Encyclopedia of the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy

Living Edition
| Editors: Mortimer Sellers, Stephan Kirste

Abelard, Peter

Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6730-0_580-1


Peter Abelard’s comments on human action, on his ethical judgment and the questions of guilt and sin, can be found in his Ethica Scito te ipsum (E), in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (R), as well as the Dialogus inter Philosophum, Judaeum et Christianum (D), also referred to as Collationes. His central thesis is that the outward deed is not decisive for the ethical evaluation of an action; an outward deed is neither good nor evil in itself but indifferent, killing a human being, sleeping with someone else’s wife, and misleading someone with a false statement; all these examples do not constitute sins (E I, 16, 4). Rather, what defines the ethical quality of an action, apart from the agent’s consent to it, is mainly their intention which can only be judged (except by God) by the agent’s own conscience and remains hidden from other people.


According to the Ethica, the precondition, on the basis of which an action can be described as sinful or culpable,...

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Primary Sources

  1. D = Dialogus inter Philosophum, Judaeum et Christianum: Peter Abelard, Collationes, ed. and transl. by J. Marenbon/G. Orlandi, Oxford 2003.Google Scholar
  2. E = Ethica Scito te ipsum: Petri Abaelardi Opera theologica IV: Ethica ‘Scito te ipsum’, ed. R. Ilgner (CCCM 190), Turnhout 2001.Google Scholar
  3. R = Römerbriefkommentar: Petri Abaelardi Opera theologica I: Commentaria in epistolam Pauli ad Romanos. Apologia contra Bernardum, ed. Eligius M. Buytaert (CCCM 11), Turnhout 1969, 39–340.Google Scholar
  4. ThSch = Peter Abaelard, Theologia ‘Scholarium’ II, Ed.: E. Buytaert/C. Mews, Petri Abaelardi opera theologica III (CCCM 13), Turnhout 1987.Google Scholar

Secondary Sources

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Theological Ethics – Moral TheologyUniversity of WürzburgWürzburgGermany

Section editors and affiliations

  • Gianfrancesco Zanetti
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of LawUniversità degli Studi di Modena e Reggio EmiliaModenaItaly