Forum on Literature and the Arts

2017 Series: Belief

Too often dismissed, bracketed, or explained away, the concept of religious belief seems to resist serious enquiry. Yet writers of the later Middle Ages produced stunning analyses of belief that distinguished it from mere opinion, and from other kinds of understanding. In this series, we will turn a close eye toward the nature and psychology of belief, asking what thoughts and feelings it might enable, provoke, or shut down; its relationship to spiritual practice and ecclesiastical censure; and the role of faith in the production of scientific knowledge, literature, and histories of modernity.

2 June 2017

‘The Immoveable Centre of Truth: Some Late Thirteenth-Century Discussions of the Nature of Self-Awareness’

Associate Professor Chris Martin (The University of Auckland)

 ‘God as Geometer’. Frontispiece of Bible Moralisée. Illumination on parchment, c.1220‒1230, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.Myles Burnyeat has famously argued that idealism is one of the few philosophical theories not developed in antiquity, and that the reason for this is that there is nothing in ancient philosophy corresponding to the possibility of radical doubt about the existence of the external world that he believes was first introduced by Descartes. In this paper I will show that the distinction between the internal mental world and the external world of the body is certainly available in late thirteenth-century investigations of the nature of self-awareness, and that, although Cartesian doubt is not a feature of such investigations, awareness of the act of thinking as an ultimate source of certainty plays a central role in them.

Chris Martin has taught medieval philosophy at the State University of New York and at the University of Auckland. He has published papers on a wide range of topics in ancient and medieval philosophy, but specialises in the history of logic in the middle ages and, in particular, the logical theories developed in the twelfth century by and under the influence of Peter Abelard. He is presently completing a book on twelfth-century logic supported by a Marsden Foundation grant from the Royal Society of New Zealand.


Image: ‘God as Geometer’. Frontispiece of Bible Moralisée. Illumination on parchment, c.1220‒1230, Öst


Boardroom (Room 601) of the Advanced Engineering Building (Building 49)