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DFG research project “Idea, Practice, Effect. The Role of Dialectics in Augustine and Its Reception by John Wyclif”

DFG research project “Idea, Practice, Effect. The Role of Dialectics in Augustine and Its Reception by John Wyclif”

Project management: Dr. Therese Fuhrer, Professor (Classical Language and Literature), and Dr. Maarten J.F.M. Hoenen, Professor (Philosophy)

Researchers: Tobias Uhle, Lisa Cordes (Subproject 1, Classical Language and Literature), Dr. Alexander Brungs, Dr. Frédéric Goubier (Subproject 2, Philosophy)

Period: March 1, 2007 until February 28, 2010

Brief description: The starting point for this project is the question of the term “dialectics” and the function of this field in the late antique period and the late Middle Ages, in particular with respect to logical argumentation in the writings of Augustine of Hippo and their reception by John Wyclif. This is a collaborative project by the Chair of Latin Language and Literature and the Chair of Philosophy of Antiquity and the Middle Ages, both of which are located in Freiburg, and each of which is handling one subproject.


The first subproject aims to determine the dialectical theories applied by Augustine and show the development of the Augustinian position through the analysis of dialectical argumentation strategies in the early texts and in later exegetic and anti-heretical writings. The core issue is the question of what role is played by dialectics in general and in particular by the logical processes of arriving at a conclusion, in Augustine’s examination of philosophical and theological problems. Using a selection of Augustinian texts, this subproject conducts detailed text analysis to examine the processes used to arrive at a conclusion, including with the aid of modern formal logic. The subproject also looks at the extent to which Augustine directs the discussion with his choice of premises, most of which are attributable to the Bible, or by excluding certain premises, and leads it to conclusions that are “true” in the orthodox Christian understanding. This is followed by the question of to what extent the choice or elimination of certain statements as premises determines the results of a theological discussion – and, in some cases, ultimately certain dogmas of the theology of the West.

The second subproject studies Wyclif’s concept of the logica Augustini, as Wyclif develops the idea based on the texts of Augustine. Wyclif is one of the few thinkers to deal with Augustine’s logical argumentation as a whole and place this subject at the heart of his biblical exegesis. Wyclif’s writings played an essential role in the growth of the Oxford school of realist thought, which marginalized Occam’s influence, and his polemics against the nominalists were a key factor in the emergence of the “Wegestreit” debate over realism and nominalism. This controversy had a decisive impact for several generations on the content of philosophy and its relationship with theology. The fact that the subject areas that were the focus of attention in this debate were precisely the same aspects that Wyclif understood as the underlying elements in his logica Augustini has gone uncommented until now. Wyclif, for example, saw Augustine’s work as supporting his decision in favor of realism as well as his thesis that philosophy and theology form a single unit. For that reason, this subproject is examining not only the logica Augustini of Wyclif, but also the question of its relationship to the growth of realism at Oxford and its significance to the emergence of the Wegestreit. This enables us to sketch a new image of Augustine, providing clear evidence of his importance not only to the beginning, but also the end, of scholastic thinking.