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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Why do we study medieval logic?


Earlier this week I was up in St. Andrews for the excellent conference on Medieval Logic and Its Contemporary Relevance, a week after coming back from another very excellent conference, on Feminist Philosophy and Formal Logic. The FP&FL conference sparked a lot of thoughts about Who is our audience? that I wrote up for my other blog, but what I found when preparing for my talk in St. Andrews is that a lot of the things that came out in discussion between feminist philosophers and formal logicians are relevant to the study of medieval logic, and why we do it.

Above is a photo of the notes I wrote up for my talk, and I want to use this blog post to recount what I asked my audience: Why do we study medieval logic?

There’s a number of possible answers, of course, and people can have multiple reasons (sometimes all at the same time!). But the answers are all going to fall on a spectrum that has:

On the one end, Pure research/edification: The study of medieval logic is an end in its own right. I feel quite strongly that this is a very good reason to study medieval logic, and it’s one that motivates me quite a bit. There is value in participating in a society where learning for learning’s sake is rewarded, and I think that we should be fighting to maintain such a society: There is no inherent need to justify our study of medieval logic beyond “it is there to be studied”. We study it simply to learn more about it, and that is sufficient. There is no further requirement that we learn from it or that we can apply it or use it or that it has impact in other fields.

Nevertheless, on the other end, Solve all modern problems: We want to cure cancer, identify and block fake news, solve world hunger, etc. Of course, no one thinks that medieval logic can do all this. But we do think that it can do something, that we can do more than just learn about it, we can learn from it, too. But what?

Now some personal confessions: Every paper on medieval logic that I’ve written has contained a paragraphing either (1) explaining why medievalists should care about reading something written in symbols or (2) why modern logicians should care about reading something written in Latin. Every single one. My experience, both in publishing and at conferences, is that (1) is harder than (2), and that this tends to be because medievalists tend to reject formalisms because they are more interested in learning about medieval logic than learning from it, and given that, since they are not versed in modern logical symbolism, having a paper that uses it can prevent them from learning about medieval logic. Broadly speaking, their emphasis is on the “historical” part of historical logic, not the “logic” part of it.

There are a lot of facile answers that can be given for why (2) is easier. One was given in the description of the St Andrews conference itself: Those who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it. This is expressing pragmatic concerns:

  1. Reinventing the wheel is a waste of time: We have a finite about of research energy, we should spend it wisely, doing new things not things others have already done.
  2. Priority: Standards of academic conduct (w.r.t. to plagiarism and attribution, but also with a growing recognition that canon tends to erase certain parts of history, which may result in disproportionately harsh consequences on certain groups of people modernly) require us to attribute results to those who first proved them, and in order to do that we need to know the history of our subject.

But none of this says much about what we can learn from medieval logic — we don’t just study medieval logic so that we can write a proper history of logic. If that were our motivation for studying medieval logic, then we would also be spending more of our time studying non-western logical developments, women logicians, etc. So we still have the question of what we can learn from medieval texts.

More autobiography: I have a relatively stable method for writing papers on medieval logic: I pick an interesting text, summarise its contents, build a formal model, compare it to some modern formalism, and then say something about the result of having done so. What I have to say in what follows is predicated on my own experiences (but people in the audience at the workshop told me afterwards that even if they weren’t in the business of making formal models, what I had to say was relevant for them).

What we (=me) often say in these papers is that we build logical models to offer solutions to modern logical problems (so, not all problems, no cancer-cures, but at least some modern problems), for example:

  • The Liar Paradox
  • Dynamic reasoning
  • Epistemic reasoning
  • Temporal reasoning
  • The nature of logical consequence
  • etc.

But what we can learn from the models depends on who our audience is:

  1. Medieval philosophers/medievalists
  2. Modern logicians
  3. Ourselves

(During the Q&A, someone suggested that I add another category “historians of philosophy”.)

If (1) is our audience, then we have to motivate how modern logic can tell us something more about medieval logic, something we didn’t know before. If (2) is our audience, then we need to be clear regarding how accurate we are being; if our goal is to learn from medieval logic, then this sometimes happens at the expense of the medieval system itself. In these cases we need to be clear when something is, e.g. “Buridan’s logic” or merely “Buridanian logic”. We needn’t be slavish to the medieval texts, if our goal is to take them and learn from them, but when we are not, we must be precise about our deviations.

