Scholarship in the history of philosophy still makes progress through important old texts being processed into a form usable for philosophers. Although it has become rarer to find some remarkable hitherto unknown text from the Western tradition, the forms in which many texts are available are not always too inviting. Even for many works of Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-c.525), historians of philosophy have been relying on Migne's Patrologia Latina with its uncritical editions. Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy has of course been edited and translated many times, but the fate of his logical works has been less fortunate.
The two treatises edited here by Christina Thomsen Thörnqvist discuss Aristotle's theory of the categorical syllogism, and without much exaggeration it can be said that these texts introduced the theory to the Latin Middle Ages from the tenth century onwards. They still appear as direct and straightforward presentations of the basics of the syllogistic system, although naturally they have very limited classroom use. The numbers of students with interest in medieval logic who still need an introduction to Aristotle's system are normally not very high. Usually, Aristotle's logic is taught before medieval philosophy, and on the basis of more recently published materials.
Thomsen Thörnqvist's volumes are nevertheless very useful for the historian of logic. She gives a text that has been carefully reconstructed from the very complex manuscript tradition, a full critical apparatus, and a philosophically-informed commentary on the details of the text. Quite usefully, the volumes include also her English translations of the texts. [End Page 244]
The kind of fundamental research work needed for the production of such volumes is not always properly respected, especially as the corresponding work has already been done with respect to the greatest names of the canon. It is, however, worth keeping in mind that our knowledge of the lesser figures is often made unreliable by the unreliability of the media in which we have the texts.
In the era of the Internet, one must ask what is going to happen to publishing critical editions. At present, people are turning to whatever is easily available on the net, which often provides bad editions and bad translations. Ways of overcoming this problem need to be found, since in the long run it is obvious that the results of the kind of work Thomsen Thörnqvist has done ought to be available to the researcher on the net. The Patrologia Latina is still so much easier to use that we may for a good while continue to see references to it despite the wonderful work done in preparing these volumes (quite sensibly, Thomsen Thörnqvist does give the PL pagination in the margins).
One reaction often coming from younger students when you stress the importance of using a reliable text instead of the most easily available one is the curious claim that philosophers are interested in the main lines of the argument and not in the details. Faulty as such reasoning is, it is still worth considering what we are actually doing in writing history of philosophy. Our main or even only access to past philosophical thought is through texts, so the philosophical study of a historical author must start from finding texts somehow preserved. Proceeding in a logical order, the text needs to be philologically studied before genuine philosophical evaluation; we need to understand the work on the literal level before going deeper. However, translations and even critical editions are impossible to produce of texts that are not properly understood: to figure out why an author uses some technical term one needs to have a grasp of the whole argument; conversely, misunderstandings of...