Who is Pierre Abeilard (Petrus Abelardus)?

Who is Pierre Abeilard (Petrus Abelardus)?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Pierre Abélard or Pierre Abailard or Pierre Abeilard (Petrus Abelardus) (b. 1079, Le Pallet near Nantes, Brittany – died 21 April 1142, Saint Marcel Abbey near Chalon-sur-Saone, Burgundy), French scholastic thinker, theologian; philosopher of language, dialectics and ethics. French theologian and philosopher, known for his solution to the problem of universals and his original use of dialectics. He is also famous for his poetry and his love affair with Héloise.

He was born in 1079 and died in 1142.

There is quite a wealth of information on the life of Abaelardus. The main reason for this is that he gave a wide coverage to his own life in his famous Historia Calamitatum (A Story of Unhappiness, 1988). Abaelardus was born in Brittany, south of the Loire, as the son of a knight. Pushing aside the legacy of his legacy and the expectation of his family, who wanted him to choose his military career, he turned to philosophy, especially logic, in France. He got into heated arguments with his teachers, Roscelin of Compiégne and Guillamue of Champeaux, who represented opposite extremes in philosophy. Roscelin was one of the nominalist thinkers who suggested that universals are just a set of words. Guillaume, on the other hand, advocated a kind of Platonic realism in Paris that believed that universals really existed. Abaelardus successfully developed an independent philosophy of language in his logic writings. While showing how words can be used in a meaningful way, he also emphasized that language alone would not be sufficient to prove the truth of things (res) in the field of physics.

Philosophy of language and logic

He initiated the “Debate of Universals” and developed an original philosophy of language and theory of logic through his foundational work on logic, Logica Ingredientibus (Logic for Beginners / Commentary on Porphyrios).


In his works Scito te Ipsum (Know Yourself/Know Yourself) and Dialogus Inter Philosophum, Indaeum et Christianum (Dialogue Between Philosopher, Jew, and Christian), also known as Ethica (Ethics), where Abelard puts forth his thoughts on ethics, he constructs the subjective element in human relations and “orients”. It emphasizes the importance of “intention” in the moral character of an action.


Abelardus presented his thoughts on theology in his works Theologia Summi Boni (The Theology of the Supreme Good), Introductio ad Theologiam (Introduction to Theology) and Theologia Christiana (Christian Theology), whose common themes are formed by the “trilogy”, which is one of the basic concepts of theology.

Abelard’s place in the discussion of universals

Abelardus basically thought that everything was particular. According to Abelardus, it is clear that universals are not things/objects. Abelardus argues in Logica Ingredientibus that universals are sounds. While doing this, he watches Roscelinus. However, Abelard thinks that universals are not just words, they also have meanings. It would not be correct to simply call Abelardus a vocalist; because according to him, universals are not sounds; but they are names that have a function like a sign. Therefore, every name has an object to which it refers, and no one can form a judgment by arbitrarily associating these names with objects. Therefore, the name is the expression of a reality that is thought about. Abelard sums up his universal teaching with these questions and answers:

Are there genera and species? According to Abelardus, universals exist only in our minds as concepts. However, they signify real things.

Are universals corporeal or immaterial? Universals are corporeal and sensible as long as they remain words; but they are also immaterial because of their ability to signify many similar individuals.

Do universals exist in sensible things or do they exist outside of them? Universals exist in things as long as they signify the forms of sensible things; but when they signify abstract concepts, they lie beyond the sensible world, just like those in the divine mind.

Abelard himself raised a fourth question: If all the individuals signified by a (single) universal disappeared, would the universal retain its meaning? Would the rose still remain a rose if there were no (individual) roses? Abelard answers this question as follows: In this case, the universal loses its character as a universal; because it is no longer a predicate for many individuals. However, it will still retain its meaning in our minds; because “There are no roses.” It would still have meaning.

Ethics of Abelardus

In his work titled “Abelardus Scito te Ipsum”, he deals with various moral problems. Abelardus, whose place in the discussion of universals is difficult to determine clearly; It takes place in a line that we can call nominalist, which brings the individual to the fore in moral understanding. In this respect, Abelardus, who tried to shape a moral understanding that emphasized the responsibility of the individual and made crime and sin his own problem, can be said to have shaped the moral understanding of the Middle Ages