Conclusion
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200 c o n c l u s i o n The preceding chapters have raised questions, developed arguments and suggested conclusions on three levels. First, they aim to help readers understand better than before what Abelard thought and the place of his work in the history of philosophy. They also consider the second-order question of how philosophers and historians should go about studying Abelard. And, lastly, they have a more general methodological aspect, in which the case of Abelard becomes an example , and the four dimensions of the title mark out an approach which might be taken to any medieval philosopher, or indeed any philosopher of the past. Abelard’s Thought and Its Place in the History of Philosophy The most striking conclusions reached here about Abelard himself concern his semantics (chapter 5), his metaphysics of objects in the world (chapter 6) and his views about free will and determinism (chapter 2), whilst the two chapters on Abelard’s past and future (chapters 3 and 4) suggest a disappointing but important conclusion about his place in the history of philosophy. Abelard’s views on how words link with things present—as Peter King rightly noticed—remarkable parallels with some late Conclusion  201 twentieth-century ideas of direct reference but at the same time—as Chris Martin rightly pointed out—are rooted in an entirely different tradition, in which the meaning of language depends on what happens in speakers’ minds. This perplexing combination is the result of an approach (linked to Abelard’s way of treating topical inference) which favours intensional over extensional relations between words and things. The reading developed here of Abelard’s ideas about how things are constituted is, in its main lines, not new but a much more carefully argued version of the one I proposed in my book on Abelard over fifteen years ago. Although, at least by the time of the Logica­ingredientibus, Abelard did not think that universals (substances or accidents) existed, his ontology was anything but sparse, since it included myriads of particular accidents and particular differentiae, which enjoyed the sort of counter-factual independence given to tropes by some of today’s theorists; but, unlike tropes, they were seen as structured into the substances which the differentiae helped to constitute and the accidental forms to qualify. There is strong evidence that, by the mid-1120s, Abelard had somewhat trimmed this ontology and now counted only some particular accidents as real. In my previous book, I left Abelard without any explanation to fill the gap left by this change, but here a way in which Abelard might have provided one, by using his subtle distinctions of types of difference , is sketched. The most striking change proposed here to the accepted picture of Abelard concerns his views about freedom and determinism . Although it is widely agreed that Abelard’s whole approach to ethics requires that humans can freely choose between good and evil actions, Abelard is usually thought to have emphasized the inevitability of divine providence—in a way that links him to the­ Stoics—especially because he argued that God cannot do other than he does. Yet this argument, it is explained here, does no more than establish that God has no alternative choices. On Abelard’s view, humans do indeed choose between alternatives, and God must mould his best providence according to these choices which he cannot 202   a b e l a r d i n f o u r d i m e n s i o n s­ determine. Moreover, Abelard’s argument that God cannot do other than he does emerges as a much stronger piece of reasoning than has been thought. In histories of philosophy, Abelard is usually treated immediately after Anselm and shortly before the famous thirteenth-century scholastics, such as Aquinas. The examination of his links with Anselm shows that, however interesting a purely philosophical comparison between them might be, historically the relationship was one of sporadic influence, opportunistic comment and occasional misunderstanding. The images of Abelard the follower of Anselm, and Abelard the mocker of Anselm, are equally misleading: although the two men often thought in similar ways about the same problems, their lines of argument almost always originated independently and usually followed differing courses. Similarly, historians of ideas, from Lovejoy onwards, have placed Abelard’s argument that God cannot do other than he does within a stream of thought that leads from the Neoplatonists to Leibniz . The real history of this...


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