Various Opportunities

Here are some random opportunities and happenings that I’ve been collecting for a while now:

  • Students who might be interested in pursuing a career teaching high school Latin in the United States should check out the Quintilian Society. (Thanks to Caleb Cohoe for the pointer.)
  • For some months now, Loome Booksellers in Stillwater, Minnesota has been running a Go Fund Me drive, in an effort to keep open the world’s greatest bookstore for medieval philosophy and theology. You can support it here.
  • There’s a new open access journal in the works, The European Journal for the Study of Thomas Aquinas. It is a joint initiative of  the Thomas Instituut Utrecht, the Faculty of Theology of Nicolaus Copernicus University of Toruń, and the Saint Thomas Aquinas Institute for Theology and Culture of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Fribourg. Issues will appear annually.
  • The Lumen Christi Institute has announced its slate of summer seminars, and as always there are things here for medievalists. There’s a seminar for undergraduates, led by Russell Hittinger, in Oakland, on Augustine on Self, God, and Society, and a seminar in Chicago, for PhD students, on Metaphysics and the Soul in Thomas Aquinas, led by Stephen Brock. Bear in mind that these programs offer generous funding. Details here.
  • UC Louvain is advertising a one-year postdoc, tied to their project studying commentaries on Avicenna’s Qaṣīdat al-nafs. Candidates must have strong Arabic and the ability to work with manuscripts. I have not found information on the web, but queries can be sent to cile Bonmariage.
  • The SIEPM has just announced an interesting initiative: “a stipend to support junior individual researchers (up to and including the postdoc level) to visit and work with senior individual researchers. Each year, two Stipends are available. The amount for each Stipend is € 1.500.” See further details here. Note that both scholars, junior and senior, must be members of SIEPM. Note as well that, if you’re a junior SIEPM member, and looking for a senior scholar to visit, I’m always glad to have visitors in Boulder! (Having said that, I guess I’d better pay up my membership.)
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Prizes and Other Announcements

It seems I’ve been negligent in posting material — judging from just how much information I have to post.

  • Congratulations, first and foremost, to Jon McGinnis and Billy Dunaway, of the Univ. Missouri-Saint Louis, who have won $1.1M from the Templeton Foundation for a project on The Christian West and Islamic East: Theology, Science, and Knowledge. The goal of the project is “linking Medieval Islamic philosophy to contemporary questions about the epistemology of religion in the analytic tradition.” Scholars working in the vicinity, or who might like to be working in the vicinity, should keep an eye on funding opportunities coming out of this project.
  • Congratulations as well to Han Thomas Adriaenssen (Groningen), whose 2017 book, Representation and Scepticism from Aquinas to Descartes (Cambridge UP), has won the annual book prize from the Journal of the History of Philosophy.
  • The Medieval Institute at the University of Notre Dame is advertising a one-year Mellon postdoc for junior faculty in North America. Application deadline February 1, 2019.
  • The 9th Annual Veritas et Amor Contest is being advertised again, for dissertations or books by younger authors (under 35) on Thomas Aquinas. With a prize of €2000, this is well worth competing for! Deadline of February 15, 2019.
  • The Institute for Anselm Studies is accepting applications for the John and Judy Paul Summer Research Grant, for PhD students and recent graduates working on Anselm. The grant provides a week of funding at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire. Details can be found here.

Now, some conferences:

The Medieval Survey Class, Final Post

Previously, I summarized the first half of my survey course from this past fall. Here’s an annotated summary of the second half of the course. (Readings and syllabus are available on the web here.)

Weeks 9 and 10. Talking about God.

I spent three class periods on this material, spending the first day on selections from Maimonides’ Guide, the second day on Aquinas on analogy (ST 1a Q13), and the third day on Scotus on univocity (Ordinatio I.3.1, using the selection in the old Hackett volume by Wolter).

It’s really quite easy to pull together a manageable selection of writings from Maimonides, and there are a lot of accessible topics there to be discussed — not just the negative theology, but also the esotericism, and various further issues that arise in the course of his discussion. So this struck me as an unqualified success.

The material in Aquinas makes for quite a natural companion to the Maimonides reading, and of course his theory of analogy has as strong a claim to the canon as anything he wrote.

The reading from Scotus is, however, just brutally difficult, even though Wolter helpfully abridges the original text. (John van den Bercken has a new translation of the whole of Ordinatio I.3 (Fordham UP), which I didn’t use only because I wanted the abridgement!) I included the reading because the doctrine of univocity seemed to me extremely important, and to be something that students ought to be able to get a grip on, having read Maimonides and Aquinas. But the problem is not the doctrine itself, but trying to cope with Scotus’s arguments for the doctrine, which lie at the outer limits of intelligibility. So if you put this on the syllabus, you are in effect asking students to read something that you can be sure they will not understand. Perhaps teachers ought not to do that!

