Philosophy | Seminar: Topics in the History of Philosophy
P710 | 3392 | 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, 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
Requirements: This is a course in the history of philosophy, 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 an essay-type mid-term
examination (in class) and a take-home final examination the questions for which will be
distributed at the first lecture (so you can be thinking about them as we go along all
semester). I will also require a term paper on some topic relevant to the people and
theories we will be treating.
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 available later.
Presuppositions: Although a knowledge of Latin would certainly be nice in this
course (as in all other aspects of your life - 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
Like all graduate 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 students with varying backgrounds.
(On the other hand, undergraduates should not even think about registering for
this course without discussing their background and qualifications with me first.)
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