Philosophy | Medieval Philosophy
P515 | 29794 | Spade

Topic: "History of the Problem of Universals in the Middle Ages"

Contents: This course will investigate in detail the history of the
problem of universals in the Middle Ages, together with the issues
that go along with that. Such other issues include: (a) the problem
of "individuation," and (b) epistemological questions concerning the
formation of general concepts. Authors to be treated include:
Porphyry, Boethius, Odo of Tournai, Fridugisus, William of
Champeaux, Gilbert of Poitiers, Peter Abelard, Clarenbald of Arras,
Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Walter Burley, Walter
Chatton, and William of Ockham. Other such household names will be
treated in passing, and of course the ghosts of Plato and Aristotle
will haunt the classroom all semester. The discussion will stress
the historical facts and details about these people and their views
(oh yes, lots and lots of facts and details!), as well as their
philosophical merits and demerits. I hope to surprise you by showing
that there are plenty of philosophical merits to views that may at
first seem just wild and that you initially have no sympathy for at

Requirements: This course will focus on a number of unfamiliar
authors, which means there are many things to keep straight. In
order to satisfy myself that you have kept them straight, I will
schedule a series of weekly 20-point quizzes over matters of
terminology, points of theory and other such nuts and bolts. Having
verified that you know what you're talking about, I will ask you
actually to go ahead and talk about it on essay-type mid-term and
examinations and in a term paper on some topic relevant to the people
and theories we will be treating. Graduate students
will be required to write an appropriately more ambitious term paper.

Readings: There will be three things to buy for this course:

(1) Paul Vincent Spade, trans. Five Texts on the Mediaeval Problem
of Universals: Porphyry, Boethius, Abelard, Duns Scotus, Ockham.

(2) Thomas Aquinas, On Being and Essence, Armand Maurer, trans., 2nd
ed. (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.)

(3) A packet of additional translations and other materials. Further
details on that will be made available later.

Presuppositions: Although a knowledge of Latin would certainly be
nice in this course (as in all other aspects of your life too --
sigh!), particularly when it comes to broadening your range of
possible paper topics, it is not in any way needed or expected. All
required readings will be in English, as will the lectures, for that
matter. Like all advanced courses in philosophy, this one will
presuppose a fair background in philosophy generally. Nevertheless,
I welcome students from the Medieval Studies Program who do not have
any special expertise in philosophy. You may have to scramble in
parts of the course, but you will have the enormous advantage of
already being familiar with much of the medieval context that will
pose an initial obstacle to non-medievalists. In short, I plan to be
flexible and make the course beneficial to a wide range of advanced
students with varying backgrounds. (On the other hand,
undergraduates with no background at all in philosophy should not
even think about registering for this course. If in doubt, please
consult with me.)

Auditors: Active auditors are also welcome. (An "active" auditor is
defined as one who attends class faithfully, does the reading, and
takes full part in the class in every way except for examinations
and the paper. Passive auditors (defined as "dead wood") are invited
to go audit some other course in the department. I will be happy to
help you select such a course in the privacy of my office.

Benefits of the course: This course will make you wise beyond your
years, reduce your time in Purgatory (if any), and guarantee success
in all the things that really matter. It will cure myopia, prevent
balding, mend broken bones and even prevent their breaking in the
first place! What other course can make such a claim? As an
additional benefit, graduate students in Philosophy may count this
as a course in "medieval philosophy" for the Department's graduate
distribution requirements. It has also been pre-approved by the
Metaphysics & Epistemology committee as counting for distribution in
that area. (But you can't count it for both at once.)