But if our audience is (3), ourselves, then what do we learn from constructing formal models of medieval texts? For me, the answer is that it teaches me the sorts of questions that I should be asking. The process of constructing a formal model identifies areas where the content needs to be clarified, and where gaps can be found. It’s not so much that the end model gives us an answer to a question but that the process of beuilding the model gives us new questions to ask — both about medieval logic and for modern logic.

A bit more autobiography: At the end of every paper, once I’ve produced my formal model, there’s always a paragraph or two that says “and now given this new temporal operator which the medievals already knew about, I can go forth and SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS“. But this is really a bit of a lie: In many cases, I don’t intend to write that “further work” or “future research” paper wherein in I apply the tool I’ve created to some modern logic problem; and I also don’t even worry too much about whether someone else will do it instead of me. For me, the process of modeling is more important than the resulting model itself because of the ways in which it teaches me things, about both modern and medieval logic.

In conclusion, I think that all three of these audiences (four if you add in general historians of logic) should merit our attention, but what kinds of papers we write, and hence what sorts of things we can learn from medieval logic, and what sorts of answers we can give to the question “why do we do medieval logic” are going to depend on which of the audiences is the primary one for any given project. As I argued in the post linked above, I think we don’t always pay as much attention to questions of audience as we should, and that doing so can help us refine and clarify what it is we are doing when we study medieval logic.

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What problem was Ladd trying to solve?

Last weekend I was at an amazing conference on Feminist Philosophy and Formal Logic (which I’ve written about elsewhere), during which there were a number of papers on the history of women and logic. Frederique Janssen-Lauret gave a paper on women in early analytic philosophy, and spoke about Christine Ladd-Franklin’s contribution to logic.

Ladd (as she was at the time) studied at Johns Hopkins under Peirce but was not allowed to formally receive her doctorate. Her dissertation, “On the Algebra of Logic” was published 1883 (and is available from, and in it, she solved a problem in syllogistic which had purportedly baffled logicians since Aristotle:

The argument of inconsistency
(a\bar{\vee}b)(b\bar{\vee}c)(c\vee a)\bar{\vee}
is therefore the single form to which all the ninety-six valid syllogisms (both universal and particular can be reduced) (p.~40).

I knew a bit about Ladd and her work before Janssen-Lauret’s talk, but this mention of a solution to a long-standing syllogism puzzle piqued my interest immediately — not the least because I wasn’t at all sure what the problem was. As presented, it was a problem about reducing all forms of syllogism to one form, but the idea of “form” here was confusing: Syllogisms are typically spoken of as having mood and figure. Now, “form” here clearly can’t be “figure”, since it is already well-known, and due to Aristotle himself, that every non-first figure syllogism can be reduced to a first-figure syllogism, so the long-standing problem cannot about this sort of reduction, interpreting “form” as “figure”.

If what is meant is, however, “mood”, then the question whether it is possible to reduce all the valid moods to a single valid mood is certainly an interesting one, but I’m not sure that it’s one that has exercised logicians for two centuries — certainly I’d be hard pressed to find a medieval logician who was particularly worried about such a fine-grained reduction, most being content to reduce just to the four perfect syllogisms, Barbara, Celarent, Darii*, and Ferio. So even interpreted in this way, I’m stumped. (And interpreting “form” as something other than figure or mood makes it even more unlikely that the question is one that had bothered logicians for millenia.)

It’s not that I doubt that Ladd provided a solution to some technical problem in the syllogistic — not doubt at all about that — and I’m sure that a precise statement of her problem can be given. What intrigues me here is the social history of the problem: Not what it was but how/when/why did it get recognised as a problem, and how/when/why did people come to think of it as a problem that had plagued logicians since the time of Aristotle?

Looks like I’ve got my next paper topic lined up…

* I very nearly wrote “Dario” here, showing that the distinction between names of syllogisms and names of Game of Thrones characters is not as great as you might think. (Come to think of it, “Bocardo” would be a good name for a roughly-and-tumble pirate warrior, donchya think?)

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