Monday, 6 October 2008

Blackburn's Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy

Simon Blackburn's endearingly idiosyncratic Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy first appeared in 1994 and received an expanded second edition in 2005.  I've just bought the 2008 revision, and I'm pleased to report a substantial improvement in the coverage of mediaeval philosophers compared to the first edition: not only is Peter Lombard included, but the number of biographical entries for the 13th and 14th centuries has risen from 14 to 34.  Specifically:

13th century.  The first edition contained 7 entries: Aquinas, Albert the Great, Roger Bacon, Bonaventure, Ramon Lull, and Siger of Brabant.  The second edition adds 11 names to this list: Alexander of Hales, Giles of Rome, Henry of Ghent, Peter John Olivi, Peter of Spain, Philip the Chancellor, Richard Rufus, William (of) Sherwood, William of Auvergne, William of Auxerre, and William of Moerbeke.

14th century.  The first edition contained 7 entries: John Buridan, Dante, Duns Scotus, Gersonides, Marsilius of Padua, William of Ockham, and John Wyclif.  The second edition adds 9 names to this list: Albert of Saxony, Thomas Bradwardine, Hasdai Crescas, Meister Eckhart, Gregory of Rimini, Richard Kilvington, Nicholas of Autrecourt, Paul of Venice, and Petrarch.

Now, any such selection is bound to disappoint, but the omission of Peter Auriol and Marsilius of Inghen is particularly surprising.  One might also have expected to see an entry for Walter Burley, since he is mentioned in Kilvington's entry.  Stranger still, a new entry on the Oxford Calculators fails to mention William Heytesbury and even Richard Swineshead, the Calculator par excellence.

Those interested in natural philosophy will miss Francis of Marchia and Nicole Oresme, but they will be more galled to read in the new entry on Aristotelianism that ‘the Schoolmen were more interested in defending the truth of Aristotle's dynamical and physical system, which they saw as substantially compatible with Christianity, than in promoting the empirical and scientific method that he championed, with the result that to the scientific revolution of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Aristotle was regarded as little but an obstacle: the author of fossilized and dogmatic scholastic nonsense.’

Still, I suppose such treatment beats a damnatio memoriae.