PHGA 7073 Late Medieval Moral Theories
Professor Giorgio Pini
Shortly after the death of Thomas Aquinas (1274), the Aristotelian framework that had shaped moral debates in the Latin West for a few decades underwent a series of interpretations, revisions and at times radical reformulations. For a long time, the questions debated in that period were considered as a sign of the decadence of Scholasticism after Aquinas (a typically infamous example is the question whether God could command to hate Him and, in that case, whether it would be right to hate Him). In the last fifty years, however, scholars have done substantial work to correct this judgment. From an historical point of view, it is often argued that these debates eventually resulted in the new approach to moral questions of the so-called ‘forerunners of the Reformation’ and, ultimately, of early modern thinkers. From a philosophical point of view, it seems that late medieval discussions, with their somewhat extreme scenarios, may still help us investigate the notion of free will as well as some fundamental questions in ethics and the philosophy of religion (such as the contrast between natural law and divine command theories).
This course is designed to map the transformation of moral thought in the period spanning from the end of the thirteenth century to about 1350, with an eye on later developments. We shall focus on some key selections from the works of the foremost philosophers and theologians of the fourteenth century, especially John Duns Scotus (1265/66-1308) and William Ockham (1288-1347). But a few less famous but influential thinkers may be considered (e.g., Henry of Ghent, Godfrey of Fontaines, James of Viterbo). We will deal both with the immediate metaphysical presuppositions of moral thought and with specifically ethical themes. The main topics will include the problem of the rationality of free choice and the relationship between intellect and will; free will and responsibility; divine command versus natural law; happiness; virtue; love (of God, of other people, of ourselves); the moral consequences of the doctrine of justification.
Short presentations by students will be scheduled in the second part of the course.
A paper (20 pp.) will have to be written by the end of the course.
All selections will be read in English. Some familiarity with Aristotle’s ethics is advisable. Some knowledge of Augustine (esp. On free choice of the will) may also help.
The readings will be taken from the following anthologies:
Duns Scotus on the Will and Morality. Selected and Translated with an Introduction by Allan B. Wolter. Translation Edition Edited by William A. Frank. The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C.19972.
The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts. Volume Two: Ethics and Political Philosophy. Edited by Arthur Stephen McGrade, John Kilcullen, and Matthew Kempshall. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001. (NB: the relevant parts will be made available on e-Res, so it will not be necessary to buy this book.)
For those who desire to acquire some background on medieval ethics, the following articles and books may be worth considering:
Kent, B. “Moral Life,” in The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Philosophy. Ed. By A.S. McGrade, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2003, pp. 231-253.
Kent, B. Virtues of the Will. The Transformation of Ethics in the Late Thirteenth Century, The Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C. 1995.
Specifically on Duns Scotus:
Williams, T. “From Metaethics to Action Theory,” in The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, ed. T. Williams. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2003, pp. 332-351.
Kent, B. “Rethinking Moral dispositions: Scotus on the Virtues,” ibid., pp. 352-376.
Specifically on Ockham:
King, P. “Ockham’s Ethical Theory,” in The Cambridge Companion to Ockham, ed. P.V. Spade, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1999, pp. 227-244.
Adams, M. McCord. “Ockham on Will, Nature and Morality,” ibid., pp. 245-272.
McGrade, A.S. “Natural Law and Moral Omnipotence,” ibid, pp. 273-301.
NB: The Cambridge Companions can be accessed online through the Website of Fordham Library.
Supplementary material on specific topics will be indicated at the beginning of the course and from time to time.