Spotlight on Gaunilo

Sometime between 1032 and 1064, a miller named Gualdrich, his wife Richilde, and their three daughters, Adelaide, Dominica, and Alburg, were indentured to the abbot of Marmoutier Abbey in Tours, and a document was drawn up in witness of this act. [1] An ordinary sort of activity — Marmoutier had many serfs, especially from the 11th century onwards when Marmoutier was one of the richest abbeys in Europe — and an ordinary sort of document — with many serfs come many records.

So what’s so interesting about this particular one? It isn’t anything to do with Gualdrich or Richilde or their excellently named daughters, but rather someone else who is mentioned in the document, namely, one of the witnesses, one Guanilo monachus.

“Guanilo”, you, well-versed in medieval philosophy, say. “Huh. I recognise that name. But, surely…”

Surely it can’t be that Gaunilo. Surely it can’t be the one who refuted Anselm’s ontological argument. I mean, he is from the 11th C, but we don’t really know anything about him, do we?

Well, that’s what I’d always assumed; I’d never actually read up on Gaunilo myself. So I did what any self-respecting academic would do, and plugged “Gaunilo” into wikipedia. Turns out, the conventional wisdom is that the Gaunilo of best-island-ever fame was a Benedictine monk of Marmoutier Abbey, in Tours, France. I.e., the guy who also witnessed the indenture papers of Gualdrich, Richilde, and family.

Little is known about the author of the rejoinder to Anselm. The Liber pro insipiente objection to Anselm, written around 1079 [2], is the only philosophical writing that has been attributed to him. (This rejoinder to Anselm is available in English translation from the Medieval Sourcebook [3], but I’ve not yet found a Latin edition easily accessible. [4]) In 2009, Ian Logan questioned whether the author of the Liber pro insipiente was in fact Gaunilo of Marmoutiers:

Neither Anselm nor his biographer, Eadmer, refer to the author of the Pro insipiente by name. Anselm appears to be unaware of the identity of the author, given the manner in which he ddresses him at the beginning of his Responsio: “Indeed you say — whoever you are…’. Eadmer refers to Anselm’s opponent simply as ‘someone’. [5]

Logan traces the basis for the ascription of the work to Gaunilo to a single early manuscript from the late 11th/early 12th century from Jumièges, now at Rouen (MS 539 (A366)), where “Gaunilo monachus Majoris-Monasterii” is given as the author (it is the only early MS to do so). Logan says that “as there is no separate manuscript tradition for the Pro Insipiente to that originating with Anselm at Bec (not even at Marmoutiers), it is possible that this ascription is the result of a scribal fantasy” [5].

But why would some scribe pluck an attribution like this out of thin air? Gaunilo is not a common name in 11th C France (or indeed later), so an explanation whereby the scribe picked a ‘generic’ name for the author of the text cannot be admitted. [6] Why, too, would the scribe specifically locate the author at Marmoutier?

Both of these seem to be unlikely choices for someone to simply make up. We aren’t, here, however, in the position of being able to address the question of whether Gaunilo, the monk at Marmoutier, was the author of the Pro insipiente or not. Let us rest content without further questioning the attribution of the work to this Marmoutier Gaunilo, and instead ask: What else can we find out about this Gaunilo from the indenture records collected in [1]? For the charter with which we opened our discussion is not the only one that “Gaunilo monachus” is mentioned.

He next appears in charter LXVI, dated to 1062, witnessing an indenture record concerning Fulcher of Tours and his sister Agnes. The next year he is mentioned in another document of a much more personal nature, for it concerns the nephew (and namesake), Gaunilo, of Gaunilo the monk (domni Guanilonis monachi nostri), in charter CIII.

