statue just is the way in which its bronze is arranged. Hence material things are identical with what they are made of—with one exception: human beings, whose forms are their immaterial and immortal souls.

Strictly speaking, since human souls are capable of existence in separation form the body, they are not forms after all, though they act as substantial forms as long as they are joined to the body. Material composites of form and matter, humans excepted, are integral wholes made up of their discrete material parts as configured in a given way. Most of these wholes are ontologically nothing beyond their material parts.

Whether structured composites have any independent ontological standing depends on the status of their organizing forms. Intuitively, some wholes have a natural division that takes precedence over others; a sentence, for example, is divided into words, syllables, and letters, in precisely that order.

According to Abelard, the principal parts of a whole are those whose conjunction immediately results in the complete whole. His intent seems to be that the nature of the composition if any that defines the integral whole also spells out its principal parts.

A house consists of floor, walls, and roof put together in the right way. It is an open question whether each principal part such as the wall requires the existence of all of its subparts every brick. Individuals have natures, and in virtue of their natures they belong to determinate natural kinds. Instead, Abelard takes a natural kind to be a well-defined collection of things that have the same features, broadly speaking, that make them what they are.

Why a given thing has some features rather than others is explained by how it got that way—the natural processes that created it result in its having the features it does, namely being the kind of thing it is; similar processes lead to similar results. On this reading, it is clear that natural kinds have no special status; they are no more than discrete integral wholes whose principle of membership is similarity, merely reflecting the fact that the world is divided into discrete similarity-classes of objects.

Furthermore, such real relations of similarity are nothing themselves above and beyond the things that are similar. If these causal powers were different, then natural kinds might be different as well, or might not have been as sharply differentiated as they are now. Given how matters stand, natural kinds carve the world at its joints, but they are the joints chosen by God.

Logic Abelard was the greatest logician since Antiquity: he devised a purely truth-functional propositional logic, recognizing the distinction between force and content we associate with Frege, and worked out a complete theory of entailment as it functions in argument which we now take as the theory of logical consequence.

That is, the conclusion—more exactly, the sense of the final statement—is required by the sense of the preceding statement s , so that it cannot be otherwise. An entailment is complete perfecta when it holds in virtue of the logical form complexio of the propositions involved. By this, Abelard tells us, he means that the entailment holds under any uniform substitution in its terms, the criterion now associated with Bolzano.

The traditional four figures and moods of the categorical syllogism derived from Aristotle, and the doctrine of the hypothetical syllogism derived from Boethius, are all instances of complete entailments, or as we should say, valid inference.

There is another way in which conclusions can be necessary and relevant to their premisses, yet not be formally valid not be a complete entailment. The necessary connection among the propositions, and the link among their senses, might be a function of non-formal metaphysical truths holding in all possible worlds.

Abelard takes such incomplete entailments to hold according to the theory of the topics to be forms of so-called topical inference.

Against Boethius, Abelard maintained that topical rules were only needed for incomplete entailment, and in particular are not required to validate the classical moods of the categorical and hypothetical syllogism mentioned in the preceding paragraph.

One of the surprising results of his investigation is that he denies that a correlate of the Deduction Theorem holds, maintaining that a valid argument need not correspond to an acceptable conditional sentence, nor conversely, since the requirements on arguments and conditionals differ.

This led to a crisis in the theory of inference in the twelfth century, since Abelard unsuccessfully tried to evade the difficulty. These debates seem to have taken place in the later part of the s, as Abelard was about to become embroiled with Bernard of Clairvaux, and his attention was elsewhere.

To do so, he relies on the traditional division, derived from Aristotle, that sees the main linguistic categories as name, verb, and their combination into the sentence. Abelard takes names to be conventionally significant simple words, usually without tense. Even so his list is not general enough to catalogue all referring expressions. These are at the heart of the problem of universals, and they pose particular difficulties for semantics. In reply Abelard clearly draws a distinction between two semantic properties names possess: reference nominatio , a matter of what the term applies to; and sense significatio , a matter of what hearing the term brings to mind, or more exactly the informational content doctrina of the concept the word is meant to give rise to, a causal notion.

A few remarks about each are in order. Names, both proper and common, refer to things individually or severally. A proper name—the name of a primary substance—signifies a concrete individual hoc aliquid , picking out its bearer as personally distinct from all else.

Therefore, proper names are semantically singular referring expressions, closely allied to indexicals, demonstratives, and singular descriptions or descriptive terms.

Thus a common name distributively refers to concrete individuals, though not to them qua individuals. This is not a shared feature of any sort; Socrates just is what he is, namely human, and likewise Plato is what he is, namely human too. From a metaphysical point of view they have the same standing as human beings; this does not involve any metaphysically common shared ingredient, or indeed appeal to any ingredient at all. For all that signification is posterior to reference, names do have signification as well.

Abelard holds that the signification of a term is the informational content of the concept that is associated with the term upon hearing it, in the normal course of events. Abelard is careful to insist that the signification is a matter of the informational content carried in the concept—mere psychological associations, even the mental images characteristic of a given concept, are not part of what the word means.

Yet one point should be clear from the example. What holds for the semantics of names applies for the most part to verbs.


Peter Abelard

Tuhn His Collationes — or Dialogue between a Christian, a Philosopher, and a Jew — is remarkable for the boldness of its conception and thought. Because three of baelard relate to circumcision and the Law, it is possible that they were added after or while Abelard was commenting on the Epistle to the Romans. Oxford University Press Amazon. The section on the textual transmission of the Collationesprepared by Giovanni Orlandi, is unfortunately rather brief in its explanation of the principles that have guided his establishment of a critical text. Peter Abelard, Collationes, Ed. Peter Abelard: Collationes Quick jump to page content. He provides an abstract of the argument of the Collationes as a whole that is itself very helpful for the reader.


Abelard's Collationes. Oxford Medieval Texts.

John Marenbon — — Cambridge University Press. Only by working back to a study by E. My library Help Advanced Book Search. Byrhtferth of Ramsey Professor Michael Lapidge. In many ways, the dialogue of the philosopher with the Jew sets the agenda in the Collationes for ideas that surface in more detail in the commentary on Romans, while the dialogue of the philosopher with the Christian lays a foundation for ideas that he takes much further in his Ethica or Scito teipsum. Other books in this series. While his translation does not differ in substance from that of Spade, it is much more readable.

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Pierre Abélard


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