Philosophy | Medieval Philosophy
P515 | 22178 | Spade


This will be a course devoted entirely to a single towering medieval
thinker: Anselm of Canterbury (otherwise known as Anselm of Bec),
1033-1109. Anselm is best known as the author of the
famous "ontological argument" for the existence of God, surely one
of the most mind-bending arguments ever contrived. Be he did much
more than that, and was in fact one of the most important
philosophical and theological minds of the entire Middle Ages. His
views were innovative and influential in logic, the philosophy of
language, philosophical theology, ethics, philosophical psychology
and many other areas. We will study all of it.

Anselm is in many respects the ideal author for introducing non-
specialists to medieval philosophy. He presents clear though subtle
arguments with identifiable premises and conclusions, unlike, say,
Augustine, whose views often need to be distilled from highly
rhetorical contexts and whose arguments are sometimes hard to state
precisely. On the other hand, unlike later Scholastics like Thomas
Aquinas or Duns Scotus, Anselm does not yet have the highly
intimidating technical vocabulary that is so discouraging to
students. And to top it off, Anselm’s views are just plain
interesting!

Readings will be from (1) Thomas Williams (ed. & trans.) Anselm:
Basic Writings (Hackett), containing almost all of Anselm's writings
except for the purely "devotional" ones and the letters; (2) Brian
Davies & Brian Leftow, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Anselm, a
thematically arranged volume of articles covering all aspects of
Anselm's thought; (3) additional readings in the secondary
literature, to be made available as needed.

Course requirements will include a series of weekly quizzes over
points of terminology and theory, a full-dress term paper, and a
series of short "discussion reports" over items in the secondary
literature. Undergraduates taking the course under the P401 number
will be required to submit two such discussion reports, graduate
students taking the course as P515 will do four. Undergraduates are
reminded that this course has a pre-requisite of six hours of
philosophy.