Congratulations – and thanks! – to Therese Cory, who has agreed to serve as the president (elect) of the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy, taking over from Tamar Rudavsky. Thanks as well to John Inglis and Sayeh Meisami, who have joined the executive committee. [Subsequently added clarification: although Therese was just elected as president-elect, that makes her vice president for the next few years, and marks the start of Tamar’s term as president. So our most proximate thanks should probably go to Tamar!]

I learned this information from an email sent out to members, announcing the news and inviting members to complete a brief survey about what role the SMRP should play in the future. In completing the survey, I discovered that I have rather strong feelings on the subject, which in a rabble-rousing spirit I thought that I would share here. (I won’t, however, share the link to the survey, since it may be that the folk organizing the survey would like it to be limited to SMRP members.)

It seems to me that there is one overriding thing the SMRP ought to begin doing, which it has not done in the past, and that this is to organize its own conference. Currently, the SMRP hosts sessions at the APA and sometimes other conferences, but these sessions are often poorly attended, and do a poor job bringing together the medieval community. The sessions, by themselves, are not enough to tempt medievalists to come to an APA (unless they have other reasons to attend), and because they are typically scheduled in the evening, in depressing hotel conference rooms, attendance typically feels more like a duty than a pleasure.

There is, however, very little else out there by way of general medieval philosophy conferences in North America. Cornell and UCLA and Toronto all put on regular events, which tend to be by invitation only, and there are a few more specialized things, but the field badly needs an annual flagship conference that would bring the community together. Such a conference might rotate around North America on an annual basis, organized by different institutions, year by year, always with the financial and institutional support, and prestige, of the SMRP.

Some of you will recognize that I write this with the thought in mind of the conference that just concluded here in Boulder. Despite my advertising the event essentially not at all, 70-some medievalists came together for 3 days of non-stop medieval philosophy in Boulder. The success of the event speaks to the need for more such occasions.


Jean Jolivet (1925-2018)

Jean Jolivet, the great French scholar known particularly for his work on medieval Arabic philosophy, as well as on Peter Abelard, died last week. The French wikipedia page provides some details about his career.

News of All Sizes

Here’s the latest collection of news and events that’s come my way:

State of the Art: Dominik Perler

This installment of the State of the Art series is from Dominik Perler (Humboldt University, Berlin):

Thanks for inviting me to contribute to this series of posts on current research in medieval philosophy. Over the past several years, I have been quite busy with university politics and research management. But of course, what I am really interested in is doing research, not simply organizing, monitoring and evaluating it. After all, as Boethius of Dacia famously said in De summo bono, engaging in philosophical activity is the highest good. So I am glad that I am now on leave for a year and that I have more time to pursue my research projects. Right now I am working on three projects, going back and forth between them:

  1. What is a human person? What accounts for the identity of a person? And what are the distinctive features of a person? It has often been argued that these questions are distinctively modern questions, raised by Locke and his followers. Medieval authors only had a theological interest when talking about persons (e.g. in Trinitarian or Christological discussions) and neglected to examine the specific nature of a human person – or so the traditional story goes. I intend to revise this story by examining a number of sources, ranging from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, which explicitly discuss the nature and the activities of a human person. My aim is to show that medieval authors focused on three dimensions of a person, which they took to be constitutive: the metaphysical dimension (a person is a substance of a certain type), the psychological dimension (a person has the ability to reflect upon herself), and the practical dimension (a person is able to act and is not just acted upon). The crucial question is, of course, how each of these three dimensions was defined and how all of them were supposed to fit together. This is exactly the question I want to discuss in the book on which I am presently working. My aim is to show that medieval authors considered the metaphysical dimension to be fundamental; various accounts of this dimension gave rise to various accounts of the other two dimensions. Thus I start with an analysis of a variety of theories of substance and then look at the consequences those theories had on attempts to explain reflection and action. Franciscan authors (e.g. Peter John Olivi, Richard of Mediavilla, Roger Marston, William Ockham) play a special role in my story, since these authors paid particular attention to the psychological and practical dimensions. The book is still in its initial stage, but I hope that I will make some progress this year.
  2. My second project deals with theories of cognition. Like many of my colleagues, I used to look at Aristotelian texts, in particular at commentaries on the De anima, when analyzing these theories. But recently, I have become more and more interested in theological texts, in which medieval authors also tackled problems of cognition. What kind of cognition did Adam have before the fall? How does a soul that is separated from the body cognize material things? And how can an angel have cognitive access to material things? It is fascinating to see how many authors, ranging form Peter Lombard to Suárez, examined these questions at great length. I look at their discussions not simply because they are funny and entertaining (the details provided about Adam’s private life are indeed funny), but because they are remarkable from a methodological point of view. In many medieval texts, Adam or angels have the same function as some modern thought experiments: they show how cognition in an ideal case works. Analyzing ideal cases makes it possible to detect the basic structure of cognition that can also be found in the normal case; and it makes clear what is missing in the normal case. Given this methodological function, I am working on a number of papers (e.g. on Aquinas, Matthew of Aquasparta, Ockham, Suárez) that are intended to show how seemingly strange scenarios enabled medieval authors to spell out the structure of cognition. More generally, my aim is to assess the methodological value of theological cases in epistemological debates.
  3. For many years, I have also been working on early modern philosophy, and like many of my colleagues I have become convinced that there was no such thing as a “scientific revolution” or a radical break with medieval philosophy. Rather, we can see a transformation, as well as a partial continuation, of scholastic ideas in the early modern context. I am particularly interested in the transformation of metaphysical What happened to the idea that substances are the basic building blocks of reality? How was the internal structure of substances explained? And what kind of causal power was ascribed to substances? When dealing with these questions, I have been working on Suárez (or to be more modest, on some parts of Suárez’ corpus – reading his work is like exploring an entire continent). It seems to me that it is in his work that we find some key ideas that became influential in the early modern period, for instance the idea that there are more fundamental entities than substances, or the idea that efficient causality is the most basic form of causality. I wrote a couple of papers (e.g. on Suárez’ way of dealing with faculties, habits, qualities and other entities inside a substance) and I want to do more work on him and on other early modern Aristotelians, because I think that we need to turn to these authors if we want to understand how seemingly old ideas gave rise to new theories in the early modern period. Quite often we find not just old wine in new bottles, but also new wine in old bottles.

