Introduction
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1 Introduction For historians of philosophy, time should have four dimensions. Three of them relate just to the philosophers who are being studied. The first dimension is their present. Whether, as here, the subject is someone who lived nine hundred years ago,or whether it is a more recent thinker, this present is not our present, and understanding it requires special historical knowledge and skills. The second dimension is their past. Philosophers look back to teachers, predecessors and the sources from which they have learned to think. The third dimension is their future: the ways in which their ideas and words have been understood or misunderstood , neglected, studied, adapted and distorted, up to the present day.The fourth dimension lies in the relation between the past thinkers and philosophy today, between their times and our present. In the three Conway Lectures in 2009, on which this book— though much altered and greatly expanded—is based, I devoted a lecture to each of the three dimensions: Abelard’s present, his past and his future. The fourth dimension did not form the subject of a particular lecture, because it ran through all the lectures. Its presence, I argued, is the methodological feature which distinguishes historians of medieval philosophy from other medievalists, making them both philosophers and historians. But is it as straightforward to combine the first, second and third dimensions with the fourth as the plan of my lectures supposed ? The lectures themselves, in their detail, suggested not; they showed, rather, that at every point there are tensions between more­ historical and more philosophical concerns. This book therefore adds 2   a b e l a r d i n f o u r d i m e n s i o n s two new chapters, which look specifically at this fourth dimension in a  manner appreciative and yet also critical. Chapter 5 examines the various comparisons which have been made between Abelard, on the one hand, and Frege and other more recent logicians and philosophers of language, such as Putnam and Kripke, on the other. Chapter 6 looks at Abelard’s metaphysics in the light of contemporary trope theory and some other recent interpretations. The earlier chapters begin by looking at Abelard’s present and go on to consider his past and future.The first chapter looks at the difficulties , especially in the case of his logic, in reconstructing Abelard’s views from the textual material that survives, and examines the extent to which the records that survive allow changes and developments to be traced in his thinking. The second chapter concentrates on a particular example of Abelard working in the context of his own present. It examines his argument that God can do only what he does, how his contemporaries reacted to it and how Abelard, perhaps in reaction to them, modified and extended it. The third chapter turns to Abelard’s past by considering his relation to his most distinguished recent predecessor, Anselm of Canterbury.The fourth chapter, on Abelard’s future, returns to his argument that God can do only what he does,showing how,from Peter the Lombard to the end of the Middle Ages and even up to Leibniz , this position was discussed, often dismissively, but sometimes with careful attention to its substance. My approach, therefore, juxtaposes historical and philosophical considerations. It might be argued, however, that another type of consideration should also be taken into account. Many of the discussions examined, especially in chapters 2, 3 and 4, come in works about Christian doctrine, including the versions of what Abelard himself called ‘theologia’. Should they not be treated as theology, rather than philosophy ? But it is not clear what such a treatment would involve. By ‘theologia’—a word considered at the time as a neologism—Abelard simply meant talking about God, and any discussion, however philosophical , of arguments about, for instance, God’s will and its freedom cannot but acknowledge that their subject matter is God and that many of their conclusions would not at all apply to human will and freedom. Introduction  3 There does not, then, seem be room for complaint here. Perhaps, though, the demand for a theological perspective is a call for less scrutiny of the arguments and more attention to how biblical and patristic authorities are used. Such a shift of focus, however, would go against Abelard’s own spirit and practice. He quoted the Bible and the church fathers frequently, but he was acutely aware that citations from both...


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