Constant J. Mews

title.none: Dronke, ed., History of 12th Century Western Philosophy

identifier.other: baj9928.9503.003 95.03.03

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Constant J. Mews, Monash University, Australia

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1995

identifier.citation: Dronke, Peter, ed. A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988; first paperback edition 1992. Pp. xi + 495. ISBN: ISBN 0521258960 (hb) ISBN 0521429072 (pb).

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 95.03.03

Dronke, Peter, ed. A History of Twelfth-Century Western Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988; first paperback edition 1992. Pp. xi + 495. ISBN: ISBN 0521258960 (hb) ISBN 0521429072 (pb).

Reviewed by:

Constant J. Mews
Monash University, Australia

The publication of a paperback version of Peter Dronke's A History of Twelfth-Century Philosophy is a welcome event. The fifteen different contributors to this volume cover between them most of the major intellectual trends which make the twelfth century such a fascinating period in the history of Western thought. It rectifies the relatively very brief consideration given to the period within the Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy, edited by N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny and J. Pinborg (Cambridge, 1982), a volume which focuses on the intellectual achievement of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The twelfth century was more than just a period of `preparation' for what was to follow. Even if thinkers of that period did not have the full range of intellectual resources available to them a hundred years later, there was an astonishing willingness to experiment with new ideas, stimulated by dissatisfaction with traditional ways of thinking and fascination with the power of ratio. According to a conventional classification of the twelfth century, Stoic in origin, philosophy could be divided into three areas, Logica (to do with language), Physica (to do with the natural world), and Ethica (to do with human behaviour). While the discipline of philosophy, as it developed within a university context, tended to be most powerfully influenced by study of the arts of language, the freshness of twelfth-century philosophy lies in its capacity to consider all three domains. The period is nonetheless of central importance in the history of philosophy, because it witnessed the transformation of broad based intellectual endeavour into specialist disciplines, above all that of logic. Dronke's volume provides an invaluable introduction to the intellectual life of the period, combmning original scholarship with easy accessibility.

The first chapters in the volume consider four important strands of influence on twelfth-century thought: cosmology (Winthrop Wetherbee), the Platonic inheritance (Tullio Gregory), the Stoic inheritance (Michael Lapidge), tle Arabic inheritance (Jean Jolivet). This is followed by consideration of `New Perspectives': scientific speculations (Charles Burnett), speculative grammar (Karin Margareta Fredborg) and logic, from the late eleventh century to Abelard (Martin Tweedale) and in the later twelfth century (Klaus Jacobi). There are then chapters on six prominent innovators of the period: Anselm of Canterbury (Stephen Gersh), Peter Abelard (David Luscombe), William of Conches (Dorothy Elford), Gilbert of Poitiers (John Marenbon), Thierry of Chartres (Peter Dronke) and Hermann of Carinthia (Charles Burnett). The arrival of the `new' scientific works of Aristotle is only considered in a chapter on Aristotelian thought in Salerno (Danielle Jacquart) while the volume closes with a chapter on David of Dinant (the late Enzo Maccagnolo).

Although these last two chapters have much to offer in their own right, the influence of Aristotle and peripatetic thought generally on different disciplines in the twelfth century is such an important subject, it is perhaps surprising that it was not considered alongside that of Plato and the Stoics. An unfortunate consequence of the division of chapters about logic and logicians is that there is no overview of one of the most significant developments in twelfth-century thought, the significance and impact of translatins of new works of Aristotle in the schools from the 1130s to the end of the century. Another important area not given attention in its own rmght is rhetoric, a field which still awaits a comprehensive overview. A chapter on John of Salisbury and the Metalogicon, our single most important source for understanding the history of twelfth-century philosophy, might have helped clarify history of Aristotelian developments in the twelfth century in the related fields of grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. That John of Salisbury is far from being a derivative thinker in ethical theory has been amply demonstrated by Cary Nederman in numerous studies. Dronke has not included either any of those major spiritual writers for which the twelfth century is so famous—Hugh of St Victor, William of St Thierry, Bernard of Clairvaux, Richard of St Victor or Hildegard of Bingen—each of whom alsodwrote extensively about their reflections on the nature of wisdom. Although theology came under the ambit of philosophy for many twelfth-century thinkers and is considered in relation to certain of the thinkers considered in this volume, notably St Anselm, Abelard and Gilbert of Poitiers, it is not accorded a chapter of its own, like the disciplines of grammar or logic.

This uncertainty about the relationship between philosophy and theology has some curious consequences. Gersh for example offers a persuasive critique of the idea that St Anselm's notion of reason was dependent on the assumptions of faith, but examines only two writings which seem to demonstrate what he sees as properly philosophical concerns about ratio, the Monologion and Proslogion. For comment on Anselm's very original analysis of language, we have to turn to pages of Tweedale about logic prior to Abelard. The major corpus of Anselm's writing is unexamined in the volume. Marenbon, by contrast, emphasises in relation to Gilbert of Poitiers, that philosophy and theology cannot be separated. His observation that Gilbert's perspectives are determined by theological aims could perhaps be applied to many of the thinkers in this volume. The originality of so many of the thinkers covered here could have been more fully brought out in some cases, by comparison to the Augustinian tradition, the other major intellectual influence on the twelfth century, not accorded the same attention as that of Plato.

