|The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery
of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism, 1100-1600. NORMAN
KRETZMANN, ANTHONY KENNY, and JAN PINBORG,
editors. ELEONORE STUMP, associate editor. New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1982. ix, 1035 p. $74.50.
The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (CHOLMP) brings together in one volume an impressively large number (47) of short essays (averaging 18 pages) by an impressively large number (41) of able scholars. The final product, sad to report, is something less than impressive.
CHOLMP does, to be sure, have many virtues. Chief among them are several excellent papers which, despite space limitations bordering on the ludicrous, serve as exemplars of the proper way to "foster a ... mutually beneficial relationship between medieval philosophy and contemporary philosophy" (Kretzmann's Introduction, p. 3). That is to say, the authors combine their own ample creative insight into significant philosophical issues with a deep understanding of and appreciation for what their medieval interlocutors had to say about those issues. Especially noteworthy are the contributions by Alan Donagan ("Thomas Aquinas on Human Action"), Timothy Potts ("Conscience"), Calvin Normore ("Future Contingents"), and Marilyn McCord Adams ("Universals in the Early Fourteenth Century"). In addition, editors Kenny and Pinborg provide a fine general introduction to medieval philosophical literature and to the difficulties it poses for the contemporary reader, specialist and nonspecialist alike. Also worthy of mention is the extensive bibliography of important primary and secondary sources, as well as a helpful forty pages of biographical and bibliographical information about the seemingly inexhaustible cast of characters populating the late medieval intellectual arena.
What's more, the editors of CHOLMP are not lacking in high, if not entirely highminded, aspirations. Kretzmann puts it this way in the Introduction (3):
By combining the highest standards of medieval scholarship with a respect for the insights and interests of contemporary philosophers, particularly those working in the analytic tradition, we hope to have presented medieval philosophy in a way that will help to end the era during which it has been studied in a philosophical ghetto, with many of the major students of medieval philosophy unfamiliar or unsympathetic /151/ with twentieth-century philosophical developments, and with most contemporary work in philosophy carried out in total ignorance of the achievements of the medievals on the same topics.
I will not linger long over Kretzmann's somewhat ungracious (even if not absolutely unjustifiable) use of the term 'philosophical ghetto'. But I cannot help asking: Since when is sympathy with the latest philosophical trends in itself an intellectual virtue? If, say, Etienne Gilson and his colleagues had in their heyday been sympathetic with the then dominant positivist penchant for consigning theology, metaphysics, and ethics to the intellectual scrapheap, they would very likely have given up the serious study of medieval philosophy altogether. Would they in that case have been more intellectually virtuous or less ghetto-bound? Let's be honest. If analytic philosophers are only just beginning to discover the treasure of medieval philosophy, it isn't because a bunch of benighted ghetto dwellers has been selfishly hoarding it all this time.
In any case, Kretzmann is surely correct in suggesting that at least many analytic philosophers stand to profit greatly from a more intimate acquaintance with medieval philosophy. Unfortunately, however, this is not to say that they also stand to profit greatly from a more intimate acquaintance with CHOLMP. For despite its undeniable virtues, CHOLMP is fundamentally flawed.
First of all, as Kretzmann admits in the Preface (viii), the contributors were laboring within "irksome limits" and in some cases were forced to shorten their already compressed papers. The results are not unpredictable. Rarely is there any critical discussion of the philosophical positions reported; often one gets no more than a superficial rendition of the arguments used by proponents of opposed positions; and there are few attempts to bring to light deep or subtle connections between medieval and contemporary treatments of important philosophical problems.
None of this comports very well with the self-avowed aims of CHOLMP. While many of its essays will serve as handy, if somewhat abbreviated, introductory guides to the topics they deal with, few of them are tantalizing enough to whet the appetite of a contemporary philosopher or to tempt a promising graduate student to specialize in medieval philosophy. What makes this all the more lamentable is the fact that several of the contributors have elsewhere demonstrated their ability to make medieval philosophy come alive. One wonders why the editors, given their ambitions, did not choose a means better suited to their end.
Second, and even more disappointing, is the fact that CHOLMP as a whole reflects what can only be characterized as a remarkably /152/ distorted picture of both (i) late medieval philosophy itself and (ii) its relevance for contemporary philosophy.