These are my projects. Now all I need is time and patience to carry them out – and, of course, also constant exchange with colleagues. After all, studying medieval philosophy is a cooperative activity.

Post-Docs, Grants, Summer Schools, Etc.

  • I don’t usually post information about medieval jobs that are advertised at, but Jeff Brower asked me to call attention to the very attractive three-year postdoc that Purdue University is advertising, specifically in medieval philosophy! The application deadline is the end of December. Details here.
  • As the Daily Nous reported a few weeks back, a couple of medievalists have recently won grants of around $2M from the European Research Council.
    • Dragos Calma (Cambridge) won for his project: “Neoplatonism and Abrahamic Traditions. A Comparative Analysis of the Middle East, Byzantium and the Latin West (9th-16th Centuries).”
    • Catarina Dutilh Novaes (Groningen) won for her project: “The Social Epistemology of Argumentation.” (This is evidently not an historical project, however.)
  • Enrique Alarcón is directing a conference this spring: “Inteligencia y voluntad en Tomás de Aquino” (April 26-27, 2018, Pamplona).
  • The Maimonides Centre in Hamburg is organizing a summer school for graduate students on “Sceptical Strategies, Methods, and Approaches in the Middle Ages: Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions” (July 29-Aug. 3, 2018, in Hamburg). Details here.
  • The Lumen Christi Institute is organizing a summer seminar for doctoral students on “St. Thomas Aquinas on Free Choice” (June 24-July 4, 2018, Chicago), and a second on “Truth and Authority in Augustine’s City of God” (July 21-28, 2018, Berkeley). Details here.
  • The Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec (near Cracow) is hosting a conference next fall: “Altiora te ne quaesieris (Sir. 3, 22): The medieval pursuit of wisdom” (September 2-7, 2018). Cfp deadline is March 31.
  • A useful Aquinas resource to know about is the Aquinas Institute‘s online version of their bilingual editions. Everything they’ve published is available free here, in an easy-to-use, searchable bilingual format. As of now, that consists in Sent. IV dd. 1-25, ST, In Job, In Matt., In Johan., and all of the Pauline commentaries. For scholars, the Corpus Thomisticum is still clearly much better, but for students this could come to be a very useful resource.

State of the Art: Rega Wood

Here’s another of my occasional series of guest posts from prominent folk in the field, describing what they’ve been up to of late. This post is from Rega Wood (Indiana University):

I’m currently in the final stages of editing Richard Rufus’ Sententia cum quaestiones in libros de anima Aristotelis, which will be about 650 pages in length. I say “I” despite the fact that my name appears second in the list of editors (Ottman, Wood, Lewis, & Martin), because mine is the last job, preparing camera-ready copy. Jennifer Ottman’s name appears first because she is responsible for most of the apparatus of notes which provides a wealth of information about the philosophers whose commentaries show an awareness of Rufus. Her work allows our edition to introduce not only Rufus but the early Latin commentary tradition on De anima. My name comes second because I’m also responsible for most of the 200-page introduction.

Neil Lewis’ philosophical astuteness and constant attention to argumentative structure as well his great knowledge of Rufus’ hero, Robert Grosseteste, make an enormous contribution.  The brilliant Christopher J. Martin not only reads over and comments on the whole work and offers great insight into Rufus’ text of Aristotle, but also provides me with the LaTeX tools I use in typesetting.  Finally the comments of Olga Weijers, Alan Code, and his student Santiago Melo Arias also improve the edition, especially when we grapple with problem passages.  We’ve also had help from Dorothea Frede, Michael Smith, and Max Etchemendy, whose remarkable recreation of Rufus’ outline of the work can be viewed online.