In all three charters, the editor of [1] is confident that the “Guanilo monachus” mentioned is the same one — this is not an unreasonable assumption given that Gaunilo or Guanilo was not a common 11th C French name, and therefore the likelihood of there being more than one monk by that name at Marmoutiers is small. (There are other people named Gaunilo in these documents; but those that are identified in secular contexts cannot be equated with the monk.) The fact that the monk Gaunilo had a nephew named after him allows us to find him in a few other charters as well (that is, ones where he’s not explicitly identified by the editor). In charter I of the appendix, again dated between 1032 and 1064, there is a reference to one Guanilo Thesaurarius (i.e., treasurer). Later in the same charter is a mention of Guanilo nepos Guanilonis thesaurarii ‘Guanilo nephew of Guanilo treasurer’. The fact that we already know (from charter CIII) that our Gaunilo had a nephew named Gaunilo makes it almost certain that these two are the same, so we can conclude that not only was Gaunilo a monk at Marmoutier, he had, at some point, held the office of treasurer. Gaunilo the treasurer-monk turns up again in appendix charter VIII, dated 1040-1044, as both a witness and as the “owner” of the charter: after a lengthy opening, we get the phrase Proinde ego Guanilo, thesaurarius Sancti Martini ‘Hence I, Gaunilo, treasurer of Saint Martin’. But here, he’s not the only Guanilo:

Nihardus de Monte Aureo nepos meus, sed et alius nepos meus, Guanilo nomine, filius Gauscelini, nec non et alii duo nepotes mei Cleopas et Guanilo filii Malranni de Castor Noiastro, cum sorore ipsum, nomine Hersindi, uxore Adelardi Barduni.

That is to say:

Nihard of Mons Aureus my nephew, and another nephew of mine, by name Gaunilo, son of Gauscelin, and yet further two other nephews of mine Cleopas and Gaunilo sons of Malram of Noyers, with their sister, by name Hersinde, wife of Adelard Bardun.

This means that in appendix charter XX, dated around 1063, when we find one Guanilo de Montiniaco (i.e., of Montigny) and a reference to Guanilo thesaurarius avunculus ejus ‘Guanilo treasurer his uncle’, this is either Guanilo son of Gauscelin or Guanilo son of Malrann.

So not only do we have Gaunilo the treasurer, who is almost certainly the same as Gaunilo the treasurer-monk, who is definitely the same as Gaunilo the monk, we have a whole bunch of his relatives too. How cool is that?


[1] André Salmon, ed., Le Livres des Serfs de Marmoutier, Publications de la Société Archéologique de Touraine XVI (Tours: Imprimerie Ladevèze, 1864), charter LV.

[2] Jasper Hopkins, “Anselm’s Debate with Gaunilo”, ch. 4 of Anselm of Canterbury, vol. 4: Hermeneutical and Textual Problems in the Complete Treatises of St. Anselm (Toronto and New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1976), p. 97.

[3] It’s a modernized version of the translation published in St. Anselm: Proslogium; Monologium: An Appendix In Behalf Of The Fool By Gaunilo; And Cur Deus Homo, Translated From The Latin By Sidney Norton Deane, B. A. With An Introduction, Bibliography, And Reprints Of The Opinions Of Leading Philosophers And Writers On The Ontological Argument, (Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903, reprinted 1926). Another translation, due to Jasper Hopkins, is available here, along with Anselm’s rejoinder.

[4] The Latin text appears in S. Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia, edited by Franciscus Salesius Schmitt, O.S.B. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, I968), Tome I, Volume i, p. I28, as well as in Jasper Hopkins, A New, Interpretive Translation of St. Anselm’s Monologion and Proslogion, (Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Benning Press, 1986) p. 264–275, and [5] below.

[5] Ian Logan, Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Argument and its Significance Today (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 115-16. Thanks to Mark Thakkar for the reference.

[6] A much more generic choice of name for 11th C France would have been, e.g., Guillaume.

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Call for Papers: Britain’s Early Philosophers (April 1-2, 2019, Durham, England)

Call for Papers: Britain’s Early Philosophers (April 1-2, 2019, Durham, England)

Who were Britain’s earliest philosophers? What were Alcuin of York’s contributions to philosophy? To what extent can we consider thinkers such as Hild, Bede, Cuthbert, Gildas, and Cædmon philosophers? How did philosophy reach Britain? Who was reading it, who was writing it, who was teaching it, who was learning it? In this seminal exploratory workshop, we will be considering these questions as well as other questions such as: What counts as philosophy in the early medieval British period? What are the boundary/ies between philosophy and theology? Is there a specifically/uniquely early British philosophical tradition? Just who was reading Alfred’s translation of Boethius?

