The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth: Robert Grosseteste on Universals (and the Posterior Analytics )

Journal of the History of Philosophy 48 (2):pp. 153-170 (2010)
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The reintroduction of Aristotle's Analytics to the Latin West—in particular, the reintroduction of the Posterior Analytics—forever altered the course of medieval epistemological discussions. Although the Analytics fell decidedly from grace in later centuries, the sophisticated account of human cognition developed in the Posterior Analytics appealed so strongly to thirteenth-century European scholars that it became one of the two central theories of knowledge advocated in the later Middle Ages. Robert Grosseteste's 'Commentarius in Posteriorum Analyticorum Libro', written in the 1220s, is most likely the first complete Latin commentary on the Posterior Analytics. As the thirteenth century wore on, Aristotle’s account of human cognition was generally set in opposition to the Augustinian-influenced theory of divine illumination that was de rigueur in the early thirteenth century. Although common consensus holds that this pattern of opposition was set already in Grosseteste’s CPA, I argue that the story of the Posterior Analytics’s early reception is, in fact, quite different. In particular, I maintain that, rather than seeing himself as forced to choose between his earlier theory of divine illumination and the “new” Aristotelian epistemology, Grosseteste is perfectly content to blend and bring together the diverse elements of these systems and to present a consciously synthetic rather than adversarial picture of these differing accounts of human cognition.

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Christina VanDyke
Barnard College


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