Medieval Philosophy: Augustine, Anselm, Abailard

Note: this session will also be repeated at 3:00. Please register for only one of them.

In this and next month's meetup we will shift from the ancient world, where reason and empiricism guided analysis, to the medieval world, where sacred texts, orthodoxy, and divine revelation circumscribed debate. Although Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus were no longer alive, their influence--particularly Aristotle's--was evidenced by the kinds of questions medieval theologians addressed:

●   What is the nature of god and can god's existence be proven?

●   Is language an aid or a hindrance in understanding god?

●  Are universals ontologically independent or are they just constructions of the human mind?

●  Can god be both one and many?

●  How is free will possible if god has foreknowledge of events?

●  If god is outside time how can god interact with things in time?

●  How can evil exist in the world? If god can prevent it but does not, is god responsible for evil?

●   What is the role of logic and disputation in establishing Truth?

For a detailed summary of the historical background and contributions of major figures, I recommend reading "Medieval Philosophy," a chapter from James Fieser's The History of Philosophy: A Short Survey.

Text for our meeting

Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. Edited by Arthur Hyman & James J. Walsh. 2nd edition. Hackett Publishing Company, 1983. (A third edition is in print but because of its steep price I am not recommending it). Used paperback copies of the second edition are available from, starting at a penny. For this session we will discuss all the works listed under Augustine, Anselm of Canterbury, and Peter Abailard. They total 140 pages.

For those who will be using other anthologies, here are the excerpted works we will be reading: Augustine: "The Teacher", "On Free Will", "Retractations", "On the Trinity", "The Confessions", "The City of God"; "Anselm: "Proslogion", "A Reply to the Foregoing by a Certain Writer on Behalf of the Fool", "A Reply to the Foregoing by the Author of the Book in Question"; Peter Abailard: "The Glosses of Peter Abailard on Porphyry", "Ethics or Know Thyself." Free public domain copies of some of these works can be accessed here, here, and here.

The following resources provide analyses, bibliographies, lecture notes, videos, and podcasts.

Encyclopedic and General Articles

Scott MacDonald and Norman Kretzmann. "Medieval Philosophy." Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online (accessed[masked])

Wikipedia: "Middle Ages”, "Medieval Philosophy”, "Problem of Universals", "Nominalism", "Conceptualism", "Formal Distinction""Principle of Individuation", "Scholasticism""Ontological Argument", "Hylomorphism", "Illuminationism", "Transmission of the Classics"

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Medieval Philosophy", "Medieval Political Philosophy", "The Medieval Problem of Universals", "Medieval Skepticism", "Medieval Theories of Causation", "Medieval Theories of Conscience", "Literary Forms of Medieval Philosophy", "Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy", "Medieval Theories of Practical Reason", "Divine Illumination"

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Medieval Theories of Free Will", "Medieval Theories of Practical Reason", "Faith and Philosophy"

Eileen Sweeney. "Rewriting the Narrative of Scripture: Twelfth-Century Debates over Reason and Theological Form." Medieval Philosophy and Theology 3 (1993), pp. 1-34.

Videos: Anthony Kenny on Medieval Philosophy: Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, Section 4, Section 5


Wikipedia: "Augustine of Hippo", "City of God", "Confessions"“Augustinian Theodicy”, "Just War Theory"

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Saint Augustine"

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Augustine", "Augustine: Political and Social Philosophy"

Ralph McInerny. "Saint Augustine." In A History of Western Philosophy. Vol. 2. Part 1, Chapter 2. University of Notre Dame Press. (accessed online[masked])

"Augustine Quotes" from Wikiquote

Peter King. "Augustine's Encounter with Neoplatonism." The Modern Schoolman 82 (2005), pp. 213-226.

Paul J. Weithman. “Augustine and Aquinas on Original Sin and the Function of Political Authority.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 30.3 (July 1992), pp. 353-376.

Montague Brown. “Augustine on Freedom and God.” The Saint Anselm Journal 2.2 (Spring 2005), pp. 50-65.

T. H. Irwin. “Splendid Vices? Augustine For and Against Pagan Virtues.” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999), pp. 105–127.

Ann A. Pang-White. “The Fall of Humanity: Weakness of the Will and Moral Responsibility in the Later Augustine.” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 9 (2000), pp 51-67.

Charlotte Gross. “Augustine’s Ambivalence About Temporality: His Two Accounts of Time.” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999), pp. 129–148.

Mary T. Clark. "De Trinitate." In The Cambridge Companion to Augustine. Edited by Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann. Cambridge University Press, 2001: 91-102.