In addition to four plenary invited talks, we are soliciting proposals for contributed papers on any aspect of philosophy and philosophers born in or living in Britain before 1000. Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be sent to Dr. Sara L. Uckelman by January 31, 2019; responses to decisions on abstracts will be communicated by February 15, 2019.

For more information, see the workshop homepage.

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Job ad: Professorship for Ancient and/or Medieval Philosophy (Bochum)

Professorship for Ancient and/or Medieval Philosophy

Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) is one of Germany’s leading research universities. The University draws its strengths from both the diversity and the proximity of scientific and engineering disciplines on a single, coherent campus. This highly dynamic setting enables students and researchers to work across traditional boundaries of academic subjects and faculties.

The Institute of Philosophy II, Faculty of Philosophy and Educational Sciences of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, invites applications for the position of a

Professor (tenure) for Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Salary Scale W2)

 to start on 1 April 2019

The candidate is expected to establish a sustainable research program, be capable to produce and publish original research, be an effective teacher and mentor of both undergraduate and graduate students, and engage in institutional and professional service. We are looking for a scholar with an internationally visible research profile that complements the existing research expertise of the department. The future holder of the post will represent the subject ‘Ancient Philosophy’ or ‘Medieval Philosophy’ in research and both areas in teaching. Teaching is to be held in the context of B.A., M.A. and PhD studies in Philosophy and in the context of optional courses of other programs which involve philosophy. Courses for teaching should be offered in both areas, in ancient and medieval philosophy. The willingness to hold the obligatory lecture “Introduction to Ancient and Medieval Philosophy”, to be held in German and on a regular basis, is particularly expected.

Positive evaluation as a junior professor or equivalent academic achievement (e.g. Habilitation) or significant post-doctoral research contributions and teaching experience are as much required as the willingness to participate in the self-governing bodies of the RUB.

We expect:

  • outstanding international research activities in ancient or medieval philosophy
  • the willingness and the ability to combine significant research in the area of ancient or medieval philosophy with modern developments in theoretical philosophy
  • strong  commitment to academic teaching at graduate and undergraduate level;
  • willingness and ability to attract external funding;
  • the readiness to engage in establishing and developing international research activities

Ruhr-Universität Bochum is an equal opportunity employer.


Complete applications including CV, copies of academic certificates, list of publications, list of self-raised third-party funds, and a teaching record should be sent by email to the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy and Educational Sciences of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Prof. Dr. Corinna Mieth ( not later than 5 October 2018. Further information can be obtained from our website at

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Commentary/book review: Virginie Greene, Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy (part 2)

(Read part 1 of the review.)

Part I: Logical Fables

Chapter 1: Abelard’s donkey: the non-existent particular

Greene: “What is the contrary of a lion? Some may say a mouse; some may say a snail. What is the contradictory of a lion? Aristotle may say a non-lion. [1]” (p. 13)

But ‘contrary’ and ‘contradictory’ apply to propositions, not terms; whether ‘non-lion’ is opposed to ‘lion’ contrarily or contradictorily depends on the nature of the propositions they are embedded in; ‘Some animal is a lion’ is opposed to ‘Some animal is a non-lion’ contrarily (taking the proposition involving the infinite term to be logically equivalent to the one with a negated finite term), while ‘Some animal is a non-lion’ is opposed to ‘All animals are lions’ contradictorily (again, with the same parenthetical proviso).

Greene: Footnote [1]: “I am playing here with Aristotle’s classification of negation and opposition, in particular with this distinction between contraries (bad v. good) and contradictories (he sits vs. he does not sit). For a summary of Aristotle’s theory of negation, see Horn, A Natural History of Negation, pp. 6-21.”

Ah. So, “playing with” Aristotle’s definitions. To me, “playing with” indicates a use of them which is non-precise, which is rather antithetical to the logician’s use of a term (and that includes Aristotle). I’m also a bit disappointed that Aristotle himself is not cited here.

