Mixing Memory

Medieval Philosophy of Mind

In a comment at the end of the Religion and Science post, Brandon of Siris mentions Peter King as a source for discussions of Anselm’s ontological argument. If you’re interested, here’s a link to his encyclopedia entry on Anselm, and this paper discusses the logic of the argument in more detail.

i-484170002c3a401974ce925521889335-DunsScotus.JPGReaders of this blog might find some other papers by King more interesting, though. He’s written pretty extensively on medieval philosophy of mind and language. Since we’ve already mentioned Anselm, you can start with his paper “Anselm’s Philosophy of Language.” After that, you should check out “Between Logic and Psychology: Jean Buridan on Mental Language,” Duns Scotus On Mental Content,” “Rethinking Representation in the Middle Ages,” “Scholastisism and the Philosophy of Mind: The Failure of Aristotelian Psychology,” and finally, Why Isn’t The Mind Body Problem Medieval?.”

I haven’t read all of them yet, but what I have read I’ve really enjoyed, despite my near complete ignorance of medieval philosophy. I might try to say something about a couple of the papers later, because some of the issues discussed are ones that I still deal with on a daily basis.


  1. #1 chet snicker
    November 29, 2006

    me thinks someone wants to resurrect god.

  2. #2 Chris
    November 29, 2006

    Call me Neville.

  3. #3 Brandon
    November 29, 2006

    Peter King’s works are all excellent (which is not to say I always think he’s right, of course; but he’s excellent even when wrong). He, along with Gyula Klima, are probably the foremost scholars working on medieval logic; and they use their foundation in that to produce some stunning scholarship on other aspects of medieval philosophy.

    One thing we tend to forget is that, whatever the faults of the medieval scholastics, they were master logicians, devoting a hefty part of their education and study to the subject. Scholastic teaching of logic collapsed in the Renaissance due to a backlash against ‘logic-chopping’, after which we went almost back to square one in logic, and had to work ourselves back up over the next several centuries; and it’s noteworthy that it took almost three centuries of all the help of interaction with advanced algebra, calculus, and number theory (none of which the medievals had) to reach the point where we could rival them again in logical sophistication. Medieval logic was a very powerful tool, and the medievals were sometimes able to use it to surprisingly good effect even when operating at obvious disadvantages in comparison with us. The result is that, while the positions of the medieval scholastics are sometimes completely wrong and very often not quite right, and usually for the obvious reasons (lack of experiment, etc.), they are never, ever facile or stupid, and sometimes are quite brilliant in their own way. One of the nice things about the recent revival of interest in medieval logic is that we can start appreciating this more than we have ever been able to do so before.

  4. #4 chet snicker
    November 29, 2006

    and the medievals were sometimes able to use it to surprisingly good effect even when operating at obvious disadvantages in comparison with us

    to what effect? i am aware of the aristotelian renaissance, but i’m wondering of what you speak.

  5. #5 Brandon
    November 29, 2006

    I’m not sure I understand your question; the good effect meant was well-reasoned argument, i.e., the sort of thing you can get when you use sophisticated logical tools even while operating at disadvantage.

  6. #6 chet snicker
    November 30, 2006

    no, that’s cool. i understand what you meant now.