Lecture Notes: “Saint Augustine” by Professor Jo Koster, Dept. of English, Winthrop University; “Augustine Study Guide” by Professor Tobias Hoffmann, Professor of Theology, Catholic University of America (focus is "On Free Will"); “Augustine’s Argument Against Temporal Eternity" by Professor Tom Senor, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Arkansas

Videos: "Life and Time: Augustine's Confessions", "Heaven and Earth: Augustine's City of God", "Papa Don't Teach: Augustine on Language", "Help Wanted: Augustine on Freedom", "Me, Myself, and I:Augustine on Mind and Memory", "Sarah Byers on Augustine's Ethics", "Charles Brittain on Augustine's 'On the Trinity'" by Professor Peter Adamson, Dept. of Philosophy, King's College, London (20-30 minute podcasts)


Wikipedia: "Anselm of Canterbury", "Ontological Argument", "Gaunilo of Marmoutiers"

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Saint Anselm", "Ontological Arguments"

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Anselm of Canterbury", "Anselm: Ontological Argument for God's Existence"

Peter King. "Anselm of Canterbury." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Macmillan Reference, 2005.

"The Ontological Argument." Routledge Online (accessed[masked])

Robert E. Maydole. “The Ontological Argument.” In The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Edited by William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland. Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2009: 553-593. (facility with symbolic logic helpful)

Stephen Grant. “On the Ontological Argument.” Richmond Journal of Philosophy 3 (Spring 2003), pp. 1-6.

Lynne Rudder Baker and Gareth B. Matthews. “Anselm’s Argument Reconsidered.” The Review of Metaphysics 64.1 (September 2010), pp. 31- 54.

Scott Matthews. “Arguments, Texts, and Contexts: Anselm’s Argument and the Friars.” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999), pp. 83–104.

Chris Heathwood. “The Relevance of Kant’s Objection to Anselm’s Ontological Argument.” Religious Studies 47 (2011), pp. 345-357.

Gregory Robson. “The Ontological Proof: Kant’s Objections, Plantinga’s Reply."(Posted August 26 , 2012)

Miroslav Imbrisevic. "Gaunilo's Cogito Argument." The Saint Anselm Journal 5.1 (Fall 2007), pp. 1-7.

Avi Emanuel. “In Defense of The Ontological Argument for the Existence of God.” Honors Thesis in Philosophy, Northwestern University (15 March 2010).

Thomas Williams. "Anselm on Evil."  In The History of Evil in the Medieval Age . Ed. Andrew Pinsent, vol. 2 of The History of Evil.

Katherin A. Rogers. "Anselm on Grace and Free Will." The Saint Anselm Journal 2.2 (Spring 2005), pp. 66-72.

Lecture Notes: "Anselm’s Ontological Argument for the Existence of God” by Professor Brandon C.  Look, Dept. of Philosophy, University of Kentucky; “Anselm’s Ontological Argument: An A Priori Proof of God's Existence?” by Professor Danny Scoccia, Dept. of Philosophy, New Mexico State University; “Anselm's Ontological Argument” by Professor Kathryn Valdivia, Dept. of Theology and Religious Studies, University of San Diego.

Videos: "Anselm's Ontological Argument (Proslogion chapters 2 & 3)"; "St. Anselm's Ontological Argument for the Existence of God",


Wikipedia: "Peter Abelard"

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Peter Abelard", "Medieval Mereology", "Medieval Theories of the Syllogism"

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: "Peter Abelard"

Ralph McInerny. "Peter Abelard." In A History of Western Philosophy. Vol. 2. Part 3, Chapter 3. University of Notre Dame Press. (accessed online[masked])

Jeffrey E. Brower and Kevin Guilfoy. “Editor’s Introduction.” In The Cambridge Companion to Abelard. Catholic University Press of America, 2004: 1-12.

Jeffrey E. Brower. "Abelard on the Trinity." In The Cambridge Companion to Abelard. Edited by Jeffrey E. Brower & Kevin Guilfoy. Cambridge University Press, 2004: 1-45.

Jeffrey E. Brower. “Abelard’s Theory of Relations: Reductionism and the Aristotelian Tradition.” The Review of Metaphysics 51 (1998): 605-631.

Peter King. "Abelard's Answer to Porphyry." Documenti E Studi 18 (2009), pp. 249-270.

Peter King. "Abelard's Intentionalist Ethics." The Modern Schoolman 72 (1995), pp. 213–231.

Matthias Lutz-Bachmann."Modern Aspect of Peter Abelard's Philosophical Ethics." The Modern Schoolman 72 (January/March 1995), pp. 201-211.

