Dominicus Gundissalinus and the Introduction of Metaphysics into the Latin West

By Fidora, Alexander | The Review of Metaphysics, June 2013 | Go to article overview

Dominicus Gundissalinus and the Introduction of Metaphysics into the Latin West


Fidora, Alexander, The Review of Metaphysics


TWO REASONS EXPLAIN the paramount importance of Dominicus Gundissalinus (ca. 1110-1190) for the history of metaphysics on the eve of the Latin reception of Aristotle.

First of all, in the mid-twelfth century, the scholar from Toledo translated a number of key texts on metaphysics from Arabic into Latin, namely, Ibn Gabirors Fons vitae, al-Ghazali's Summa theoricae philosophiae, that is, his Maqasid al-falasifa, and above all Avicenna's Liber de philosophia prima sive scientia divina, which forms part of his Kitab al-shifa'.

In the second place, Gundissalinus discussed specific metaphysical problems in his own independent works such as his treatise De processione mundi, which offers an impressive description of cosmological principles in response to Latin and Arabic-Jewish authors, (1) and his De unitate et uno. In this short text, which for a long time had been attributed to Boethius, Gundissalinus developed his own solution to the problem of form and matter, following Ibn Gabirol. (2)

It is in his influential encyclopedia De divisione philosophiae, (3) however, that Gundissalinus presents his most systematic discussion of metaphysics as a science. Here, he emphasizes the difference between theological and philosophical knowledge and then exclusively deals with the latter. (4) Arabic and Jewish authorities form the backdrop to this text as well, namely al-Farabi, Avicenna, and al-Ghazali, whose works the author combines with the relevant sources of the Latin tradition, above all Boethius's philosophy. In the history of philosophy, De divisione philosophiae constitutes a hallmark text, primarily because Gundissalinus introduced in this synthesis a number of new sciences into Latin philosophy. These include politics, for example, but above all metaphysics. Thus, Gundissalinus was the first Latin thinker who treated metaphysics as the name of a discipline rather than of a text. A characteristic feature of his account of the sciences, and in particular of that of metaphysics, is the great attention paid to reconciling the autonomy of the different sciences with the mutual connections amongst them. (5)

Accordingly, the following discussion is divided into three parts: firstly, an exploration of the history of the relevant terminology will show how, for the first time, Gundissalinus interpreted metaphysics as the name of a discipline (1); in a second step, I will analyze the epistemological foundation of metaphysics as an autonomous science in the chapter on metaphysics in De divisione philosophiae, paying particular attention to Gundissalinus's criticism of twelfth-century philosophical theology (2); thirdly, I will examine a key text of the treatise on the division of the sciences, which has received little attention so far: Gundissalinus included a translation of a passage from Avicenna's Kitab al-burhan in his treatise, which discusses the difficult matter of the subordination of the philosophical disciplines under metaphysics (3).

As is well known, Andronicus of Rhodes first introduced the title [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] in his edition of the Corpus aristotelicum, which he prepared in the middle of the first century B.C. In this collection, the title refers to those books which Aristotle had associated with the term "wisdom," the first philosophy or philosophical theology. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] thus initially marked the bibliographical place of a collection of texts which in the edition of Andronicus of Rhodes followed the books of the Physics.

The late antique Greek tradition, ranging from Alexander of Aphrodisias to Themistius and Ammonius, followed this bibliographical denomination. Furthermore, the expression [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] extended its influence beyond Greek literature. In Latin culture as well as among the Arabic falasifa, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] continued to refer to that which follows the Physics in the editorial tradition. …

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