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The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste (review)

From: Journal of the History of Philosophy
Volume 21, Number 3, July 1983
pp. 400-402 | 10.1353/hph.1983.0070

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400 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY In "Infinite Indivisibles and Continuity in Fourteenth-Century Theories of Al- teration" Edith Dudley Sylla reflects on the problems which alteration of qualities brings to Aristotle's definition of continuity as exemplified in treatises of Walter Burley and Richard Kilvington. Calvin G. Normore concentrates also upon Walter Burley in "Walter Burley on Continuity" but largely from the perspective of his (and Aristotle's) difference from Dedekind. In "Continuity, Contradiction and Change" Norman Kretzmann distinguishes between the "Quasi-Aristotelianism" of Henry of Ghent, Hugh of Newcastle, John Baconthorpe and Landulf Caraccioli and the ortho- dox "Aristotelianism" of Francis of Marchia, John the Canon (see 275 ) and Richard Kilvington (284ff.). This latter proves to be an orthodox Aristotelian "by devising apparent paradoxes involving simultaneous contradictories in the temporal interval beginning at the instant of transition and adapting the elements of the Aristotelian analysis to the resolution of those paradoxes" (296) . In the final chapter Paul Vincent Spade takes a more benign view than does Kretzmann on "Quasi-Aristotelianism" by arguing that although such a position is neither "authentically Aristotelian doctrine" nor is it true, still it is "more interesting, and perhaps less bizarre, than it first appears to be" (299) . The volume ends with Appendices (3o9-34o) of translations of key passages from Aristotle, Burley and Kilvington, a bibliography and index. Obviously, no seri- ous student of the history of science, mathematics, logic, philosophy and theology should ignore this technical and capably edited volume. LEo SW~EN~V, S.J. Loyola University of Chicago James McEvoy. The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste. New York: The Clarendon Press; Oxford University Press, 1982. Pp. xvii + 56o. $74.oo. McEvoy aims to assess the philosophical contribution to medieval thought of this remarkable, intellectually original and saintly Bishop of Lincoln. As first recorded chancellor of the University of Oxford, itself a monument to the man, he was largely responsible for its mathematical-scientific orientation as well as introducing Aris- totle's libri naturales (prohibited at Paris from 121o to J255) to the official syllabus of studies. During the twenty years he taught theology at Oxford, he welcomed the newly founded mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans who honored him as the founder of their school at Oxford. As the author points out: "It should cause no surprise to find Grosseteste spent considerable time in writing commentaries on Aristotle during his busiest academic years, around 1228 to 1232 , for throughout the thirteenth century it was the theologians and not the more youthful masters of arts who turned out much of the superior sort of philosophical commentary." Surpris- ingly, it was Aristotle's meteorological writings that first interested the theologian and served as the model of his own original speculation set forth especially in his philo- sophical masterpiece, De luce. After an illuminating "Portrait of Robert Grosseteste," the author divides his BOOK REVIEWS 4ol meticulous study into three further parts, entitled fittingly, in view of the centrality of Grosseteste's "light metaphysics," "The Angelic Light," "The Light of Nature" and "The Light of Intelligence." The first concerns the philosophers' "Intelligences" (God and the angels) who played an astrophysical role in scientific theories of celestial mechanics. McEvoy analyzes Grosseteste's De lntelligentiis, Hexaemeron, and his commentary on Pseudo- Dionysius's De caelestia hierarchia in which the philosopher-theologian applies his sci- entific theories of light to explain the first three days of creation in Genesis. The last named work not only contains Grosseteste's theories of God and the "planet movers," but also all the essential elements of his mature conception of man's constitution. Fortunately having access to the original Greek manuscript Grosseteste used in trans- lating Pseudo-Dionysius's Celestial Hierarchy, McEvoy is able to spell out in interesting detail the unique merits of this translator and commentator, whose output in this field alone would deservedly win him the sobriquet of "The Medieval Erasmus." In the portion captioned "The Light of Nature," the author, after a detailed review of the content of De luce, challenges the widely accepted claim of its neopla- tonic inspiration and makes a plausible case rather for Genesis and Aristotle's De caelo et mundo, the only philosophical reference cited from...

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