Roger Bacon’s New Metaphysics (1260-1292): The Integration of Language Study and Natural Science With Metaphysics and Morals

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Jeremiah Hackett


The paper presents evidence that Roger Bacon was endeavoring to structure what he considered as a “new metaphysics”. Moreover, it identifies the Opus maius as Bacon’s new preliminary text in metaphysics and morals. The evidence is found in the Communia naturalium and in the Communia mathematica, in which one finds a reference to the Opus maius as a sketch for a new metaphysics. From part seven of the latter work, namely, the Moralis philosophia, one can see that Bacon views the latter work as closely connected to his new metaphysics. In fact, the material in the Communia mathematica connects his studies on languages to the communication of his moral vision. I present a review of the sources for the different parts of the Opus maius. This is followed by an account of Bacon’s philosophical sources. It becomes clear that Bacon was acquainted with Plato’s Meno, Phaedo and part of the Timaeus with Calcidius’s Commentary. The variety and significance of his Neo-Platonic sources are outlined. It turns out that Bacon was not an Avicennian substance-dualist. Moreover, the paper demonstrates the extent to which Bacon’s criticism of Averroes was based on his natural philosophy. Bacon presents an account of human intellectual knowledge which is clearly based on and refers to his account of human perceptual knowledge in his Perspectiva. He uses his account of an integrated perceptual and intellectual human individual being to question the Latin Averroist’s claim that there is one possible intellect for all human beings.

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Roger Bacon’s Works

CM = Communia mathematica, edited by R. Steele, Opera hactenus inedita, fasc. 16 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1940).
CN = Communia naturalium, edited by R. Steele, Opera hactenus inedita, fascs. 2-4 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911).
De mult. Spec. = De multiplicatione specierum, edited by D. C. Lindberg, Roger Bacon’s Philosophy of Nature (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983).
Opus maius, edited by J. H. Bridges, 3 vols. (Oxford, Vols. 1-2, 1897; Edinburgh, Vol. 3 with corrections, 1900; Frankfurt: Minerva Reprint, 1964).
Opus minus (London: RBMAS, Rolls Series, 15, 1859; Reprint: Nelden, Lichtensstein: Krauss, 1965).
Opus tertium, edited by N. Egel (Philosophische Bibliothek, Band 718) (Hamburg: Felix Meiner Verlag, 2019).
Opus tertium, edited by J. R. S. Brewer (London: RBMAS, 1859).
Perspect. = Perspectiva, edited by D.C. Lindberg, Roger Bacon and the Origins of Perspectiva in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996).
MP = Moralis Philosophia (= Opus maius, part seven), edited by E. Massa (Zurich: Thesaurus Mundi, 1953).
Compendium studii theologia, edited by T. S. Maloney (Leiden-New York-København-Köln: E. J. Brill, 1988).

Other Primary Sources

Al-Farabi, De scientiis, edited by A. Galonnier, Le De scientiis Alfarabii de Gérard de Crémone: Contriution aux problems de l’acculturation au xiie siècle (Turnhout: Brepols, 2016).
Apuleius, De Deo Socratis, edited by C. Moreschini (Berlin, B. G.: Teubner, 1991).
Apuleius, De Platone, edited by J. A. Stover, A New Work of Apuleius: The Lost Third Book of De Platone: De Platonis Pluribus Libris Compendiosa Expositio (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).
Augustine, De civitate dei, edited by M. Dombart and A. Kalb, 2 vols. (Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1981).
Augustine, De musica, edited by M. Jacobsson (Berlin and Boston: De Gruyter, 2017).
Avicenna, Philosophia prima = Avicenna Latinus: Liber de prima philosophia sive Scientia Divina, edited by S. Van Riet (Louvain and Leiden: E. Peeters and E. J. Brill, 1980).
Calcidius, On Plato’s Timaeus, edited by J. Magee (Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press, 2016).
Plato, Meno, edited by R. Klibansky and L. Minio-Paluello (London: Warburg Institute, 1950).
Plato, Phaedo, edited by V. Kordeuter & L. Labowsky (London: Warburg Institute, 1950).
Ptolemy, Almagest, edited by G. J. Toomer (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998).
Ptolemy, Optics, edited and translated by A. Lejune, L’Optique de Claude Ptolémée dans la version latine d’après l’arabe de l’émir Eugène de Sicile (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1989).
Ptolemy, Optics, translated by A. Mark Smith, Ptolemy’s Theory of Visual Perception: An English Translation of the Optics with Introduction and Commentary (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society Press, 1996).

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