Introduction to Part I
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8 introduction to part i To study a philosopher’s present means doing many things. They include , for example, looking at the social and the intellectual assumptions of the time, the literary forms then current for philosophical writing; in the case of a twelfth-century thinker, such Abelard, they would also involve exploring the links between his work and both the school curriculum and religious developments of his time. The following two chapters,however,concentrate,not on Abelard’s context,but on his present in a more immediate and intimate sense: on Abelard as a philosopher living through time and, like any human being, developing and changing his ideas. Chapter 1 sets out to establish a solid basis for looking at Abelard chronologically. To do so, it must treat the evidence for chronology in the opposite way to that usually favoured by exponents of a developmental reading. Typically, they arrive at an idea of the main lines of a thinker’s development, and they use it, often along with subtle evidence based on minute comparisons of different passages, to arrive at a comprehensive , precise chronology of writings, on the basis of which the account of the thinker’s changing thought can be further refined. Here, rather, the aim has been to use all reasonable scepticism so as to arrive at an imprecise and incomplete ordering of works, uninfluenced by any prior view about Abelard’s direction of development. The chapter also explores a related question: the relationship between the manuscript material that survives and the philosopher’s own teaching and writing, which is often much less direct than today’s ideas of authorship assume. Introduction to Part I  9 Chapter 2 illustrates the study of Abelard as a developing writer by looking at his argument that God cannot do otherwise than he does in his earlier and later formulations of it, and in relation to other twelfthcentury thinkers’ responses to it. Developmental study is sometimes seen as an alternative, or even an antithesis, to properly philosophical analysis.This chapter aims to show how the two methods can complement each other, presenting the argument from the beginning step by step, and ending with a critical examination of Abelard’s reasoning, which leads to a perhaps unexpected conclusion about his general views on God’s providence and human freedom. This first dimension, which looks at a philosopher’s own time, should not, then, be seen as opposed to the fourth, which links the philosopher in question to today’s philosophical concerns. Rather, it is, as it were, at right angles to it.The best work in the history of philosophy plots a graph using these two axes. ...