Greene: “I will examine Abelard’s thoughts about imagination and the status of its products in the soul…while introducing my own theory about fiction as a mental process of creating imaginary particulars” (p. 14).

Excellent. My own views on the nature of fictional objects tends towards creationism, so I look forward to seeing what Abelard might have to contribute to this discussion.

Greene: “The minds who named twenty-four sorts of syllogisms with names such as Barbara, Festino, or Bamalip…” (p. 15)

Bamalip? Hmm, not come across that one before. Alas, no footnote.

Greene: “In sum, Aristotle contradicts himself by stating that universals (such as genus and species) are and are not things, exist and do not exist. [9].” (p. 16)

Err, what?? Oooh, footnote! Maybe there’ll be some supporting references and discussion there!

Greene: Footnote [9]: “This is, indeed, a simplified presentation of Aristotle’s formulations. On Aristotle and Plato’s thoughts on universals, see Libera, La Querelle, pp. 29-64.”

Oh. No Aristotle.

This first section on Abelard concludes with the recognition that our lives are made up of reference to many, many, many non-existent things — a thesis that necessarily falls out of presentism, that is, the idea that only the present exists. Presentism goes back (at least) to Augustine, who says that “for the past now has no existence, and the future is not yet” (Confessions, Book 11). Nevertheless, language is able to produce meaningful sentences about non existent objects, and these sentences can be either true or false. The question for the next section (and the next part of my commentary/review) is how?

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Commentary/book review: Virginie Greene, Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy (part 1)

At the recent International Medieval Congress earlier this month, I was posting photos of books I’d bought on FB every evening:
I was quite excited about a book I’d never hard of before, in my first day’s haul, looked really interesting: Virginie Greene’s Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy. Amusingly, one of the first comments was a friend saying he’d be interested in what I thought of it, and reminding me that he’d mentioned it to me some months previously….oops! Too many books, not enough brain space.

In any case, I have the book now, and I’m quite interested in reading through it. What I thought I would do is a bit of a live reading/commentary/review of the book on this blog, over the next couple of weeks.

To start off, the basic details:

Virginie Greene, Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy, (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Table of contents:

  • Abelard’s donkey: the nonexistent particular
  • The literate animal: naming and reference
  • The fox and the unicorn: naming and existence
  • The opponent
  • The fool who say no to God
  • The fool who says no to reason
  • Aristotle or the founding son
  • Abelard or the fatherless son
  • The dialectics of friendship

(Plus introduction, conclusion, notes, bibliography, and index.)

Now, on to the commentary!


In the introduction, Greene sets up a contrast between logic, meant to instruct, and fiction, meant to entertain, and who better to illustrate this constant than Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson? It’s no accident, Greene wants to argue (pp. 1–2), that Holmes is a perennial touchstone in philosophical accounts of problems of fiction. (Indeed, as I often lament to my students, if you read classical philosophy of fiction, especially that bit of it interested in questions of language and ontology, you might come away with the forgivably understanding that the only fictional objects out there are Santa Claus, Pegasus, and Sherlock Holmes.) This is due (in part) to the fact that “analytic philosophers do not include literary criticism in their discussion of fiction” (p. 2), so they can be completely comfortable in their very narrow view of what fiction is and what it can contribute to philosophical discourse.

Greene comes to the topic of logical fictions (paradoxes, puzzles, nonexistent objects, etc.) from the side of literary criticism, not logic or philosophy, but to be fair she notes that “literary scholars are generally not interested in what analytic philosophers have to say about fiction” (p. 2). Given this state of things, Greene’s attempt to bridge this gap is admirable, and makes me excited to see whether she’s successful, or whether her lack of background in analytic philosophy and logic will let her down in her analysis of the logical content of the medieval texts. The remainder of the introduction is a summary of the various chapters, each of which is just detailed enough to both tempt me and worry me.

Next post: Chapter 1.

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Call for Papers: International Medieval Congress, Leeds, July 1-4, 2019

What is the Matter of/with Medieval Philosophy?

