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  • Individui Universali. Il realismo di Gualtiero di Mortagne nel XII secolo by Caterina Tarlazzi
  • Giorgio Pini
Caterina Tarlazzi. Individui Universali. Il realismo di Gualtiero di Mortagne nel XII secolo. Textes et Études du Moyen Âge, 85. Turnhout: FIDEM-Brepols, 2018. Pp. xl + 426. Paper, €55.00.

Walter of Mortagne taught at Reims and Laon, where he become bishop and died in 1174. He is the author of two theological treatises (De Trinitate and De coniugio) and ten letters. Tarlazzi’s book is a careful study of his realism concerning universals. As the author notes, his views must be reconstructed from indirect evidence. We know from John of Salisbury that he was the main proponent of an original position according to which universals are real items in the world but are identical with individuals. Unfortunately, no work on universals has come down to us that can be attributed to William. Since the late nineteenth century, however, scholars have been able to link Walter’s views as described by John of Salisbury to a position presented in five commentaries on Porphyry’s Isagoge of the first half of the twelfth century—the most famous of which is Peter Abelard’s Logica “Ingredientibus. Scholars have suggested various names for this view (e.g. “status theory,” “indifference theory” etc.). The author of this study proposes to label it “individuum theory” (236–44).

After an introduction mostly devoted to the literature on early medieval debates on universals, this study is divided into three parts. The first is devoted to a review of the biographical information on Walter of Mortagne (chapter 1) and an analysis of John of Salisbury’s polemical presentation of several views on universals in Metalogicon II, 7 (chapter 2). As the author stresses, although the Metalogicon dates from 1158–59, it describes positions of ten to twenty years before.

The second part of this study begins with a detailed analysis of the five extant treatises on Porphyry’s Isagoge that contain a reference to a theory of universals we can identify with the one John of Salisbury attributes to Walter (chapter 3). There follows an analysis of that position as presented in those sources (chapter 4), and of no fewer than 37 arguments raised against it (chapter 5; the arguments are also helpfully listed at xvii–xviii).

The third and last part is devoted to a summary of the main aspects of Walter of Mortagne’s view on universals, to some issues in the secondary literature, to a consideration of the key notion of status (chapter 6), and to a comparison between Walter’s position and those of some of his contemporaries, including William of Champeaux and Peter Abelard (chapter 7). The main results of this study are helpfully summarized in the conclusion.

Several of the main points made in this study had already been made by previous scholars, as the author dutifully observes in her learned discussion of the literature as well as in her very careful and long footnotes. Specifically, the link between the position John of Salisbury attributes to Walter of Mortagne and the realist view presented in the five commentaries on Porphyry’s Isagoge here considered is well known to scholars. It should be stressed, however, that Tarlazzi’s analysis of the extant evidence on Walter’s position is exceptionally systematic and brings to light some elements that had not been noted in previous studies. With remarkable clarity, the author stresses what appears to be the key aspect in Walter’s view that universals are real items in the world and are identical with individuals, namely, that each thing is characterized by different aspects (status) and can [End Page 555] be considered as an individual, a species, a genus, or a category, depending on which of its aspects is taken into account. Even though those aspects are singled out by a cognizer as an object of consideration (attentio), they are nevertheless real features that pertain to a thing independently of the cognizer (246–47). The painstaking attention the author lavishes on textual details often sheds new light on specific points of interpretation. For example, the author convincingly argues that the view of some scholars that William...


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