Ethics and Political Philosophy. Vol 2 of The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts, and: The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought (review)
- Journal of the History of Philosophy
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 40, Number 1, January 2002
- pp. 119-121
- Additional Information
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Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.1 (2002) 119-121
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Ethics and Political Philosophy
The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought
Arthur Stephen McGrade, John Kilcullen, and Matthew Kempshall, editors. Ethics and Political Philosophy. Vol. 2 of The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Pp. xii + 664. Cloth, $85.00. Paper, $29.95.
M. S. Kempshall. The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Pp. x + 401. Cloth, $95.00.
With the exception of the thought of Thomas Aquinas and John Duns Scotus, late medieval political and ethical philosophy has been neglected. Two recent books attempt to rectify this neglect. One is the second volume of The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts. A translator of this volume, Matthew Kempshall, has also recently written a thorough analysis of the common good as it is discussed in late thirteenth-century scholasticism. Many of the texts discussed in this second book are translated by Kempshall in the first book.
The new volume of translations now makes it possible for the reader unfamiliar with Latin to have some exposure to the medieval reception of Aristotle's ethical and political thought. The selections are deliberately taken from lesser-known figures who are not often translated, such as Albert the Great, Godfrey of Fontaines, and Augustine of Ancona. The selections are carefully chosen to represent a wide variety of literary genres. For example, the selection from Albert is part of his commentary of Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics, [End Page 119] whereas the selection from Godfrey is a Quodlibetal Question, and that from Augustine of Ancona is part of a treatise. Moreover, there are some selections that show developments within a particular genre. For example, a translation from Buridan's commentary on Book X of the Nicomachean Ethics contrasts nicely with that of Albert. The selection from Albert focuses mostly on pleasure, the relationship between the active and the contemplative lives, and the connection between ethics and politics. His discussion of pleasure is philosophically important in light of twentieth-century discussions about reasons for actions. Moreover, these issues are all discussed in at least one of the other selections. Interestingly, Buridan's commentary on the same Book focuses instead on human freedom. Buridan makes fine distinctions that are relevant to contemporary debates about free will. Selections from Henry of Ghent, Godfrey of Fontaines, and James of Viterbo all address the topic of the relationship between self-love and the virtuous life. These passages are relevant to the question of whether there is egoism in ancient and medieval ethical thought.
The volume is a companion to The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy and suffers from one of its weaknesses, which is that the selections can seem arbitrary. For example, the passage from Albert takes up nearly one quarter of the volume. Furthermore, sometimes the representation of an author by only one genre is misleading. For example, although Giles of Rome wrote a Quodlibetal Question (Quod 2, q. 20) that is directly attacked in a translation from James of Viterbo, Giles is represented only by a passage from his treatise De regimine principum. Moreover, the moral psychology of the late thirteenth century is not well-covered, which is odd considering the importance of Bonnie Kent's work in this area.
One additional problem is that there are few notes to aid the reader. Sometimes the translations can be confusing. For example, in one passage "the Commentator" should be identified, since the name can apply to at least three individuals (262-3). More seriously, readers with little background in medieval thought might confuse the medieval referents signified in the translation by the words "state" or "love" with contemporary referents. The translations themselves are clear and the different translators follow a consistent set of guidelines. Anyone who tries to translate some of these passages for herself will understand that some...