ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

187. The Philosophy of Alan of Lille. -- Logic is no longer the despotic suzerain, whom certain unbalanced thinkers would have proclaimed goddess of thought. She is pictured rather as a pale young maiden, worn out by the fatigue of prolonged vigils. The most interesting, perhaps, of Alan's logical theories is that relating to the method of philosophy: he would have the pure deductive, mathematical method reign supreme, and would follow out its applications systematically even into the domain of mysteries in theology. In this he is a witness to the ascendant of Abelard, preferring the argument from reason to that from authority, and regarding the latter as too easily invoked in support of contradictory positions.{1} He brings his serried lines of syllogisms to bear on mysteries; but after all he sides rather with St. Anselm, and keeps clear of the rationalism of Abelard; for, even if the mind is capable of discovering motives of credibility, he does not regard it as able to demonstrate them scientifically.

Psychology and Metaphysics are studied with evident relish by the philosopher of Lille. The Aristotelian metaphysic occupies a surprisingly large place in his speculations. He draws his inspiration from Boëthius and differs in many points from the peripatetic ontology current in the twelfth century. Following Boëthius, he propounds the Aristotelian doctrine on the categories, on personality, and on the four causes of being. Primary matter is not the potential and indeterminate, but a sort of chaos antiquum, an actually existing and therefore already informed mass: a theory that has nothing in common with Aristotle's. And the form, instead of being the constitutive principle of the being, is a property or the sum of the properties of the being (126). In regard to the Universals problem, Alan is an anti-realist after the manner of John of Salisbury.

In psychology he glides over the problem of the origin of our ideas. He fixes his whole attention on the nature of the soul. He defends its simplicity, spirituality and immortality against the Cathari (207): thus giving his work a polemical turn. On account of his wrong conception of form he does not admit that the soul is the form, i.e., the "property" of the body: it is an independent substance, united to the body by a sort of connubium or unio maritalis. There is a spiritus physicus which serves as a connecting-link between soul and body; their mutual relations are regulated by number and harmony. It is easy to see how completely Alan's doctrine on the nature of the soul is dominated by Augustinian and Pythagorean theories: Aristotelianism finds no place in it.

The Cosmology of Alan is likewise permeated by the Pythagorean conception of number as the ruling principle of the unity of the cosmic elements and the basis of cosmic order. His Theodicy is Augustinian: but between the Creator and individual creatures he places an intermediary called Nature as the servant of God, Dei auctoris vicaria, a sort of world-soul ruling the universe.{2} Is this a distinct reality, a real being, or merely a poetic personification of the forces of nature? It is difficult to say.{3}

{1} "Quia auctoritas cereum habet nasum, i.e., in diversum potest flecti sensum, rationibus roborandum est." Cf. BAUMGARTNER, Die Philos. d. Alanus de Insulis, pp. 27-38.

{2} BAUMGARTNER, op. cit., pp. 77 sqq.

{3} Alan was held in high esteem by his immediate successors. His works were commentated by RADULFUS DE LONGO CAMPO (1216), WILLIAM OF AUXERRE (about 1231) and others.

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