6. Abelard and Contemporary
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167 c h a p t e r s i x h Abelard and Contemporary Metaphysics This chapter is about one side of Abelard’s metaphysics: his ontology , that is to say, his account of how objects in the world are made up. It looks, especially, at how Abelard’s ideas in this field have been linked by interpreters to discussions by contemporary metaphysicians . Is he some kind of trope theorist?1 Does he give Aristotelian thinking a decidedly modern, materialist and reductionist twist? But the chapter’s purpose extends beyond the methodological. It begins with a general presentation of the ontology found in the Dialectica and the Logica ingredientibus, which summarizes, clarifies and, where necessary, corrects what I have written before. In weighing up the case for linking Abelard with trope theory and criticizing the most influential contemporary interpretation of his metaphysics, a reductionist one, the next two sections present further evidence for the reading presented in the first section and add detail to it. The final section argues that, although the reductive interpretation of the Dialectica and Logica ingredientibus is wrong, Abelard did in fact go on to develop his ontology in a limitedly reductive manner. It thus 168   a b e l a r d a n d o u r p r e s e n t­ illustrates the value, as argued in chapter 1, of allowing for development in Abelard’s thought over time in order to understand it. On What There Is: A Sketch of Abelard’s Views Thinkers in the early twelfth-century Paris schools based their account of the fundamental constituents of the world mainly on two sources: Aristotle’s Categories and Porphyry’s Isagoge. It may seem surprising that two logical textbooks should be sources for metaphysics , but then these thinkers were primarily logicians, and, in any case, no ancient metaphysical writings were available. Abelard followed his contemporaries in making these two texts by Porphyry and Aristotle the basis for his thought about what there is. Although, as will become clear, he was very willing to develop his own trains of thought, his starting point was an extremely scrupulous regard for the text of the Isagoge and the Categories, which led to a willingness to question, though always respectfully, the interpretations of their authoritative commentator, Boethius. At the beginning of the Categories, Aristotle distinguishes between things said with and without combination (complexio): ‘man runs’ as opposed to ‘man’ and ‘runs’. He then proposes a fourfold division of ‘those things which exist’, using the notions of what are ‘said of a subject’ (de subiecto dicuntur) and what are ‘in a subject’ (in subiecto sunt), and their negations. He gives no further explanation of what is meant by ‘said of a subject’, but he describes that which is in a subject as being ‘in something, not as a part, and not able to exist without that in which it is.’2 The divisions are exemplified as follows. Man is said of a subject, a certain man, but is not in a subject . A certain knowledge of grammar is in a subject, the soul, but is not said of a subject. Knowledge is both in a subject, the soul, and said of a subject, knowledge of grammar. And this man or that horse is neither in nor said of a subject.3 The text of the Categories, which starts from a discussion of language and uses the term ‘said of’ but says it is talking about ‘those things which exist’, leaves interpreters uncertain whether the four- Abelard and Contemporary Metaphysics  169 fold division it is to be taken as of words, things or a mixture of the two. Boethius considers this division to be, in the first place, of words, but he takes it straightforwardly to reflect the way in which the things to which they refer are divided. He believes that there are things of each of the four types it distinguishes and that between them they include all things—just as all things, he considers, are included in Aristotle’s more detailed scheme of categories: substance and nine categories of accident: Here Aristotle collects the multitude of all words [sermones] into a very small division. . . . For every thing is either substance, or quantity, or quality, relation [ad aliquid], or doing or being-doneto , or when, or where, or having or posture [situs]. Concerning which there will also be the same number of the words which signify these things. And this is the...