09.07.04, Klima, Allhoff, and Vaidya, eds., Medieval Philosophy

Main Article Content

Russell Friedman

The Medieval Review baj9928.0907.004


Klima, Gyula with Fritz Allhoff and Anand Jayprakash Vaidya, eds.. Medieval Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell Readings in the History of Philosophy. Malden, Massasschuetts: Blackwell, 2007. Pp. 393. ISBN: $35.00.
ISBN: 1405135654.

Reviewed by:
Russell Friedman
Catholic University of Leuven

It is now a commonplace among those who study medieval philosophy that one of the most pressing tasks for the discipline is making available to scholars and students high quality translations of the original Latin texts into the modern vernacular languages. This is the only way that medieval philosophy itself, and not our studies of medieval philosophy, will ever have a direct impact upon students and researchers who might well have an interest in the material, but are not sufficiently proficient in Latin to do anything about it. But, given that you have a set of translations of medieval philosophical texts, how can you present them such that they can be of use in a classroom situation or to someone who is motivated enough to read a series of medieval texts on their own? Here is where anthologies can be of great service, presenting several salient aspects of medieval philosophy through translations of medieval philosophical texts, arranged topically or chronologically or according to some combination of the two; such an anthology is (in principle) able to lead a reader to some kind of understanding of the material it includes as well as where the material fits into the medieval philosophical endeavor broadly understood. Probably the most famous of these anthologies is Arthur Hyman and James J. Walsh's Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions (Hackett, 1973), but it was just one of several others from the period before 1990. [1] Those anthologies were organized for the most part chronologically, according to the authors whose works were included, and making connections between texts and topics was left pretty much to the reader (or teacher). More recently, anthologies have appeared that take a topical approach, grouping medieval texts together according to their inclusion in a discussion of some central philosophical question. [2] Gyula Klima's Medieval Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary is the latest of these topical efforts, and it is a highly successful one at that, presenting coordinated texts from many of the most important medieval authors in excellent translations on twelve themes central to the medieval philosophical discussion, themes as diverse as the classification of the sciences and the problem of universals, the freedom of the will and the virtues.

"Medieval philosophy" is taken in Klima's volume as lasting from ca. Augustine and Boethius in late antiquity (late fourth to early sixth century AD) to William Ockham, Nicholas of Autrecourt, and John Buridan in the fourteenth century. It is restricted almost entirely to philosophy composed in Latin in the medieval west. The texts included in the volume span this entire range. Of the 46 groups of texts offered here, eight come from Augustine, three from Boethius, two from Anselm of Canterbury, two are of twelfth-century origin (Dialectica Monacensis, John of Salisbury), twenty are from the thirteenth century (by, e.g., Thomas Aquinas, who with twelve chapters is the most represented author in the anthology, Henry of Ghent, Giles of Rome, Siger of Brabant, Boethius of Dacia), and nine from the fourteenth century (John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, John Buridan, and Nicholas of Autrecourt). In addition, one text each comes from the Islamic philosophers Avicenna (d. 1037) and Averroes (d. 1198).

The volume kicks off with a highly useful "General Introduction" (pp. 1-25), which familiarizes the reader with some of the material and institutional context of medieval philosophy, with major figures in the medieval philosophical discussion (including Islamic and Jewish philosophers), and with main themes in medieval philosophy (this latter part of the introduction is particularly worthy of note). The volume ends with an extensive list of "Suggestions for Further Reading" (pp. 382-87) which is helpful and up-to-date, if (understandably) limited to studies in English and if (in my view) missing the occasional "must" (e.g., Richard Dales' splendid The Problem of the Rational Soul in the Thirteenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 1995)) or some of Carlos Bazan's essential work on the soul, for instance "The Human Soul: Form and Substance? Thomas Aquinas' Critique of Eclectic Aristotelianism", Archives d'Histoire doctrinale et littraire du Moyen Age 64 (1997), pp. 95-126.)