Weeks 10-11. Freedom and Foreknowledge.

We began by focusing on the problem of divine foreknowledge:

  • Boethius, Consolation end of IV and all of V
  • Gersonides, Wars of the Lord Bk. III excerpts
  • Crescas, Light of the Lord treatise 2 excerpts

For some reason I had never previously used Boethius in a survey class — perhaps just because I have previously tended to regard late antiquity as not properly medieval. But the students just loved this text (particularly after the Scotus reading!), and of course there is no end of things to talk about. Someone who wanted to take the go-slow approach to the survey course couldn’t do much better than work slowly through the Consolation. (I am unsure, however, of what translation is best for philosophical purposes. I used Relihan’s Hackett translation, but with no confidence that this was the best choice. It was, however, clearly better than some translations I consulted, which absolutely mangled the philosophical content.)

Gersonides and Crescas are of course much later, but they make for a nice contrast with Boethius, because whereas medieval Christian authors tend to try to adhere to a broadly Boethian account, these two Jewish authors take radically different positions. Roughly, Gersonides’s approach is to limit divine knowledge to events that are not the product of free human choice. Crescas’ approach is to curtail human freedom. Both readings are relatively accessible. If I do this again, however, I’ll need to be better prepared to defend Gersonides. The students reduced his position to complete nonsense in about 3 minutes, and I was unable to defend him.

Week 12. Libertarian Freedom

Although Scotus is often impossibly difficult, his writings on free will tend to be somewhat more accessible, particularly in the new and very clear translations by Thomas Williams. We looked at the well-known discussion from Questions on the Metaphysics IX.15, and then at the rather technical discussion about divine foreknowledge at Reportatio IA dist. 39-40. Probably the second of these readings was more than the students really needed, and surely it was more than they wanted.

Week 13-14. Metaphysics

It’s a particular sorrow of mine that it is so hard to know how to convey, in the classroom, the riches of later medieval metaphysics. Even if one is content with the comparatively muted pleasures of Aquinas’s metaphysics, it is hard to know what to assign other than the De principiis naturae, which is not much more than juvenalia, and the De ente et essentia, which is, for all its fame, rather obscure. And I do not think the long and difficult discussions of universals and individuation found in Spade’s popular Five Texts are effective at capturing what is most interesting about later medieval metaphysics.

The texts I am most fond of teaching are the ones I used in this class. First, we looked at Book I of Ockham’s Summula philosophiae naturalis, which offers a systematic treatment of matter and form. There seems to be no agreement, among teachers today, about which work of Ockham’s to teach, but it seems to me this is one of the most promising choices. Ockham clearly labored over this text, and hoped it would be a work of the same significance as his Summa logicae. I am not sure why it has not received more attention. I have made an abridged translation, although, after assigning all of it to my students, I now think it could stand to be abridged further. Although parts are reasonably accessible, other parts are extremely hard and long-winded.

Second, we spent a day on the arguments in Autrecourt’s Tractatus for eternalism — that is, for the thesis that nothing comes into or goes out of existence. Again, I’ve made my own translation of this. (Indeed, I’m working on a new translation of the whole work.) What’s fun about this text is that it’s wholly and refreshingly un-Aristotelian. And although it’s difficult, I think the difficulty is manageable.

Third, we spent a day on Buridan’s views on identity over time, again using my own translations. This is not at all difficult. And, again, part of the fun is that the view is very unlike what one would expect from an Aristotelian. In addition, there’s a real puzzle over just how to understand Buridan’s view. Does he think that almost nothing remains the same over time? That’s my reading, but others think he’s instead offering an account of exactly why many things do remain the same over time.

Week 15. Epistemology

Finally, we spent a day on Autrecourt’s well-known skeptical letters, and another day on Buridan’s increasingly well-known discussion of certainty (including moral certainty) in Questions on Metaphysics II.1. At this point, I fear, the students just wanted to be done with obscure medieval texts, but I do think these two short readings work quite well in a survey course.

