The Medieval Survey Class pt. III: Individual Readings

Here are the results of our tabulation of the most popular readings in medieval philosophy, based on the 30 syllabi that we received. Syllabi of course vary in the amount of specific information they include about reading assignments, so in some cases we lacked details about the exact readings, and in a few cases we were able to extract no useful information at all.

There are obvious challenges in any attempt to sort readings into groups. In some cases, below, the groupings are fairly specific, whereas in other cases they are exceedingly broad. In some cases this distorts the overall counts, making a single “reading” look more popular just because several different works were lumped together in one category. We did the best we could, with the information we had. (Again, many thanks to Mark Boespflug for his help with this.)

Here, first, are the most popular readings overall, the number in parentheses being the number of syllabi on which a reading appeared:

  • Anselm, Proslogion (15)
  • Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy (15)
  • Avicenna, metaphysics [various readings] (14)
  • Aquinas, Treatise on Human Nature (ST 1a) (13)
  • Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will (12)
  • Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed (12)
  • Avicenna, soul [various readings] (11)
  • Aquinas, God’s Existence and Nature (ST 1a) (10)

I find two features of this list especially striking. The first is that non-Christian material is well represented. (I will write up a separate post about this later.) The second is that no fourteenth-century readings are on the list. Indeed, nothing from Scotus, Ockham, or Buridan even comes close. But this is not because these authors fail to appear on syllabi, but because there is nothing approaching a consensus regarding which works from these authors ought to be read.

Here, finally, is an alphabetical listing of every reading that appeared three or more times in our inventory.


  • Ethics (9)
  • Glosses on Porphyry (7)


  • Deliverance from Error (8)
  • Incoherence of the Philosophers discussion 17, on causality (6 ?)
  • Incoherence of the Philosophers discussion 1, on the eternity of the world (3 ?)
    • Syllabi did not always make it clear which reading from the Incoherence was being used


  • Proslogion (15) [including Gaunilo’s Reply]
  • On the Fall of the Devil (6)
  • Monologion (4)
  • On Freedom of Choice (4)


  • On Free Choice of the Will (12)
  • Confessions (9)
  • City of God (9)
  • Retractations I.9, re. On Free Choice of the Will (5)
  • On the Trinity (4)
    • I find it surprising that neither the De magistro nor the Contra academicos made a better showing here


  • Incoherence of the Incoherence (8)
    • It was hard to tell whether what was being assigned was the discussion of the eternity of the world or the discussion of causality, though since Hyman-Walsh-Williams print only the first, it seems likely most readings concern that topic
  • Decisive Treatise (7)


  • Metaphysics (14) [various readings]
  • Soul (11) [various readings]
    • It was particularly hard, based on the information we had, to sort these readings into better defined clusters


  • Consolation of Philosophy (15)
  • Commentary on Isagoge (6)
  • On the Trinity (4)
  • Contra Eutychen (3)


  • Sent. II., On the eternity of the world (5)


  • Quaest. meta II.1, Is it possible to comprehend the truth (4)
    • Various other readings of Buridan’s made it onto syllabi six more times


  • Wars of the Lord Bk. III, on God’s knowledge of future contingents (4)

Henry of Ghent

  • Summa art. 1, on skepticism (4)

Hildegard of Bingen

  • Scivias (3) [plus one more reading the Book of Divine Works]

Ibn Tufayl

  • Hayy ibn Yaqzan (3)

John Duns Scotus

  • Ordinatio I.3, on knowledge (4)
    • Scotus made it onto roughly 18 syllabi, but the readings were extremely varied

John of Salisbury

  • Metalogicon (3)

John Scottus Eriugena

  • On the Division of Nature (3)


  • Guide of the Perplexed (12)

Nicholas of Autrecourt

  • Letters (5)

Peter Damian

  • On Divine Omnipotence (3)


  • Isagoge (7)


  • On the Divine Names (3)

Siger of Brabant

  • Questions on the Eternity of the World (4)
    • It is interesting how well represented the eternity of the world debate is on these syllabi

Stephen Tempier

  • Condemnation of 1277 (5)

Thomas Aquinas

  • Summa theol., Treatise on Human Nature (13)
  • Summa theol., Five Ways and Divine Nature (10)
  • Summa theol., Treatise on Happiness and Action (7)
  • Summa theol., Treatise on Law (4)
  • On Being and Essence (8)
  • On the Eternity of the World (5)
  • On the Principles of Nature (3)
    • Quite a few other readings from ST, SCG, etc. etc. appear on syllabi, but we could not lump them into groups larger than 2
    • Aquinas’s virtue theory is hardly represented at all on these syllabi, perhaps because of the difficulty in finding the right thing to read

William Ockham

  • Summa logicae part I (3)
  • Treatise on Predestination (3)
    • Ockham made it onto roughly 19 syllabi, but the readings were extremely varied

Coming Events

A lot of events have been announced since I last posted about this:

Also, Doctor virtualis: Rivista online di storia della filosofia medievale has put out a call for papers for its fifteenth(!) volume. The topic of this volume is mysticism. Submission of a brief abstract is due very soon: September 15th, 2018.

Also, as it happens, September 15th is also the deadline for submissions to (at least) two philosophy sessions at the big Kalamazoo conference (May 9-12, 2019):