Philosophical Achievements of Peter Abelard

When you talk of great philosophers from the Western world, the name Peter Abelard will surely be mentioned. The name may not be as famous as that of Plato, Aristotle or Socrates, but he has made significant contributions towards the growth and development of philosophical thinking in the world that are worthy of note. One of the best-known philosophers that was associated with the dominant medieval movement of Scholasticism. He was probably made popular by the story of his love affair with one of his female student called Heloise, a story that became classic as a romantic tale.

Who then is Peter Abelard?

Peter Abelard was born in 1079 in a small French village called Le Pallet east of the French town of Nantes, Britanny, France. His father was a nobleman and Abelard was the eldest son of his parents. He studied the liberal arts and excelled in dialectic or logic which was mainly made up of Aristotle’s logic. The then young scholar decided to follow a career part in academics instead of in the army like his father. His quest for more knowledge took him to Paris where he studied under the tutelage of Williams of Champeaux, a famous realist.

The young philosopher was later to postulate arguments against “Realism” for “Nominalism”, an action that will eventually lead to the decline in realism in the Middle Ages. As a young scholar, he established a school of his own at Melun and later at Paris. The school became a success and at age 36 he got nominated as the Canon of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. 

Abelard’s Philosophical Achievements

The significance of Abelard’s achievements lies in the fact that he was the one that put in place in a decisive way than any of his predecessors, the scholastic method of philosophy with the aim of providing a recognized, balanced expression to received religious doctrine. We shall look at some of his achievements further.

  • He helped to establish the rise of the philosophical authority of Aristotle: Abelard contributed to making the philosophical authority of Aristotle popular and fully set up within half a century after his demise. It was during this period that Aristotle’s finished work “Organon” and his other contributions to philosophy were popularized in schools. Before that period Plato’s works were the most popular.
  • His achievements in ethics: The philosopher had contributions he made to ethics outside dialectic which was his major area of competence. Abelard exhibited a significant activity of his philosophical thought in the field of ethics. The thinker emphasized that the subjective intent is responsible for the moral character or at the least the moral value of human deed. His thinking in this regard, anticipating something that is a modern assumption, is outstanding because none of his successors was able to achieve his feat in the area of morals. They could rarely come up with the values and rules of conduct when it comes to holding a philosophical argument, despite having knowledge of Aristotle’s ethical theories.

In Conclusion

Peter Abelard contributed towards the growth and development of philosophy with his great works. He was able to popularize Aristotle’s theory and succeeded in weakening Plato’s views in philosophy. He made contributions in dialectic and ethics, and also had an influence in shaping religious thinking during his day.

Photo Credit: Alchetron