The introduction has five sections. I begin by introducing some of the exciting topics Richard Rufus discusses.  In the second section I establish the genre of the commentary, its date, and its influence (the last with lots of help from Jennifer).  Not surprisingly, the third section establishing the authenticity of the work is the longest.  Next, I provide an account of Rufus’ views on sensation with particular attention to his understanding of ‘spirituality’.  The introduction closes with a statement of the editorial method we follow.

A summary of the fourth section of the introduction will appear as an article entitled, “Spirituality and Perception in Medieval Aristotelian Natural Philosophy.”  Yes, I know the title is too long. But nonetheless, it will appear in good company in a volume edited by Elena Baltuta: Theories of Sense-Perception in the 13th and 14th Centuries.

Other contributors to the volume are Dominik Perler, Juhana Toivanen, Filipe Silva, Paolo Rubini, Daniel de Haan, Andrew LaZella, Lukas Licka, Andre Martin, Martin Klein, and Mattia Mantovani. Their papers cover not only Rufus, but also Thomas Aquinas, Peter Olivi, Duns Scotus, the Perspectivists, Robert Kilwardby, John Buridan and Jean of Jandun; its “themes range from the singularity of perception to accidental perception, immateriality and spirituality in perception and causation.”

Supposing I ever finish numbering variants that extend to more than one line and sundry other such exciting chores, I will make a push this summer to finish Richard Rufus of Cornwall: Metaphysics, Epistemology, & Natural Philosophy. I’ve long had drafts of the first two parts on his life, works, and manuscripts. I also have drafted the sections of part three on metaphysics, epistemology, and natural philosophy. But I’ve only just begun the sections on logic and theology, where I will lean heavily on Rufus’ development of the formal distinction.  Work on the book is my excuse for not giving a mini-seminar on medieval philosophy at Stanford this year, which I usually manage with help from Peter King.  Last summer Peter and I managed not only to introduce Ockham and his razor but also to check out jazz hot spots in San Francisco.

Of course, even skipping out on my Stanford gig, I probably won’t finish the book this summer. And whatever happens I will have to revise the whole thing.  So lots of work to do, but next year I will have some help from graduate students at Indiana University enrolled in “Richard Rufus and the Scholastic Tradition.” Last time I did this, the students had to agree that after reading Duns Scotus, Rufus looks like a model of clarity and simplicity.

Alas, quite often the Rufus book has had to take a back seat to my duties as Rufus’ general editor. And this year we were fortunate enough to receive another three-year NEH grant for this purpose, owing in part to Rufus’ program officer, Ann Meyer. With a little help from Lydia, Ann answers all my questions about budget and bureaucracy. The 2017-2020 grant will fund work on publishing the edition of Rufus’ 1000-page metaphysics commentary, Scriptum in Metaphysicam Aristotelis. Fortunately, since this work’s authenticity isn’t controversial, it won’t need such a long introduction. At the same time we will begin establishing the text of his Oxford theology lectures.  Medievalists interested in Richard Rufus are always welcome to request PDFs of our preliminary and provisional editions.

The Richard Rufus Project (RRP) website hosts the project’s critical editions of the works of Richard Rufus of Cornwall.  Though we are still hard at work on the project, much is already available either on our website or in print via the British Academy’s Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi series directed by John Marenbon. Our website hosts our edition of Rufus’ Memoriale in Metaphysicam Aristotelis as well as the Redactio brevior of the De anima commentary and much of the Scriptum in Metaph, mostly the Redactio brevior but also a snipet from the Redactio longior.

The site also provides aids such as a search engine of the editions on the site, a bibliography of primary and secondary sources, a biography of Rufus, translations of selected works, and a list of the known manuscripts that contain Rufus’ works, along with the works’ incipits. RRP’s site also provides an overview of the process of creating a critical edition, including brief biographies of the editors.

Another highly useful resource is the list of works that RRP cites in its editions. For those works which previously existed only in manuscript form RRP provides transcriptions. Found there are complete transcriptions of Adam Buckfield’s influential De anima commentary and a transcription of Roger Bacon’s unedited, but almost certainly authentic commentary on Aristotle’s De generatione et corruptione.  Not to be forgotten is Robert Andrews’ indispensable compilation of sententiae attributed to Boethius, but not actually found in his works, Boethius dicit.

RRP’s outreach project, Bartholomew’s World, is an introduction to the world of scholasticism aimed at students of Latin in 6th through 12th grades. It offers a brief overview of some scholastic authors along with Latin lessons based on their works, divided into three sections – topics in Human Science, Divine Science, and Natural Science. Other useful resources include extensive indices relating to etymology, grammar, paleography, chronology, and medieval imagery.  Neither website would be possible without RRP’s webmaster, Eva St. Clair, for whose good sense, wit, and love of all things medieval I give thanks daily — or at least as often as unintelligible directives from computer authorities on high force me to call on her assistance.