Francisco Bertelloni

title.none: McGrade, ed., Medieval Philosophy (Francisco Bertelloni)

identifier.other: baj9928.0412.009 04.12.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Francisco Bertelloni, University of Buenos Aires,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: McGrade, A.S., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy. Series: The Cambridge Companions Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xviii, 405. $60.00 0-521-80603-8. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.12.09

McGrade, A.S., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy. Series: The Cambridge Companions Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Pp. xviii, 405. $60.00 0-521-80603-8. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Francisco Bertelloni
University of Buenos Aires

With this book, the series Cambridge Companion Texts adds to its collection a new volume, now dedicated to medieval philosophy. As is true of companions generally, this one was edited and organized by a prominent scholar of medieval thought, A. S. McGrade (Connecticut), and written by different specialists, each entrusted with a subject according with his own speciality. Because of this fact, this book is a companion and not an essay, and its goal is not to offer a precise or deep presentation of the subjects, but rather to give a general introduction to the most important areas of medieval philosophy. Furthermore, since the volume is organized in fourteen parts, it is really very difficult in a short book-review to offer an adequate account of each part or go deeply into their contents. These difficulties are evident all the more because the work under review offers not only a wide overview of the philosophical thought during the Latin Middle Ages, but also of Islamic and Jewish thinkers, as well as the cultural frame and the historical situation of western medieval thought as a whole. In view of this situation, I shall attempt to underline only the most relevant subjects treated in each part and to present exclusively their most important syntheses to make their contributions evident.

In the Introduction, after a short notice on the permanence--or not--of some medieval philosophical subjects in the modern scholarship, A. S. McGrade offers several understandings of philosophy in the middle ages as answers to the question: What is medieval philosophy? He provides two different answers depending on time period. For the first part of the period, of which Augustine would be the most representative thinker, philosophy was primarly a way of life closely associated with faith, even if "Augustine's project was faith seeking understanding" (6). McGrade is of the opinion that for the second period Thomas Aquinas was the most representative intellectual figure. For him, as for "the majority of later medieval thinkers...there is a clear distinction between philosophy and theology" (6). He concludes his Introduction with a beautiful image: medieval philosophy as freedom as it was imagined by Boethius in his Consolation of Philosophy.

In Part 1 (Medieval philosophy in context), Steven Marrone (Tufts University) accomplishes the reconstruction of the historical and doctrinal frames that rendered possible the emergence of medieval philosophy, firstly in the late Roman Empire, then in the monastic world, in which the discipline of study of the artes liberales and future medieval scholarship arose. Marrone describes also the expansion of the Islam, the reception of Greek philosophy, and the rise of the West with the reemergence of philosophy after the eleventh century, inlcuding the consequent rationalization in society and the implications for politics, religion, and educational institutions. He offers a short description of the reception of the Aristotelian works in the thirteenth century and of their meaning for the formation of scholasticism. He completes the chapter with a description of the fourteenth century, the so-called via moderna and the place of authority in medieval thought, the genres of the scholastic movement, and his main philosophical sources, of which the chapter contents a chronological table.

Part 2 (Two medieval ideas: eternity and hierarchy) was entrusted to John Marenbon (Cambridge) and David E. Luscombe (Sheffield). In contrast to the historical character of part 1, this part is more thematic. In order to explain the medieval understanding of eternity, J. Marenbon distinguishes firstly between different possible meanings of eternity and immediately he presents the treatment of the subject by Boethius in his treatises On the Trinity and The Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius differentiates between the eternity of the world in the thought of the philosophers and his own unterstandig of the eternity of God, the definition of which is: "the whole, perfect and simultaneous possession of undending life." Marenbon continues with Anselm's thought and finishes with a brief exposition of the problem in the first and second halves of the thirteenth century, in which he emphasizes the contributions of Albert the Great and of Thomas Aquinas as the most important of the period. D. E. Luscombe, who writes on hierarchy, organizes his exposition in three parts: firstly, the idea of hierarchy in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite; secondly, during the period from Gregory the Great to William of Auvergne; and thirdly, in the later Middle Ages. In this third period, hierarchy had not only a mere theorical character, but also it was used as instrument to solve the problem of the relationship between clerical and lay power and to offer an articulated formulation of the order of society, for example in the treatise De ecclesiastica potestate of Giles of Rome and in the papal bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII.