Kevin A. McMahon. "Penance and Peter Abelard's Move Within." The Saint Anselm Journal 6.2 (Spring 2009), pp. 1-7.

Hyamoli Chaudhuri Plasmann. "On Abelard and the Medieval Problem of Universals." (author is a physicist)

Jeremiah Genest. "Abelard's Theory of Universals" (background of author unknown; form of argumentation is that of scholastic disputation)

Thomas Williams. "Sin, Grace, and Redemption in Abelard." In The Cambridge Companion to Abelard, ed. Jeffrey Brower and Kevin Guilfoy. Cambridge University Press, 2004: 258-278.

Bernie Joaquin Canteñs. "Abelard on Sin." (author is Professor of Philosophy, Moravian College)

Thomas [an Episcopal friar in southern California]. "Sin, Punishment, and the Judgment of God."

Video: "Peter Abelard" (brief biography)

Join or login to comment.

  • JoAnne

    Enjoyed discussing with you all!

    1 · September 20

  • Jack M.

    I am the universe become conscious of itself.

    If you find this a little pretentious, let me be a bit more precise,

    I am one manifestation of the universe conscious of itself.

    Certainly, not the most impressive manifestation, not the most significant, and finally only a manifestation in an obscure time and obscure place within the universe, but nevertheless, one that is conscious of the power, the energy, the vastness, the complexity, the dynamics, the diversity, the amorality, the possible infinite finiteness, and the extraordinarily awesomeness of being conscious!

    August 29

    • Jack M.

      The universe is not just the “something” rather than the nothing, It is the “something” that thinks, feels, and is conscious of itself. It is not merely particles or fields or dead matter, but living, breathing, and conscious matter. It is the most extraordinary consequence of the “something” --rather than the nothing--that exists. As awesome as it is, it may lack at this time the imagination to conceive of just how extraordinary and more awesome it might become. Nevertheless, its potential might be as inconceivable as it was before it became conscious.

      August 29

  • A former member
    A former member

    Medieval philosophy is a monolith and it would be incredibly misleading to dismiss all of it as a "delusion".

    To be sure, the thinkers whose ideas we will be discussing had limitations. That is why they've proposed ideas that appear both untenable and morally objectionable.

    Nonetheless, they developed theoretical frameworks that served as inspiration for the Early Modern Era. It is worth remembering that without the philosophy of the Catholic Church, Descartes would not have had an orthodoxy to rebel against. His commitment to finding the bedrock of indubitable knowledge stems is very much in the spirit of Scholastic philosophy.

    Their ambition to discover certain knowledge was one of the key reasons why God emerged as the centerpiece of their metaphysical inquiries. Although Descartes rejected their proofs for God's existence, the search for certainty was the salient theme of his epistemology. Without the Scholastics, there would have been no Descartes and no Early Modern Era.

    July 25

    • A former member
      A former member

      Descartes was inspired by the Scholastics to pursue certainty. That's the essential point of my post that you've overlooked, the theme of his rebellion against the Church was an issue of secondary significance.

      July 26

    • A former member
      A former member

      Descartes is generally accepted as the pioneer of the epoch of the Early Modern philosophy, what happened a 1000 years before belongs to a different epoch in intellectual history. Even before the emergence of allegedly tyrannical institution of the Church, the concept of God existed. The Church merely created an environment where reflections on this concept could take place in a very organized milieu. Such an environment has been used to promote not only religious rituals and spiritual meditations, but also educational endeavors. That goes right back to my point how the Church created a system of education for the ordinary people centuries before the institution of public education was founded.

      It is becoming increasingly clear that while the Church stymied intellectual progress of our civilization in some ways, it has also expedited it in other respects.

      July 26

  • A former member
    A former member

    It is clear that the development of the Western civilization's philosophy could have progressed in a different direction in the event where the Scholastics did not make their contributions. However, the intellectual metier of philosophy as we know it today simply would not exist. At the very least, the Medieval philosophers whom you have disdained made ample contributions to the study of metaphysics. These contributions gave rise to ideas of Early Modern Philosophers whose ideas appear much more plausible to the modern mind. If these successors of the Scholastics reaped such enormous benefits from a rigorous study of their work, we should be open to the possibility that such an endeavor could be beneficial to us as well.

    Philosophy is not about modern trends and gems of culture, it is very much founded on general principles that transcend all epochs and cultural values. The medieval thinkers clearly can shed light on these timeless ideas in ways that modern thinkers often struggle to.

    July 25

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