Final Exam. Obligationes

Rather than give the students a conventional final, I assigned them the task of mastering the medieval rules of Obligatio, following the very clear discussion of the genre in Mikko Yrjonsuuri’s 2000 paper in Theoria. (Actually, there’s a critical mistake in the formalization of the rules on p. 212, but in the version on the course web page I fix the mistake.) Each student had to pass a one-on-one series of questions. I prepared these disputations in advance, and you can see them here, but I am sure others could do a better job than I have at coming up with ingenious sets of questions. In any event, though, it was a pretty fun exercise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Slow Medieval Course, with Christine de Pizan

Here’s a guest post on the medieval survey class from Scott Williams (UNC Asheville). Scott sent me an email with some of these thoughts, and I thought it was so interesting that I asked him to write it up in a form I could post.

I have been enjoying Bob’s series of posts on syllabi in Medieval Philosophy. When the call went out for these I was teaching a course called “Islamic Philosophy” and so I sent in that syllabus. I also teach a course called “Medieval Philosophy” that’s more general. I want to say two things about what I learned recently in teaching the Medieval Philosophy course.

First, in the past I taught this course by covering lots of authors from different times and traditions (Pagan Neo-Platonists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims). In Spring 2018 I tried an experiment – I slowed things way down. This decision was inspired in part by the book The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy that I had read with other faculty members in other departments. I developed a short list of authors, and students spent more time on those authors than they would have in a standard survey. When the course was over and I read the Course Evaluations, I found that students gave the course the highest scores that can be given in numerous categories. Students wrote that they really really appreciated the slow approach. They were tired of “whiplash” courses. In my judgement, these students came to understand the authors much more than past students had. They came to see how different parts of a philosopher’s texts fit together. It’s one thing for students to learn discrete facts about e.g., Al-Farabi on the moral virtues, it’s another thing for students to see how this moral theory fits into an overall model of the place of human beings in the cosmos and in political life. So, instead of having students read only Part 1 (as found in Philosophy in the Middle Ages) of Al-Farabi’s The Political Regime (also called The Principles of Existing Things), they read Part 1 and Part 2.

Here’s one way, among many ways, that slowing down the medieval philosophy course can look. There are many other authors/texts that can be used. (Note: I teach Maimonides in my Islamic Philosophy Course and in some semesters he’s in the general Medieval Phil. course.) This is but one suggestion:

Required Texts:

  1. Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy. Trans. Joel C. Relihan. Hackett, 2001.
  2. Christine de Pizan, The Book of the City of Ladies and Other Writings. Trans. Ineke Hardy. Hackett, 2018.
  3. Al-Farabi, The Political Writings, Volume 2. Trans. Charles E. Butterworth. Cornell University Press, 2015.
  4. Thomas Aquinas, Treatise on Happiness, Treatise on Human Acts, Trans. Thomas Williams, commentary by Christina van Dyke and Thomas Williams. Hackett, 2016.
  5. John Marenbon, Medieval Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Univ. Press, 2016
  6. Document on Moodle (includes Porphyry’s Isagoge. I am contemplating whether to have 2 weeks on Porphyry in the future; we’d likely read On Abstinence from Killing Animals. This contrasts nicely with Boethius’s Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius on the rationality condition for ‘persona’).

Schedule:

  • 1 1/2 weeks on Augustine, with 1 day on Porphyry
  • 2 1/2 weeks on Boethius (we read all of The Consolation of Philosophy, and, Treatise Against Eutyches and Nestorius (personhood is the main topic; in a forthcoming publication I argue that Boethius likely invents personhood as a distinct general category (it’s in Person: A History, ed. Antonia LoLordo (OUP))
  • 2 weeks on Christine de Pizan (read most of The Book of the City of Ladies, plus selections from other texts- see the powerpoint for references)
  • 3 weeks on Al-Farabi (we read all of The Political Regime, plus other texts)
  • 6 weeks on Aquinas (we read all of the Treatise on Happiness, Treatise on Human Acts with Commentary)

 

Second, in most standard surveys of Medieval Philosophy we find no women taught.  (I found no women in Bob’s earlier posted list of commonly taught authors, for example.) This is not good, and for several reasons. My attempt to address this was to spend a week on the early 15th c. philosopher Christine de Pizan. Many of my students loved reading her. And, her texts allowed me to address some of the social contexts of medieval (esp. scholastic) philosophers. The way I framed her The Book of the City of Ladies was that it is Christine’s “summa” in defense of the feminine sex against centuries and centuries of sexism. I had a very positive experience in teaching Christine and plan to continue to teach her in the future and more of her texts. (Hackett has recently published a new translation of Christine de Pizan; so we have a reasonably priced new text to assign.) (I gave a lecture to a general humanities course recently on Christine, and covered highlights of the sorts of things that I discussed in Medieval Philosophy. I’ve attached the powerpoint here.)