In part 3 (Language and Logic) E. J. Ashworth (Waterloo, Canada) follows the history of medieval logic from its origin, the seven liberal arts. Starting from this basic source he develops the importance of the grammar of Priscianus and Donatus until the fourteenth century. Secondly he deals with different theories on language and logic, their purpose and nature, signification, conventional and mental language, paronymy and analogy. In this context he pays special attention to the different types of supposition theory, which he develops from Thomas Aquinas until Walter Burley. The part is completed with the treatment of the problem of truth and (semantic) paradoxes and the relationship between inference (consequentia) and paradox.

In Part 4 (Philosophy in Islam) Therese-Anne Druart (The Catholic University of America) starts with her defense of the title of this part. It was called "Philosophy in Islam" and not "Islamic Philosophy" because "not all philosophers in lands under the Islamic rule in the Middle Ages were Muslim" (97). She goes on to explain the complicated and different relationships between philosophy, religion and culture. There was not any homologous way in Islam, but different ways to understand the links between these. Druart analyzes especially the relationship between philosophy and religion in Averroes, Alfarabi and Avicenna. Of course, in every treatment of philosophy in Islam a reference to the importance of psychology and metaphysics cannot be absent. She offers, therefore, a short synthesis of this subject, particularly the contributions about the intelligibles of Avicenna, Alfarabi and Al-ghazali. Finally, Druart summarizes the ethical theories and their development on the basis of Greek philosophy.

Idit Dobbs-Weinstein (Vanderbilt University) focuses in part 5 on Jewish philosophy. She sketches it around four thinkers: Saadiah Gaon, Avicebron, Maimonides and Gersonides and their treatment of a unique question: is the world eternal or created? Regarding Saadiah Gaon, I. Dobbs-Weinstein analyzes his main work, The Book of Doctrines and Beliefs, in which his author "sought to demonstrate a fundamental harmony between philosophy and biblical revelation" (122). In order to demonstrate this harmony Gaon shows four roots, the first three of these (Sense perception, Reason and Inference) are philosophical, the fourth (Reliable tradition) is rooted in tradition. She goes on to describe the universal hylomorphism of Avicebron, the limits of reason in Maimonides, and the pure Aristotelian philosophy of Gersonides. Lastly, she discusses Jewish-Christian interactions during the Middle Ages, the problematical character of which she ascribes to the medieval political context, a subject which has been neglected by researchers.

Metaphysics, God and being, was perhaps the most important and best-developed subject among medieval thinkers. The subject is treated in an entirely systematic and subtle style by Stephen P. Menn (McGill University) in part 6. He starts by distinguishing between physical and metaphysical proofs of God. He is of the opinion, that Thomas's first, second and fifth ways rest on physical arguments, whereas the third and the fourth ways rest on ontological arguments. This argument does not mean that the third and fourth ways are similar to Anselm's ontological argument, but that those ways "start from the fact of being...and not from contingent facts" (148). First, Menn treats Avicenna's argument based on the distinction between modalities: contingency and necessity. He follows with Averroes's response to Alghazali and with the subject on essence-existence composition, the different challenges about God and being (esse), and disputes on univocity, equivocity and analogy.

As important as metaphysical subjects were in the Middle Ages, so was the problem of Creation and Nature relevant. Edith Dudley Sylla (North Carolina) treats this in Part 7. One of the most frequent topics for discussion and metaphysical reflection among medieval philosophers and theologians was the Creation. After a short review of Augustine's position, Sylla underlines the importance of Pliny and Seneca's texts, on which later medieval authors based their philosophical ideas on nature as epiphany--that is as God's revelation throughout the universe. In this context, John Scotus's thought and the philosophy of the twelfth century, offers the basis for future treatments of this subject. After a short reference to astronomy and astrology, the chapter moves to scholastic natural philosophy. Sylla first analyzes the influence of Aristotelian libri naturales and after this, the new intellectual alternatives that the fourteenth century presents. She concludes the chapter with a sketch of the interactions of natural philosophy and theology, and the relevance of this interaction for the progress of natural philosophy and science.