(i) The most striking symptom of this distortion is the disproportionately large amount of space allotted to the discussion of medieval logic and grammar--more than half the text of CHOLMP, once we discount the four historical essays meant to set the intellectual stage for medieval scholasticism and its modern scion, neoscholasticism. Less than half of CHOLMP is devoted to late medieval metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and political philosophy. Astonishingly, late medieval philosophical theology receives (by design) virtually no attention at all.
You will detect a certain narrowness here--a hint of, shall we say, "ghetto mentality." Of course, to make this point is in no way to belittle the monumental achievements of the best medieval logicians, or to suggest that we have no reason to welcome almost 400 pages of the latest scholarly work, condensed though it be, on medieval logic. Nor is there any disputing the fact, invoked by Kretzmann in the way of apology, that the medievals construed logic so broadly as to include much that we moderns would classify as "metaphysics, philosophy of language, linguistics, natural philosophy, or philosophy of science" (4). The intimate connection between logic and philosophy of nature in the mid-fourteenth century, for instance, is vividly underscored in the papers by Edith Dudley Sylla ("The Oxford Calculators") and John Murdoch ("Infinity and Continuity").
Still, these nontrivial considerations notwithstanding, CHOLMP's inordinate stress on logic obscures the fact that the most profound thinkers of the late medieval era (e.g., Bonaventure, Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham) viewed logic primarily as a tool, albeit an indispensable one, for dealing with the "big" questions in metaphysics and theology. To illustrate, Aquinas's perceptive discussion of the logic of reduplicative propositions occurs within his treatment of the doctrine of the Incarnation. Again, by the time that Ockham wrote his groundbreaking Summa Logicae, he had already employed almost all his distinctive logical insights in one or another metaphysical or theological context. However, with only a few exceptions (the most conspicuous of which is Normore's piece) the papers in CHOLMP fail to explore and often even to intimate the symbiotic relationship between medieval logic on the one hand and central metaphysical and theological concerns on the other.
To be sure, some gifted fourteenth- and fifteenth-century logicians seem to have lost sight of the big questions, and this no doubt helps to explain, if not justify, the humanists' unduly indiscriminate animus toward scholastic philosophy in general. (The /153/ parallels with today's humanistic reaction to analytic philosophy are both inescapable and instructive.) But such logicians are hardly worthy of the excessive attention lavished on them by what purports to be a history of medieval scholasticism from the twelfth through the sixteenth centuries.
A regrettable consequence of CHOLMP's narrowness is that, once again, it fails to generate the level of intellectual excitement required to attract imaginative thinkers to the serious study of medieval philosophy. Logic as a discipline is an acquired taste for most of us. We are led to it mainly by the conviction that it bears on deeper matters.
What's more, the sections of CHOLMP given over to "straight" logic are often disappointingly pedestrian. Though much of medieval logic has been eclipsed by its contemporary counterpart, the medievals managed to raise some deep questions in philosophical logic which have not been faced squarely by contemporary philosophers. For instance, as recent work by Fred Sommers1 suggests, the two-name theory of predication may have been done in more by Fregean fiat than by decisive arguments. Again, one suspects that we could learn something from medieval logicians about the ontological issues surrounding the semantics of past- and future-tense sentences or the use of fictive terms (e.g., 'chimera'). Sad to say, such philosophical questions seldom surface in CHOLMP. This again reflects space limitations more than anything else, since several of the writers on medieval logic (e.g., D. P. Henry, Gabriel Nuchelmans, Paul Spade, Martin Tweedale) have in other places shown great sensitivity to the wider philosophical implications of medieval logical doctrines.
Nor is CHOLMP's narrowness of vision confined just to the sections on logic and grammar. For instance, in his essay "The Just War" Jonathan Barnes informs us that "the question of what part the clergy might play in warfare looms large in medieval discussions; but its interest is purely antiquarian and theological" (774). The medievals generally argued that clerics are forbidden to bear arms or to kill even in a just war. Given the powerful pacifist tendencies evident in current Christian thought, it would hardly be shocking if someone were to ask why these medieval arguments might not apply to all Christians, nonclerics as well as clerics, with the result that Christian pacificism could be viewed as a natural development of just-war theory. The topic is thus far from antiquarian; and although Barnes's reluctance to pursue a theological issue is, I suppose, understandable, it does raise the question of just /154/ what advantage there is in escaping one ghetto if you are only going to take up residence in another.