As mentioned, the texts in the volume are arranged by topic, being divided up into three main parts: "Logic and Epistemology" (pp. 27- 150), "Philosophy of Nature, Philosophy of the Soul, Metaphysics" (pp. 151-302), and "Practical Philosophy" (pp. 303-81). This organization is one of the volume's great strengths, since, as Jack Zupko writes in his back-cover endorsement: "Because it is organized along medieval rather than modern lines, it offers readers a glimpse of the medieval vision of higher education, beginning with the rudiments of learned discourse in dialectic or logic and then moving on to natural philosophy and metaphysics, the study of which culminates in ethics." This is precisely right: the topics that Klima has chosen are medieval topics, and the progression of the topics in the book moves according to a medieval rhythm (see also Klima's own words, on p. 25). Each of the book's main parts includes its own introduction to the texts found in that part; in these introductions Klima shows how the texts can be read as part of major medieval philosophical discussions and sketches their philosophical significance.

Moreover, each main part is further subdivided into four specific themes; for example, part two is subdivided into "Hylomorphism, Causality, Natural Philosophy" (pp. 157-94), "Human Nature and the Philosophy of the Soul" (pp. 195-223), "Metaphysics, Existence, and Essence" (pp. 225-53), and "God's Existence and Essence" (pp. 255- 302). Throughout the book, each of these subdivisions contains between three and five chapters, each in turn containing one or more medieval philosophical texts bearing on the issue in question. The chapters within each subdivision are arranged chronologically according to author.

I'll give just one example from the first part of the book: the third subdivision concerning "Illumination vs. Abstraction, and Scientific Knowledge" (pp. 83-115). The subdivision begins with a chapter (= ch. 9) containing texts from Augustine's 83 Diverse Questions and On Free Choice of the Will, dealing with divine ideas and illumination, and the views found in these texts do indeed represent the origins of the medieval discussion of these central issues in medieval cognitive theory. Next a series of texts selected from Thomas Aquinas' Summa theologiae I, qq. 84-86 on illumination, abstraction, and the functioning of the human intellect (= ch. 10) show how the recovery of Aristotelian philosophy, with its empiricist bent, impacted the Neoplatonic heritage as transmitted through Augustine. The subdivision continues with a text from Aquinas' Posterior Analytics commentary (= ch. 11) in which Thomas discusses how, through our sensory acquaintance with reality, we arrive at first principles, the foundations of scientific knowledge. A discussion taken from the first article of Henry of Ghent's Summa quaestionum ordinariarum comes next (= ch. 12), presenting Henry's rather robust understanding of the divine illumination necessary in order for us to have any type of rich intellectual knowledge. The subdivision ends with selections from John Duns Scotus' I Ordinatio, d. 3, q. 4, a direct reply to Henry's discussion in the preceding chapter. In this text Scotus breaks with the illuminationist tradition, and forcefully argues for a fully (or nearly so) naturalistic view of human intellectual cognition. This example of the book's topical arrangement shows that the texts work together in order to bring the reader to an understanding of both the wide variety of views found on this issue in the Middle Ages and the trajectory of medieval development on the issue. It is a well-thought- out programmatic introduction to a particularly important problem in medieval philosophy, and the texts presented in the remaining eleven subdivisions in the volume are equally carefully assembled. It should be noted that, throughout the volume, the texts are helpfully annotated in footnotes, the amount of annotation varying from text to text.

