M.V. Dougherty on Medieval Moral Dilemmas

One of our contributors, Michael Dougherty, has just published a book with Cambridge University Press entitled Moral Dilemmas in Medieval Thought: From Gratian to Aquinas.

According to the preface, Chapters 4 and 5 incorporate revised material from previously published articles. But the rest of the book is fresh work.

William Mann (University of Vermont) has a review of Michael’s book at the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews site. Mann notes in his review that Michael also addresses contemporary discussions of moral dilemmas and that he (Mann) “is one whose views are taken to task.”

For Michael’s own overview of the scope of his book, I present the first paragraph of the book’s Introduction:

Is moral wrongdoing ever genuinely unavoidable? That is, will anyone ever experience real conflicting obligations at a given moment and thereby be compelled to act wrongly? This study considers several medieval theorists who dealt with the question of whether moral dilemmas are part of the moral life. As it is often assumed that serious theorizing about moral dilemmas was first achieved in modern philosophy, only to be refined further by contemporary thinkers, this book analyzes a rather neglected part of the history of Western ethical thought. The common view assumes that during the medieval period all moral theorists adhered to the maxim “ought implies can.” In contrast to that view, this book identifies medieval adherents to “ought but cannot.” Several medieval thinkers not only wrestled with the problem of reconciling the experience of moral conflict with the widespread assumption that no one should ever be forced to do wrong, but they also propounded their solutions with a level of sophistication that may be surprising to present-day philosophers. In light of these overlooked medieval contributions, the history of moral dilemma theory must be re-written. This book discloses that much of what seems particular to twentieth-century moral theorizing was quite well known long ago.

I think Michael’s book will prove valuable on many levels. It will be of historical interest since the medieval treatment of moral dilemmas is still a fairly new field of research. And the study of the handling of the problem of moral dilemmas by these great thinkers – among whom are Gratian, Aquinas, and Capreolus – will surely help us too to reason more intelligently about this issue. In general we can also see this book as another step forward in the recovery of medieval philosophical thought, not for mere “antiquarian” (in Nietzsche’s sense) purposes but as a light to think by in our own time. We’ve come a long way since nineteenth and early twentieth century historians of philosophy denied the Middle Ages’ philosophical relevance.

Gratian on the Web

Postings here occasionally note Aquinas’s use of Gratian (see here and here). Recently while tracking down some items in the Decretum I was surprised to find a wealth of online Gratian-related canon law resources. The 1582 Editio Romana of Gratian’s Decretum and the Glossa ordinaria are available in a wonderful format at UCLA’s digital canon law collection. (N.B.: the Glossa ordinaria on Gratian should not be confused with the 12th century commentary on the Latin vulgate with the same name). Emil Friedberg’s edition of Gratian’s work can be found in a variety of formats (e.g., 1, 2, 3). There are also assorted 19th-century editions of the Decretists on Gratian’s Decretum (e.g., Paucapalea, Rolandus, Rufinus, Stephen of Tournai) on various sites.

What other treasures have I missed?