Monday, March 28, 2011

Review of a New Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy

Here are some brief thoughts on the following new title:

Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy, ed. Lagerlund, 2 vols., Springer 2011. $679.00 (!)

First things first. There is no index or table of contents. This makes the two volumes rather unwieldy and irritating. But, to assuage academic pride, perhaps, they do contain a list of contributors and the departments where they teach. Also, they have modeled the bibliographic entries on the sciences, which is rather ludicrous for medieval authors. In every entry you get items like this: "Francis of Mayronnes (1965)..." or "Thomas Aquinas (1887)...." Enough said.

Regarding the contents, these expensive volumes appear to be an improvement of the Noone/Gracia Blackwell volume, because in addition to author-entries we get thematic entries as well (and cutting edge ones, such as "intentionality" and "philosophical psychology"). And unlike the recent Pasnau volumes, Scotism has been given some representation. We get an article on Scotus by Thomas Williams, as well as articles on William of Alnwick, John of Reading, Walter Chatton, and Francis of Meyronnes. So they got the main figures of English Scotism (but not the French; no Hugo de novo castro). They did not, however, treat such an obvious character as Antonius Andreas (despite the fact that Marek Gensler was a contributor, who has written numerous articles on Antonius). I suppose I shouldn't expect that Spanish Scotism would be represented (in addition to Antonius, this would include Petrus Thomae, Petrus de Navarra, probably Ioannes de Bassolis, Francesc Eixemenis, Aufredo Gonteri). Of course, every obscure nominalist and thomist author was represented, including several that I, lover of bibliography though I am, had never heard of before.

So as is usual with such volumes, contemporary interest and expertise shape the contents. Furthermore, such interest and expertise is in turn shaped by what has been rescued from the manuscripts.

Arabic and Jewish philosophy also receive a lot of attention, which will be the sections useful to me as I am not a specialist in those fields and these articles can serve as gateways to these other thinkers.


Michael Sullivan said...

You have successfully convinced me not to buy this set.

John van den Bercken said...

I agree with your review; still I did not hesitate to buy the set, since it is not just the most expensive but also the most extensive encyclopedia on ME Philosophy now available; in coverage and depth it easily surpasses the Companion by Gracia & Noone, and the SEP (in its present state). The lack of an index or table of contents is very very irritating indeed; so in order to maximize profit in future use I spent a few hours in composing four lists of entry terms: Historical Events and Cultural Context; Subject Areas; Philophers; Topics & Concepts & Terms (a 4-page two-column Word docs); I am happy to share it with you.
John van den Bercken