Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Thomas Williams, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Michael DeJonge, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Roger Ariew, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Colin Heydt, Ph.D.


Medieval, History of Ethics, Charity, Consent, Augustine


The work contained within this dissertation is a textual exegesis of Abelard’s ethics. The goal is to elucidate Abelard’s sort of intentionalism given his use of “intention” within his wider corpus, the grammatical and syntactical patterns in his prose, and Abelard’s own interests, biography, and situation as a twelfth-century monastic figure. As a result, this project should be understood as a history of philosophy dissertation. I am not attempting to build upon Abelard’s ideas but to clarify them. This is not to say that building upon Abelard’s ideas is not a worthwhile project. It is merely to say that doing so is beyond the scope of this project.

I found it necessary to clarify Abelard’s ideas about ethics because I found that many interpretations of his ethical work were either lacking or wildly incorrect. This has much to do, I think, with the history of Abelard’s reception as a theologian. When Abelard’s ethic was first received, it was understood to be dangerously subjectivist. In other words, he was understood to be advocating a sort of subjective relativism. In response to this gross misinterpretation of his work, contemporary readers resolved that Abelard maintained a rather explicit observance of objective moral truth.

Now, neither the subjectivist account nor the objectivist account gives the full story of what, exactly, Abelard is up to in his Scito te Ipsum. Though some have delivered fairly mitigated assessments of Abelard’s ethic, there is a larger theological story that serves as the foundational lens through which his work must be understood—one that, I argue, has not been sufficiently considered. In this dissertation I contextualize Abelard’s Scito te Ipsum within his theological commitments and arrive at a very nuanced account of his ethical contributions to the history of philosophy. In short, Abelard contends that caritas renders a subject morally praiseworthy. This is a claim that is rather orthodox within the scope of the Christian ethical tradition and the twelfth century more specifically.