Call for paper proposals in the area of medieval philosophy for one or more sessions to be submitted to the International Medieval Congress, Leeds, July 1-4, 2019

Sponsored by the Durham Centre for Ancient and Medieval Philosophy

The International Medieval Congress (IMC) is Europe’s largest gathering of medievalists, with the 25th anniversary edition (2018) featuring more than 600 papers on all aspects of the Middle Ages. The theme for 2019 is “materialities” and in keeping with this theme, we are looking for paper proposals to put together a strand of sessions on the topic of “What is the Matter of/with Medieval Philosophy?” We aim to address both questions on the content and nature of philosophy in the Middle Ages, as well as questions about the content and nature of the study of medieval philosophy in the early 21st century. The following topics are representative, not exhaustive of possible paper topics:

  • How is philosophy defined in the Middle Ages?
  • What is philosophy’s relationship to other disciplines in the Middle Ages?
  • Medieval philosophy outside of Europe: What is the ‘matter’ of philosophy in the medieval periods of non-European cultures?
  • Why is medieval philosophy underrepresented in today’s curriculum — and what can we do to change this?
  • What matters in medieval philosophy?

In addition to papers on broad topics like these, we also welcome paper proposals on individual “matters” of philosophy. If it’s medieval philosophy, and it matters, we want it!

The deadline for paper proposals is September 15, 2018. To propose a paper, send the following information to Dr. Sara L. Uckelman (Durham University) at

  • Paper title
  • Brief abstract (100-200 words)
  • Language of delivery
  • Speaker’s full name and time
  • Speaker’s affiliation, including mailing address, email, and telephone

Speakers will be notified of whether their papers will be included in the session proposal(s) to the IMC by September 25, 2018.

Any questions should be directed to Dr. Uckelman.

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What does demonology have to do with logic?

I recently found out (through falling into a research rabbit hole courtesy of wikipedia, that James I/VI wrote a book on demonology. Never one to let a sound and orderly research programme get in the way of interesting side-projects, I downloaded a copy from Project Gutenberg and started reading. Almost immediately my decision was rewarded, for on the first page of the first chapter of the first book, one of the two people involved in the dialogue (namely, Epistemon) notes that “for as it is said in the logick schools, Contra negantem principia non est disputandum” (p. 4).

Oh! There’s logic in here! That’s an…interesting principle. I’m not sure I’ve heard of it before. I wonder where James found it. Turns out, wikipedia even has an article specifically on this maxim, noting that it is a principle of law and logic, which — nevertheless — is not found in Aristotle. The only medieval citation to it in the article is Duns Scotus’s commentary on Peter Lombard’s Sentences [1]. It’s certainly a reasonable principle, but it’s certainly not a commonly-specified logical principle. Interestingly, in googlebooks, most of the citations I found were from the 19th century, though I did find it in one law book from 1749, The Grounds and Rudiments of Law and Equity, Alphabetically Digested, by a “Gentleman of the Middle Temple”.

Of the remainder of the references I found to this principle in googlebooks, there were four from the 17th C: one in Dutch, one in German, one in Polish, and one in English. There was only one dated from before James’s treatise: Christlicher, warhafftiger Bericht auff und wider die Schmecherten und öffentliche Lügen eines Calvinischen Geistes, der sich nennet Georgium Lupichium Pfarrern zu Ambergk … wider D. Nicolaum Selneccerum …, a pamphlet published in Beyer in 1586, where on the final page, we are told “In Schuelen sagt man: contra negantem principia non est disputandem“.

The topic of “logick/logicque” comes up in one other place in James’s text, and is again found in Epistemon’s speech; he rebuts one of Philomathes’s arguments that there is no such thing as witchcraft or witches with the following:

As to the other reasone, which seemes to be of greater weight, if it were formed in a Syllogisme; it behooued to be in manie termes, and full of fallacies (to speake in termes of Logicque) for first, that that generall proposition; affirming Moyses to be taught in all the sciences of the Ægyptians, should conclude that he was taught in Magie, I see no necessity (pp. 21-22).

So there you have it…logic and witchcraft all in one go.


[1] Joannis Duns Scoti doctoris subtilis, ordinis minorum opera omnia, editio nova, vol. 16, Paris, 1894, p. 93.

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