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The Will to Believe: Freedom of Thought in Late Medieval Philosophy and Literature

Date: Friday 1 September 2017
Time: 4‒5.30pm
Venue: Boardroom (Room 601), Advanced Engineering Building (Building 51), The University of Queensland, St Lucia
RSVP: uqche@uq.edu.au, or phone (07) 3365 4913. All welcome.

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Religious disbelief and demotivation had serious consequences for a person’s wellbeing in the Middle Ages. But is it ever possible to believe something doubtful just because you know that you ought to? This paper attempts to clarify late medieval theologian Robert Holcot’s position on what we nowadays call ‘doxastic voluntarism’ (believing at will). Three issues are central to Holcot’s discussion: (1) The extent of a person’s freedom to believe what he or she likes; (2) Whether it is ever possible for a person to believe a doubtful proposition unwillingly, coerced by others or external sources; (3) Whether it is ever necessary for a person not only to believe something, but also to feel good about it. I conclude by suggesting some ways that Holcot’s philosophical psychology can help us better appreciate how late Middle English literature might have worked to evoke religious thoughts and feelings in the apathetic and unbelieving.

Dr Chantelle Saville
has recently successfully defended her thesis for the doctorate of philosophy in English at The University of Auckland. Her research interests include late medieval scholastic theories of emotion and Middle English literary practices and aesthetics. She has recently published in EMS Journal and reviews for Parergon. She is currently preparing an edition of selections from the unpublished Quodlibetal Questions of the fourteenth-century English theologian Robert Holcot.

The series will conclude with a masterclass and seminar by Associate Professor Kellie Robertson (The University of Maryland) on 23 and 24 November 2017. Further details will be available closer to the time.


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