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The Debate on Universals before Peter Abelard AUGUSTINE THOMPSON, O.P. THE PAST FIFTEEN YEARS have seen a revolution in our understanding of the late eleventh- and early twelfth-century debate on universals. The older histories of early medieval philosophy presented the spectacle of a conflict between two extreme philosophical positions.' On the one hand were the "nominalists ," who considered universal terms mere words and had as their leader Roscelin of Champi~gne. In opposition to them were a group of "realists," who considered universals to be "things" and counted among their leaders Odo of Cambrai, Anselm of Canterbury, and, later, William of Champeaux. ~ This debate over the ontological status of universals continued fruitlessly until Peter Abelard hammered out a synthesis in his Logica Ingredientibus3 and opened the way to Thomas Aquinas's "moderate realism" in the thirteenth , E.g., B. Haur~au, Histoire de la philosophiescholastique 1 (Paris, 1872), 49-12o; M. de Wulf, History ofMedieval Philosophy, trans. E. Messenger (London: Longmans, Green, 1934), 1:137-52, 16o-2o5; E. Gilson, History of Christian Philosopohyin the Middle Ages (London: Random House, i955), 153-6o, and 619-~8, nn. 71-1o~; and, more recently, F. Copleston, History ofPhilosophy 2 (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 196o), 136-55. ' De Wulf, History, 1: 196-99, and esp. 2o4-~o5. On medievalrealisms, seeJ. Gracia,Introduction to theProblem of lndividuation in the Early Middle Ages (Vienna: Philosophia Verlag, x988), 3134 - On Abelard's relationship to the schools of Chartres and Paris, see R. W. Southern, "The Schools of Paris and Chartres," in Renaissanceand Renewal in the Twelfth Century, ed. R. Benson and G. Constable (Harvard Univ. Press, 1982), 113-35, 121-23. 31 shall refer to Abelard's famous work by this common title; the relevant portion is edited by B. Geyer in "Incipiunt Glossaesecundum Petrum Abaelardum super Porphyrium," in Bgitragezur Geschichteder Philosophieund Theologiedes Mittelalters 21 0933): 1-3a; partly trans. J. Wippel and A. Woher, Medieval Philosophyfrom St. Augustine toNicholas of Cusa (N. Y.: Free Press, 1969), a9~ 2o3, more completely trans. (not always trustworthily) R. McKeon, in Selectionsfrom Medieval Philosophers(N.Y.: Scribners, 1929), 1: ~o8-58. Pertinent passages from Abelard on universalsare translated in the appendix to P. King, "Peter Abailard and the Problem of Universals," Diss. Princeton, 198~, 1"-116". A new translation of texts including this one of Abelard on universals hasjust appeared: Five Texts on theMediaeval Problemof Universals:Porphyry,Boethius,Abelard, Duns Scotus, Ockham (Indianapolis: Hackett, t994). [409] 41o JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:3 JULY 1995 century. Abelard was the great genius and pivotal figure in this story, a story that continues to have proponents.4 But the discovery and publication of new texts and the more careful reading of long-known sources have called this rather Hegelian vision into question. Historicians are now more appreciative of the complexity of the debate before Abelard and the insights of those involved in it.5 They also emphasize the influence of the logical studies on Boethius and of grammatical reflections on Priscian. 6 A landmark in the reevaluation of this debate was a doctoral dissertation by Peter O. King at Princeton in 198~. He mapped out the varieties of opinion on universals and effectively critiqued the traditional division of them into "realist" and "nominalist" schools. Nevertheless, King still used Abelard as his point of reference for the history of the debate. He read the earlier writers in terms of Abelard's descriptions and refutations of them.7 In the same spirit, Martin M. Tweedale could later write: "A very clear and penetrating mind was needed to figure our the fundamentals of the subject [of universals]. Fortunately , one with such talents was available, Peter Abelard. ''8 Abelard the penetrating logician has recently become the focus of intense study.9 We now know 4Popular history: M. Haren, Medieval Thought (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985), 90-93 . Technical study: J. C. Maloney, "Abailard's Theory of Universals," Notre DameJournal of Formal Logic 23 (1982): 27-38, who seesAbelard'sprojectas refuting realism (Williamof Champeaux) and nominalism (Joscelin of Soissons--whom he considers the author of the De Generibuset Speciebus!). 5E.g., J. Marenbon, Early Medieval Philosophy (London: Routledge, 1988), who is...


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