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In the Wake of Abelard: Nominalisms in the Twelfth Century



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Noël, Roxane 


Since nominalism is among the main positions within one of the most famous debates of the Middle Ages, namely the debate on universals, and given the usual portrayal of Abelard (1079–1142) as the intellectual forefather of nominalism, the scarcity of the literature on twelfth-century nominalism and Abelard’s influence may come as a surprise. This thesis contributes to filling this gap by examining twelfth-century nominalism in the wake of Abelard. It aims (1) to evaluate Abelard’s influence and (2) to explore the consequences of holding a nominalist position on other viewpoints expressed in the texts. This thesis also acknowledges the recent trend of scholars questioning the centrality of the problem of universals in our discussions of medieval philosophy and thus is not focused on examining arguments defending nominalism on metaphysical grounds. Rather, it explores avenues of discussion beyond the rather narrow bounds of the problem of universals itself. Three texts are examined in this thesis. John of Salisbury’s Metalogicon proposes to adopt a form of nominalism informed by practical concerns, guided by phronesis. The anonymous Summa dialetice artis constitutes a valuable illustration of how a form of Abelardian logic was taught, with language at its very core. As for the anonymous “d’Orvillensis” commentary on the Categories, it reveals how the boundaries between certain schools of the twelfth century might not have been as clearly defined as was initially thought. What emerges from the study of these diverse texts is that, beyond their metaphysical positions, nominalists propose a different way of practicing and teaching logic, which is in part covered by what Marenbon calls the “language-focused approach” to logic. It also provides insight into the consequences of taking a nominalist position as an assumption on which other views are built, beyond the mere confines of the problem of universals itself.





Marenbon, John


Medieval Philosophy, History of Philosophy, Nominalism, Abelard


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
Gates Cambridge Trust