(ii) We come now to the most distressing irony of all. As eager as they are to center attention on those areas of medieval thought which "reflect the emphases in contemporary philosophy" and "to help make the activity of contemporary philosophy intellectually continuous with medieval philosophy" (3), the architects of CHOLMP seem surprisingly oblivious to those areas of contemporary philosophy which are in fact continuous with medieval thought and whose practitioners would undoubtedly benefit from a closer examination of relevant medieval texts. Here are just a few examples of topical issues that CHOLMP overlooks or gives short shrift to:
(a) Some prominent philosophers of science, dissatisfied with basically empiricist conceptions of natural law and scientific explanation, now argue that natural substances are best thought of as nonfree agents endowed with causal powers and that laws of nature are properly expressed by specifications of those powers rather than by generalizations (whether necessary or not) about events.2 The medieval Aristotelians, despite the inadequacy of their scientific theories, elaborated just such a philosophical conception of nature. Their writings in this area may prove to be illuminating, as has been clear ever since Peter Geach published his penetrating essay on Aquinas in Three Philosophers.3 (I should mention in passing that the intellectual depth of Geach' s--and, poignantly, Kenny's--work on Aquinas is seldom even approached in CHOLMP.)
(b) Important recent work in ethics signals a healthy shift away from "act-centered" moral theories and toward "character-centered" theories.4 The medievals, of course, fashioned several subtle and interestingly diverse doctrines of virtue, which could perhaps serve as touchstones for contemporary discussions. Almost nothing on this topic is recorded in CHOLMP.
(c) Philosophers and historians of science have only begun to examine closely the pivotal role of epistemic authority in scientific reasoning. But the question, long neglected in main-stream analytic epistemology, of how such authority is related to rationality is in many crucial respects a secular analogue of the passionately disputed /155/ medieval question of how faith is related to reason. CHOLMP addresses the latter issue at length only in C. H. Lohr's almost painfully tendentious "The Medieval Interpretation of Aristotle." (For the record, Lohr gratuitously intimates that Aquinas was compelled by his theological commitments to formulate intellectually dishonest interpretations of Aristotle--whereas the Averroist masters of arts, he asserts with unconcealed admiration, had the freedom to write commentaries that were "philosophical, seeking, hunting, critical, and in this way different from the clerical commentaries of the theologians" (91). Lohr apparently disputes, for reasons he declines to divulge, Alasdair MacIntyre's assertion that Aquinas's commentary on the Ethics "has never been bettered'5 and Kenny's considered judgment that Aquinas's commentary on the Metaphysics, though a mere commentary, "constitutes a philosophical classic in its own right.''6)
(d) Now for the most glaring omission. A veritable plethora of distinguished analytic philosophers (Geach, Kenny, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, and James Ross, to name but a few) are with increasing frequency taking medieval discussions as the starting point for the critical examination of issues in philosophical theology. CHOLMP intentionally ignores medieval philosophical theology because, in Kretzmann's words, "that side of medieval thought has not been neglected" (3). This is curious logic indeed on the part of those whose purpose is to foster a closer relationship between medieval philosophy and contemporary philosophy. First of all, the editors deliberately conceal the best available evidence for their claim that such a relationship can prove fruitful for contemporary philosophers. Second, having promised to "respect the interests" of contemporary analytic philosophers, they in effect choose not to serve the needs of just that subset of analytic philosophers whose intellectual concerns most nearly coincide with those of the medievals.
Finally, CHOLMP's ban on philosophical theology also has the regrettable side effect of suppressing any sustained discussion of some of the most creative scholastic thinkers, the sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century Iberian Jesuits and Dominicans--a group whose apparently profound influence on early modern philosophy has yet to be fully documented. To them CHOLMP devotes all of 20 pages, in the form of John Trentman's revealingly titled "Scholasticism in the Seventeenth Century." (Imagine a 20-page paper /156/ called "Analytic Philosophy in the Twentieth Century"!) Suarez, Molina, Banez, and company deserved better. And so, for that matter, did we all.
ALFRED J. FREDDOSO