John of Salisbury

John of Salisbury - John of Salisbury First published Wed 6...

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John of Salisbury First published Wed 6 Jul, 2005 Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/john-salisbury/ John of Salisbury (ca. 1115-76) has an enduring reputation based as much on whom he knew as on what he knew. He studied with almost all the great masters of the early twelfth century, including Peter Abelard and Gilbert of Poitiers, served as an aid to Thomas à Becket (1118-70), a friend to Pope Hadrian IV, an annoyance if not an enemy to England's King Henry II, and died as Bishop of Chartres. John walked the halls of power and learning as few have before or since. John's Policraticus reflects knowledge and insight that could only have come with practical experience; it was considered an authoritative text in political philosophy for centuries. His reflections on the schools of his day in the Metalogicon offer valuable insight into the academic life of Paris just as the works of Aristotle were being rediscovered. Policraticus The Policraticus is John's massive, eight-book attempt to discuss all aspects of ethical and political life. Its topics vary from whether it is permissible to kill a tyrant to whether it is permissible to tell off-color jokes at dinner parties. In the course of developing and elaborating his ideas, John rarely develops an explicit argument. Instead, he presents litanies of exempla, excerpts from classical and sacred authorities. The use of exempla is the practical embodiment of John's Academic skepticism and probabilism: because he does not wish to appear to pass dogmatic judgment on doubtful questions, he lines up the pronouncements of the wise in support. By illustrating that several wise men hold an opinion, John can claim that the rest of us should agree and be led to the same probable conclusions. While in many cases the intended conclusion is fairly obvious, not all of John's exempla have a clear point. Where John presents several exempla under one heading, it is not always obvious how they might even be consistent. For this reason, John's style has been likened to that of Peter Abelard in Sic et Non . Like Abelard, John has collected various exempla on particular issues. They all serve the purpose of advancing John's argument, but it is up to the reader to discover how (Von Moos 1984). John's commitment to authority rather than novel argument and to exempla rather than explication is so central to John's conception of his purpose that when his ideas are truly novel he invents a source: Plutarch's “Institutes of Trajan”. Plutarch was a widely respected classical author and Trajan (30-117) was the Roman Emperor of such legendary good character that he was said to be the only pagan posthumously saved (Poli. V 8 n81). Policraticus books 5 and 6 are written as a commentary on this letter of instruction from the great Roman author to the great Roman Emperor. The “Institutes of Trajan” provide the luster of venerable age and hide the novelty of John's thought.
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This note was uploaded on 04/18/2008 for the course PS 207 taught by Professor Watry during the Winter '08 term at N. Michigan.

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John of Salisbury - John of Salisbury First published Wed 6...

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