Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Medieval Logic (and Metaphysics for Post-Modern Philosophers)


PHGA 7069 Medieval Logic (and Metaphysics for Post-Modern Philosophers)
Professor Gyula Klima
Fall Semester 2006
Tuesdays, 2:00-4:00

This course will survey the highly sophisticated medieval theories of language and logic, as they functioned in shaping some of the fundamental problems and arguments of medieval metaphysics (such as the problem of universals, distinction of essence and existence, plurality of forms, individuation, etc.). The discussions will focus in particular on the paradigmatic changes in late-medieval semantics that paved the way for the breakdown of scholastic discourse and the emergence of modern philosophy. These discussions will show that understanding these changes is crucial for the proper understanding of modern philosophy as well as the medieval tradition, especially for us who live in a “post-modern era”.

Accordingly, this seminar is going to approach medieval philosophy not as a piece of history, but as genuine philosophy to be taken seriously by a contemporary philosopher. This task is far from unproblematic. How can we begin to discuss in all seriousness the issue of unity vs. plurality of substantial forms in the same individual if we believe that hylomorphism is an ancient myth refuted by modern science? What can we seriously say about the thesis of the real distinction between essence and existence in creatures (and the real identity thereof in God) if we think that existence is a second-order concept, not applicable to individuals, whereas essences are “abstract entities” existing apart from all individuals? How can we seriously ask what the principle of individuation is if we don’t think universals need to be “contracted to” individuals by any such principle?

The course is going to provide an extended argument to show that if medieval metaphysical notions are reconstructed against their proper theoretical background (supplied by the sophisticated logical theories of the medievals, as opposed to modern analytical theories or vague historical intuitions), then they can provide us with a conceptual framework that is unmatched for its comprehensiveness and sophistication in our fragmented “post-modern” culture.

Main topics of discussion include: meaning (signification)and reference (supposition) in medieval logic; universals and common natures; mental language; nominalism, realism and ontological commitment; the concept of being and theories of the copula; the essence and existence of God; the immateriality of the intellective soul and the mereology of human nature; essentialism, nominalism and skepticism in late-medieval philosophy.


P. V. Spade, Thoughts, Words and Things: An Introduction to Late-Mediaeval Logic and Semantic Theory, 1996, unpublished manuscript;

A. Kenny, Aquinas on Being, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002;

Thomas de Vio Cajetan, Commentary on Being and Essence, translated from the Latin with an Introduction by L. H. Kendzierski and F. C. Wade, Milwaukee, Wis., Marquette University Press, 1964; and

A course packet containing selections of texts from medieval philosophers and from the secondary literature.

All texts of medieval authors will be available in English.

A substantial final essay (20 pages)

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