Peter Adamson has two podcasts on CdP, here and here.

I’m writing all this because Bob has been talking to/with those of us who teach Medieval Philosophy, and I thought I should say that we need to teach philosophers who happen to be women too. Not just because they are women, but because they have interesting and important things to say and that we need to learn. My students got more interested in medieval philosophy by reading e.g., Christine de Pizan. By keeping it a male-only affair, I believe we signal to our students that we professors are either ignorant of women philosophers or that we don’t believe they are important enough to teach.

Hopefully in a few years time we will find the most popular medieval philosophy textbook that is assigned in our survey courses to include philosophers like Christine de Pizan. It’s a good idea, and for many good reasons.

News of All Sorts

Here’s a bunch of news items I’ve been collecting for some time now, which means that some of these entries are rather old news:

  • As of this fall, Catarina Dutilh Novaes has left Groningen to take up a position at the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam.
  • This past summer, Francis Feingold won the SMRP Founder’s Award (best paper by a younger scholar) for “Aquinas’s Discussion of Aristotle’s Claim That Knowing Does Not Alter the Knower.” Honorable mention went to Fedor Benevich, Joseph Stenberg, and Nicolas Faucher.
  • Also over the summer, the Vatican announced the opening of the digital Vatican Library, with 15,000 some manuscripts currently available (out of a total collection, in case you were wondering, of 80,000 codices).
  • Scott Williams has compiled an online bibliography for Henry of Ghent. It runs to 156 pages. (Actually, although the bibliography is what Scott asked me to advertise, it’s just one among many very useful things pertaining to Henry of Ghent that are assembled on this web page.)
  • Scott also said: just like Tobias Hoffmann’s online bibliography for John Duns Scotus. So check that out too. It runs to 396 pages.
  • While I’m on the subject of bibliographies, Thérèse Bonin continues to keep her Aquinas in English bibliography up to date, though it now has a new URL.
  • Someone else who’s been doing amazing work online is Jeffrey Witt (Loyola Univ. Maryland). A good place to start is with his Scholastic Commentaries and Texts Archive. But that’s really just the start. He’s working toward a comprehensive initiative that would enable cooperative open access publishing ventures aimed at scholastic texts.
  • For a very different sort of online presence, check out — if you haven’t already — Martin Lenz’s blog. He’s been steadily posting, for the last five months, on all sorts of topics, but especially on the history of philosophy.
  • I mentioned this a few years ago, but since it continues to grow, let me mention again that Dag Hasse and colleagues continue to build an online Arabic and Latin Glossary, aimed to offer a comprehensive guide to the vocabulary used in medieval Latin translations of Arabic texts (philosophical, medical, scientific).
  • Finally, in honor of Thanksgiving in this part of the world, our friends at the Franciscan Institute are offering 40% off all of their publications this weekend: Nov. 23 – Nov. 26. Use the code THANKS18. It’s a great opportunity to acquire some essential volumes in any medieval philosophical library.

Mostly Conferences

First, news about a funding opportunity:

  • Laurent Cesalli has received a major grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation for a four-year project on forms of realism in the medieval tradition as compared to the Austrian-German tradition. He has funds for two postdocs and a doctoral student. The project requires scholarly background in both the medieval and later German tradition, and so language skills in both Latin and German. The project starts in April 2019, and interested parties should contact Laurent directly.

Next, a graduate seminar this spring:

  • The Newberry Library (Chicago) is offering a 10-week graduate seminar this spring on Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and its reception, taught by Ian Cornelius (Loyola Chicago). For students at a great many American universities, there looks to be some funding to support attendance. The application deadline is TOMORROW (November 12, 2018). Seminar dates are January 11 – March 15, 2019.

Finally, various conferences:

  • This coming week, there’s a conference in Bonn on Peter Thomae’s De ente (Universität Bonn, November 16-17, 2018).
  • Journées thomistes 2018 takes place in a few weeks, on the topic Le corps humain selon Thomas d’Aquin : nature et destinée (Paris, Nov. 30-Dec. 1, 2018).
  • Marleen Rozemond and Brian Embry are organizing a conference this spring on Varieties of Unity in Early Modern Philosophy. This is relevant on this blog because the call expressly invites contributions on late-scholastic authors (Groningen, April 12-13, 2019). Cfp deadline is January 10, 2019.
  • Jamal Rachak (Univ. Cadi Ayyad, Marrakesh) is organizing a symposium this coming April on Philosophy in the Islamic West (Marrakesh, April 25-26, 2019). The call for papers deadline is November 30, 2018. Details here.
  • Peter Hartman and Kristen Irwin are organizing a conference, Francisco Suárez: Predecessors and Successors, for the spring (Loyola Univ. Chicago, April 26-27, 2019). Note that some funding is available for would-be participants. Application deadline December 31, 2018.
  • The International Medieval Society Paris is holding an interdisciplinary conference on Time next summer (Paris, July 8-10, 2019). Cfp deadline is November 30, 2018.

