Introduction to Part I I
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90 Introduction to Part I I The last two chapters examined aspects of Abelard’s own present. As well as giving some of the information needed for studying his works, and considering the problems of interpreting it, they suggest a more general moral about methodology. Historians of philosophy should certainly attend to the fourth dimension (to be discussed in detail in chapters 5 and 6), the relationship between past thinkers and our own present, but they should also be careful not to neglect the first dimension, the present of the thinkers themselves. If they just hand over the task to intellectual historians, they are in danger of losing any claim to be engaged in history, and they will have to be content with whatever philosophical suggestions or stimulation texts from the past happen to give them. In that case, they will no doubt be serious and professional philosophers. But, in their attitude to history, they will be dilettantes. The history of philosophy, however, can be, and should be, a proper, professional specialism. This chapter and the next will consider the two other dimensions , the past philosophers’ own past and their future. The aspect of Abelard’s future explored in chapter 4 will already be familiar: his argument, examined at length in the previous chapter, that God cannot do other than he does. As will be shown, it is one of Abelard’s arguments which has a particularly long and traceable history. The choice of focus for chapter 3, on Abelard’s past, requires a little more explanation. Introduction to Part II  91 Historians of philosophy are often wary of going too deeply into some aspects of the past of the thinkers they are studying. Their caution does not apply to every aspect of it. On the one side, they usually accept the need to identify and study direct textual ­ connections— those passages where the writer being studied discusses a text from the past explicitly or clearly uses it though without mentioning the author. On the other side, historians of philosophy often engage in ‘philosophical comparisons’, looking at how certain topics are treated in different periods, looking at the similarities and differences between, for instance, the moral theories of Plato, Augustine, Abelard, Aquinas, Hume and Kant, without claiming that these authors had in each case read or known of the earlier ones’ theories. These are important aspects of the second dimension, but there is another too, a sort of ‘historical comparison’, which is often regarded as part of the scholarly trappings worn by intellectual historians with pride, but as something to be disdained by the historian of philosophy. This method of enquiry differs from the study of textual connections, because it looks beyond passages explicitly cited, and differs from comparing across time, because it makes an historical claim about influence. It can be used to compare any two philosophers , provided that there are grounds to believe that one of them knew at least some of the work of the other, even if only indirectly. For example, with regard to the moral philosophers listed above, as well as the philosophical comparison across time between their systems , in some cases, an historical comparison could be made—as, for example, between the ethics of Plato and Augustine. Augustine certainly knew something of Plato’s ideas on ethics, though it is very unlikely that he had read, even in translation, the whole of any text actually written by him. Such historical comparison would begin from whatever textual connections were to be found, many of them indirect, but would not limit itself to considering the explicit remarks in Augustine about Plato’s ethics. Rather, it would attempt to chart which parts of Platonic moral thought Augustine knew and how, and then to discern how he reacted to them, borrowing, adapting , rejecting. There would, of course, be an element of uncertainty, 92   a b e l a r d ’ s p a s t a n d a b e l a r d ’ s f u t u r e and sometimes the most that can be said is that Augustine was thinking in a Platonic manner, which perhaps went back, directly or indirectly, to Plato himself. Abelard’s relation to his most important sources from the more distant past offers many opportunities for the study of textual connections , since most of his logic is explicitly or implicitly a commentary on texts by Aristotle, Porphyry and Boethius, often involving an intricate relationship with Boethius’s own...


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