Part 8 (Natures: The problem of universals) was entrusted to Gyula Klima (Fordham University). He introduces the ontological aspect of the universals through Augustinian thought. Augustine's exemplarist realism affirms that the universals are divine reasons, that is, universal natures exist in the divine mind and serve as archetypes of creation. He continues with the semantic aspect (common terms), and he mentions Avicenna's distinction between a universal in itself and universal in the subjects in which it exists. He finishes with Aquinas's reception of this view and the consequences of this in his thought. After this via antiqua, he treats the Ockhamist via moderna and the nominalists' semantic innovations.

Somebody has said that Augustine was the greatest master of the Middle Ages. This affirmation is true not only regarding language, metaphysics, creation and universals, but also regarding human nature. Using this reasoning, Robert Pasnau (University of Colorado) begins his presentation of part 9 (Human Nature) with Augustine's affirmation "Return to yourself" developed in his treatise Of true religion. Through this affirmation, Augustine turned to the old Platonic view, according to which human nature must be identified only with human soul. Even if this view, as Pasnau rightly writes, "dominated western thought for centuries" (209), it is replaced in the thirteenth century by the Aristotelian naturalistic view. In fact, this Platonic tradition, from Augustine until Bonaventure, "changed course dramatically" (210) and led to severe controversies that dominated the second half of the century. Pasnau also addresses subjects such as cognition, human will, the role of passions, and closes the chapter with a short presentation of the limits of freedom and the problem of immortality.

From part 10 to part 12 the volume is devoted entirely to practical philosophy. In Part 10 (The moral life) Bonnie Kent (California, Irvine) reexamines Augustine's thought in the context of classical ethics, Anselm's critics to the Augustinian views, and other aspects such as happiness and morality, evil, badness, vice and sin, and theological and natural virtues. James McEvoy (Maynooth Ireland) writes in part 11 about ultimate goods: happiness, friendship, and bliss. In this chapter, Augustine and his doctrine of the universal desire for happiness turn up. McEvoy is of the opinion that the most important theories of happiness were those of Augustine, Boethius, Thomas Aquinas, and Boethius of Dacia. I find particular interesting his presentation of Boethius of Dacia, whose intellectual doctrine of the relationship between happiness and intellectual life not only caused deep struggles in the second half of the thirteenth century, but also provoked the condemmation of 1277. He ends with an original sketch of Joachim of Fiore's doctrine about happiness and peace at the end of history. Political philosophy is the subject of part 12, in which Annabel S. Brett (Cambridge) begins with the Aristotelian conception of political community (polis) and the Roman view of res publica. She follows with the Augustinian understanding of the one true city, then the relationships between reason, nature and the human good in political writings of the twelfth century and in Thomas Aquinas. Modern subjects, such as election and consent, were treated by some medieval thinkers, and in this regard, John Quidort of Paris deserves special attention. On the other hand, the more traditional medieval topics of politics, such as hierarchy and grace, are presented related to thinkers as Giles of Rome and John Wyclif. The most relevant political thinkers of the later middle ages, Marsilius of Padua and William of Ockham are presented, of course, in the context of autonomy and rights.

P. J. Fitzpatrick (Durham) and John Haldane (University of St. Andrews) devote part 13 (Medieval philosophy in later thought) to showing that medieval philosophy was present especially during the Renaissance and in early modern philosophy. In Part 14, Thomas Williams (Iowa) develops a guide to the transmission and translation of medieval texts, in particular the different channels of transmission and the problems involved in the translations of medieval philosophy in modern languages, especially in English.

The volume consists primarily of these fourteen topics but it also offers also several useful chronological charts of philosophers and major events, a short biographical Glossary of principal medieval philosophers treated in the book, and a basic Bibliography of primary sources and secondary literature. It includes furthermore an alphabetical Index of important names and subjects treated in the book.

In conclusion, this book must be considered a very helpful companion, resulting from the contributors' hard work. The high level of the presentation of individual medieval philosophers--and of medieval thought in general--shows that each contributor has mastered their subject and put substantial work into the book. I believe that this volume has provided the opportunity to show the brillance of that work, which sometimes remains anonymus, without compensation or social acknowlegdment.