The Medieval Survey Class pt. V: Beyond Christianity

Proem

There is a familiar older narrative of medieval philosophy as Christian philosophy. Viewed from that perspective, it is natural to think of the period as running back to its origins in Augustine and forward to its supposed acme in Thomas Aquinas. Although few scholars today conceive of the field that way, the effects of this approach linger in the way we hold onto Augustine (and Boethius) as medieval authors (rather than as figures from late antiquity), and in the way we are still struggling to arrive at a coherent narrative of medieval philosophy after Aquinas.

The effects also linger in the language training we insist on. Of course, there is Latin. But what (aside from English) comes after that? I still remember, as an undergraduate at Penn, holding in my hands for the first time a copy of the old printed Jobs for Philosophers. (Perhaps I should have inserted a trigger warning before now, to let folk know I would be mentioning this old source of so much trauma.) Having already formed the intention to study medieval philosophy, I looked to see what sort of jobs might be available, and found an ad from Catholic University of America, in which they specified that candidates were expected to know Latin, German, and French. This being my first acquaintance with the job market, it naturally imprinted itself upon me, and I have more or less ever since then regarded this as the ideal language training.

It is surely time to say, though, that this is no longer what graduate students in the field should be learning. Even if Latin, for most, is still the most important thing, I think it is now time to tell students that, if they have the ability to do anything beyond Latin, the next language should be Arabic. And I might go further and say that, for students who have not previously had the opportunity to study French or German, it is better not even to take those up, but to put their energies into better Latin and better Arabic. This is a departure from what I have always told my students, but I think it is time to recognize that this is what the current scholarly situation demands.

Back to the Curriculum

My sense of the growing centrality of Arabic corresponds to the broad consensus of scholars in the field that Arabic material belongs on the survey-course curriculum. Of the 30 syllabi we looked at, 24 included Islamic sources, and 15 included Jewish sources. Although I’ve got only my own changing perspective over the years to go on, I feel fairly sure that this reflects a dramatic change in the field’s orientation over the last few decades.  (For those who are shaky on the relation between Arabic and Jewish philosophy, the basic story is that most earlier medieval Jewish philosophy is in Arabic: Isaac Israeli, Ibn Gabirol, Sa‘adia Gaon, Ibn Daud, Ibn Kammūna, Maimonides. After Maimonides, Hebrew becomes the principal language.)

Of course, the challenge of learning Arabic makes it hard for most of us to work on this material at a high level. But it is quite easy to include Arabic (and, more broadly, non-Christian) material into the curriculum. I mentioned in my previous post that Ghazali’s Rescuer from Error is a great text to teach. I just finished a day on Maimonides, which was also great fun. If anything, I would say that there is more accessible material in the Jewish and Muslim traditions than there is in the Christian tradition. For an expert discussion of these issues, see Peter Adamson’s post from last month in the APA Blog. I also wrote a post on this topic a few years back, for this blog, and those old links (including a link to some useful syllabi) are still live.

On the Job Market

There are of course lots of good reasons to include Arabic (and other non-Christian) material in our classes, and you don’t need me to tell you what they are. But there’s one particular issue that might have escaped your attention, which is that the job market is dramatically changing with regard to these issues. Last year there were at least as many jobs focused on medieval Islamic philosophy as there were jobs in medieval Christian philosophy. And the ads that have come out this fall make it clear that this was no fluke. The job at Loyola Marymount, for instance, although it seems to be aimed at an AOS in late medieval Latin/Christian philosophy, explicitly REQUIRES an AOC in “Medieval Arabic Philosophy.” Or consider this AOS at San Jose State University: “History of Philosophy (any historical period). The department welcomes candidates who pursue cross-tradition engagement in doing history of philosophy.” Or this one, from the New College of Florida: “History of philosophy, with expertise in early modern European philosophy and at least one non-European philosophical tradition.” I think we can be fairly confident that, as philosophy departments slowly move to shed their traditionally Eurocentric focus, that we’ll see a lot more of this sort of thing. And that’s great news not just for philosophy in general, but for our field in particular, because it just so happens that we’re working on the one era in which “Western” philosophy was richly engaged with non-European traditions. We need to seize this opportunity with both hands.