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BOOK REVIEWS 343 Peter Abailard. Sic et Non. A critical edition by Blanche Boyer and Richard McKeon. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1976--77. Pp. vii + 714. Cloth, $100. Paper, 7 fascicles, $14 each. The figure of Peter Abailard, the twelfth-century dialectician and philosopher, is not an easy one to place in proper perspective. His name today above all doubtless evokes in the minds of most of those who hear it his relationship with H61oise, which remains vividly embodied in his surviving correspondence with H6loise and in the autobiographical Historia calamitatum (though some doubt, alas, has been cast on the complete authenticity of these documents). The range of his philosophy was limited, in part, no doubt, because he was unacquainted with the riches of Greek, Hebrew, and Arabic philosophy that became available in the translations of the thirteenth century, in part because of the training he received from such teachers as Roscelin, William of Champeaux, and Anselm of Laon, and in part also from the nature of his own intellect . Certainly he excelled as a dialectician, and an extraordinary amount of his work was devoted to the problem of the universals, his solution to which may be said to have been essentially in accord with that of the numerous moderate realists, including the later Thomas Aquinas. It is within this larger context of Abailard's life and work that his Sic et Non must be evaluated. This is a collection of religious questions, 158 in its final form, in which texts of the Scriptures and the Church Fathers are brought together. But, unlike the traditional Quaestiones and Sententiae, we find here an obviously deliberate attempt to juxtapose texts that contradict one another, or at least appear to do so; and, in addition, no solution of the contradiction is offered by the writer himself. One way of interpreting this unusual procedure has been to look on Abailard as a thoroughgoing rationalist, who employs his reason to show that in questions where we depend on religious faith it is not difficult to find contradictions on the part of even the most revered authorities, and who is therefore showing us the road to a religious skepticism. We might oppose to this interpretation Abailard's many affirmations of the superiority of faith to reason and of the role assigned to reason of clarifying the truths offered by faith, and likewise such statements to H61oise as that he could not choose Aristotle before Christ or philosophy before St. Paul. But more convincing are the indications he himself gives of the purpose of the Sic et Non in the Prologus of that work. He begins by saying that some of the statements made by the holy ones (sanctorum dicta) seem to be not only different from one another but even opposed. (The formula diversa adversa is a traditional one, going back even to St. Augustine.) After offering in some detail various means of resolving these apparent contradictions, he says that inexperienced readers, faced by these texts in which disagreement is found, will be forced to extend themselves to discover the truth and in so doing will become more perspicacious. Continual questioning, he continues, is the chief key to wisdom. He quotes an affirmation of Aristotle in the Categories of the need for frequent examination of a problem and of the usefulness of doubting each thing. From this Abailard concludes that in doubting we carry on our search, and in searching we perceive the truth. We may say, then, that the Sic et Non has been written by Abailard as an exercise in "methodic doubt" in order to facilitate the search for truth in questions wherein religious faith may be aided by the uses of reason. Another way of looking at the methodology of the Sic et Non has been to emphasize--and sometimes exaggerate both the originality of the work and its influence on subsequent thought, in the latter case to the extent of making Abailard the originator of the scholastic method. The method of the work is adumbrated in the Sentences of two of his teachers, William of Champeaux and Anselm of Laon, in some of the literature employing glosses, and even...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 343-346
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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