Since, as mentioned at the beginning of this review, medieval philosophy is in need of texts translated into English (and other modern languages) both for the use of professional philosophers and in teaching situations, I thought it useful to give here a list, first, of material that Gyula Klima translated specifically for this volume (some of it having never before appeared in translation) and, second, of translations that Klima has revised to one extent or another for this volume (the remaining texts in the volume are taken from state- of-the-art translations already available):

Translations made by Klima for this volume:

- Anonymous, "Dialectica Monacensis" (= ch. 2, pp. 43-44, on the division of the sciences)

- William of Ockham, Ordinatio (I Sent.), d. 2, q. 8 (on Ockham's early "ficta" theory of concepts) and Expositio in Librum Peri Hermeneias Aristotelis, bk. I, proem, paragraph 6 (on Ockham's later mental act theory of concepts) (= texts 1 and 2 of ch. 7, pp. 71-74)

- John Buridan, Quaestiones in Aristotelis Metaphysicam, bk. 2, q. 1 (= text 1 of ch. 18, pp. 143-50, on scientific knowledge)

- Thomas Aquinas, De principiis naturae (= ch. 19, pp. 157-67, 49, the text is very usefully annotated)

- Thomas Aquinas, De ente et essentia (= ch. 30, pp. 227-49, again very usefully annotated)

- John Buridan, Quaestiones in Aristotelis Metaphysicam, bk. 8, q. 4 (= ch. 31, pp. 250-53, on essence and existence)

Translations revised by Klima for this volume:

- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 1, aa. 1-10 (= ch. 3, pp. 45-57, on the nature and scope of Sacred Doctrine)

- Lambert of Auxerre, Summa (= ch. 6, pp. 66-70, on the properties of terms)

- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 17, a. 3 and q. 85, a. 6 (ch. 15, pp. 120-22, on whether the intellect can be false)

- John Buridan, Questions on Aristotle's De anima, bk. 3, q. 4 (ch. 28, pp. 219-23, on the soul's immateriality)

- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I, q. 5, a. 1 (ch. 38, pp. 322-23, on the convertibility of being and goodness)

- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II, q. 2, aa. 7-8 (ch. 44, pp. 358-60, on happiness).

Thanks in part to these new translations and revisions, the book under review is not only a tool to facilitate the teaching of medieval philosophy, but contributes directly to making texts from the medieval philosophical tradition available to a much wider audience.

Inevitably, I have some quibbles. Thus, the guilds of students that formed in Bologna and other southern towns are generally referred to as universitates scholarium and not universitates studentium, while the guilds of masters that were formed in Oxford and Paris were universitates magistrorum and not universitates scholarium (pace p. 8). I'm not comfortable with the use of the terms 'Ockhamist' (p. 10) or 'Augustinian' (e.g., pp. 15-16, 154) without considerably more explanation as to what they mean; loose use of these terms can often lead to misunderstanding. I could wish that the presentations of Aquinas' views on faith and reason (pp. 16-17) and on the unicity of substantial form in human beings (pp. 154-55) opened up more explicitly for the possibility of cogent response to those views. As I read it, Aquinas is presented here as having the "right" answer, and this is at least a debatable point.

These are, however, quite clearly quibbles. Klima has produced an impressive volume, with texts on a wide variety of medieval philosophical discussion points that show the range of views and, broadly speaking, the trajectory of historical development on the individual issues. The translations themselves are first rate, several appear for the first time in this volume, and they are accompanied by expert introductions and annotations, as well as by a guide to further reading. Finally, it should be mentioned that the volume is very nearly free from typographical errors, attractively produced, and contains some 250,000 words of translated text (the book is larger than its 400 pages would suggest). Students of medieval philosophy, at any level, will be able to take something from this book. And most significantly, Klima's anthology of medieval philosophical texts will serve well as a course textbook or for a reader interested in getting an idea of some main issues in medieval philosophy and some important medieval views on those issues.


[1] E.g., Richard McKeon, Selections from Medieval Philosophers, 2 vols. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929); John F. Wippel and Allan B. Wolter, Medieval Philosophy: From St. Augustine to Nicholas of Cusa (New York: The Free Press, 1969).

[2] E.g., Andrew B. Schoedinger, Readings in Medieval Philosophy (New York: OUP, 1996); Richard N. Bosley and Martin M. Tweedale, Basic Issues in Medieval Philosophy (Peterborough: Broadview, 1997).

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Author Biography

Russell Friedman

Catholic University of Leuven