Animal Rationality

Later Medieval Theories 1250-1350


In Animal Rationality: Later Medieval Theories 1250-1350, Anselm Oelze offers the first comprehensive and systematic exploration of theories of animal rationality in the later Middle Ages. Traditionally, it was held that medieval thinkers ascribed rationality to humans while denying it to nonhuman animals. As Oelze shows, this narrative fails to capture the depth and diversity of the medieval debate. Although many thinkers, from Albert the Great to John Buridan, did indeed hold that nonhuman animals lack rational faculties, some granted them the ability to engage in certain rational processes such as judging, reasoning, or employing prudence. There is thus a whole spectrum of positions to be discovered, many of which show interesting parallels with contemporary theories of animal rationality.

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Biographical Note

Anselm Oelze obtained a PhD in philosophy from the Humboldt University of Berlin (2017) and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. He has published articles on animal cognition and animal ethics in the Middle Ages.

Table of contents


1 What are and Why Study Later Medieval Theories of Animal Rationality?
2 How to Study Later Medieval Theories?
3 Structure and Key Questions

Part 1: Animals and Rationality in the Middle Ages

Introduction to Part 1
4 The Role of Animals in the Middle Ages
5 Animal Souls and Sensory Cognition
6 Human Souls and the Triad of Intellectual Operations
7 Grey Areas

Part 2: Universal Cognition and Concept Formation

Introduction to Part 2
8 Estimation, Conceptualisation, and Categorisation (Thomas Aquinas)
9 Intentions and Quiddities (Albertus Magnus)
10 Elevated Intentions and Common Forms (Pseudo-Peter of Spain)
11 Vague Particulars as Universals (Roger Bacon)
12 Universal Desire and Experience (John Buridan)
13 General Mental Representations (Peter of John Olivi)

Part 3: Judging

Introduction to Part 3
14 The Idea of Sensory Judgments
15 Natural Judgments (Thomas Aquinas)
16 Erroneous Judgments and Differences in Estimation (Albertus Magnus)
17 Reflective and Experimental Judgments (Peter of John Olivi, John Buridan)
18 The Ascription of Judgments and the Problem of Anthropomorphism (William of Ockham, Adam Wodeham, Gregory of Rimini)

Part 4: Reasoning

Introduction to Part 4
19 Quasi-Reasoning (Thomas Aquinas, Gregory of Rimini, John Duns Scotus)
20 Quasi-Reasoning and Cogitation (Roger Bacon)
21 Imperfect Argumentations and Practical Syllogisms (Albertus Magnus)
22 Material Souls and Degrees of Reasoning (John Buridan, Nicole Oresme)

Part 5: Prudence

Introduction to Part 5
23 Memory vs. Recollection (Albertus Magnus)
24 Incomplete and Complete Memory (Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon)
25 Foresight and Provision (Albertus Magnus, Bonaventure)
26 Quasi-Foresight and Quasi-Hope (Thomas Aquinas)
27 Operating for and towards the Future (Roger Bacon, Peter of John Olivi)
28 Imperfect or Particular Prudence (Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas)
29 Prudence by Analogy (Giles of Rome, John Duns Scotus)

Part 6: Rationality without Reason?

Introduction to Part 6
30 Medieval and Contemporary Theories: The Differences
31 Medieval and Contemporary Theories: The Commonalities
32 Towards a Classification: Differentialist and Assimilationist Explanations
33 Room for Rationality or Rationality without Reason

Index of Names
Index of Subjects


Everyone interested in medieval philosophy and psychology in general, as well as the history of the concept of animal rationality and of the animal/human boundary in particular.

Index Card

Collection Information