Richard Kilvington’s Questions on the Ethics: New Arguments and Research Procedures in Fourteenth Century Ethical Discourse

Keywords: Richard Kilvington; Questions on the Ethics; 14th century ethics; methods; logic and physics


Richard Kilvington was the only Oxford Calculator who wrote a commentary on Aristotelian Nicomachean Ethics. Composed in 1332 Questions on the Ethics are an extraordinary commentary for several reasons. First, against a well-established tradition of ethical commentaries, Kilvington does not comment on all the books of Nicomachean Ethics. Nor does he refer to all the most important issues debated by Aristotle. Secondly, the analyses of the problems chosen for treatment vary in length, which means that some issues are debated meticulously, others deserve less attention. Finally, Kilvington uses arguments and methods taken from the fields of logic and natural philosophy in a way and scale unprecedented for ethical commentaries. It allows him to take an original and unique perspective in analyzing ethical issues. In the article I point out the structure of the text and the characteristic scheme of a question of Questions of the Ethics. Then, I describe the specificity of the arguments used in the text. Finally, I analyze the methods employed by Kilvington in debating ethical problems, namely the calculus of compounding ratios, secundum imaginationem procedure, and simpliciter/secundum quid tool, showing how they served analyzing ethical dilemmas.


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