Dronke's volume does not claim, however, to provide the definitive history of twelfth-century thought. Rather it offers an accessible point of departure into a subject which is large and infinitely varied. A nmber of chapters in this volume focus on the vitality of Platonic tradition in the twelfth century, particularly as mediated ~hrough Chalcidius' translation of the Timaeus, in constructing a picture of the physical structure of the universe. Wetherbee, Gregory and Dronke in his chapter on Thierry of Chartres, emphasise the role of this 'scientific' Platonism in providing a rational demonstration of the physical interconnectedness of the universe. The difficulty with asserting the influence of Platonism in the twelfth century is that inevitably a whole host of diverse influences are at work on all of these thinkers. Lapidge's chapter on the Stoic inheritance offers valuable insight on a significant philosophical influence on the twelfth century, barely mentioned by other authors in the volume, but leaves room for further enquiry. More work needs to be done on the influence of Roman writers, notably Seneca and Cicero, on twelfth-century thought. Lapidge provides hints of how Stoic criticism of the matter/spirit duality, taken for granted by Plato and Aristotle, may have found resonances in the twelfth century. Jolivet's chapter on the influence of Arab philosophy and science (complemented by those of Burnett on scientific reflection and on Hermann of Carinthia), is exemplary for the breadth of its focus. Adelard of Bath may not have absorbed the depth of Arab understanding of Greek philosophy to anything like that of Gundissalinus, but Jolivet is surely right in identifying Adelard as emblematic of a shift in intellectual interest in the twelfth century: the secularisation of Christian wisdom. This formula could be applied to the thought of many of the thinkers discussed in Dronke's volume.

An area of research that has only recently begun to attract the attention it deserves is that of speculative grammar, introduced by Fredborg with reference to many texts still available only in manuscript or to early incunable editions (as is the case for the late eleventh-century Glosule on Priscian's Grammatical Institutes I-XVI. While much has still to be clarified about this vast text, there can be no doubt about its seminal importance on twelfth-century thought, not least through its distinction between a noun's nomination of a substance and its signification of a quality. Tweedale takes the influence of the Glosule into account in his useful study of logic to the time of Peter Abelard, although perhaps does not make sufficiently clear the different ways in which Logica was understood—in the broad sense, embracing all the arts of lanouage, and the stricter sense of dialectic. Tweedale gives attention to the relatively little studied Dialectica of Garlandus, following the attribution of this work to Garland the Computist (c. 1015- 1084/1102), for its conviction is strictly about language, rather than the world of things. His analysis of its nominalist tendencies makes more sense if the arguments of Y. Iwakuma are accepted for re-assigning the work to the younger Gerland of Besancon, active in the first half of the twelfth century ('Vocales, or Early Nominalists', Traditio 47 [1992], 37-111, at 47-54). Tweedale's chapter is nicely balanced by Jacobi's discussion of logic in the second half of the twelfth century. Jacobi goes a long way to dispelling charges of obscurantism in logic from this period, more identified with schools than with individual masters, by considering it as a period of `normal science' (in Kuhn's phrase), when individual semantic issues were being worked out rather than great questions of principle.

The chapters on individual thinkers vary significantly in scope. That of Elford on William of Conches, for example, concentrates uniquely on his contribution to physical science rather than on William's work as a grammaticus. One of the major problems with understanding William, is that so much of his writing still lacks adequate critical edition. There is sometimes a lack of context in studies of individual authors. Luscombe's chapter on Abelard for example surveys his output, in logic and theology, but without attempting to relate Abelard to other thinkers of his generation. For all the controversy surrounding them, the letters of Heloise surely deserve to be considered in any discussion of the evolution of Abelard's ethical thought. Lapidge touches on Stoic influences on his ethics, but also without reference to the letters of Heloise. Marenbon's chapter on Gilbert of Poitiers is likewise a model of exegesis of Gilbert's own texts, in particular for its analysis of the distinction between id quod est and id quo est, but there is little attempt to identify the intellectual context in which he develops a distinction rooted in contrast between substance and quality. The influence of the Glosule's distinction between nomination and signification may help explain the contrasting efforts of Gilbert and Abelard to deal with similar semantic problems.

Twelfth-century philosophy is a vast subject. No single volume can hope to do it complete justice. The period witnessed the birth of those intellectual specialisations which still influence individual disciplinary traditions in the late twentieth century. Dronke's volume provides an invaluable point of departure for considering the originality of new thinking about Logica, Physica and Ethica in the twelfth century. In all of these areas, there was a questioning of the values and assumptions inherited from Late Antiquity as well as a new openness to neglected sources of inspiration. The concern of individuals like Adelard of Bath, Hugh of St Victor, William of Conches, John of Salisbury or Alan of Lille to construct a global vision of philosophy at a time of increasing specialisation in individual subjects still has contemporary resonance.