From universals to topics: The realism of Rudolph Agricola, with an edition of his reply to a critic

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Rudolph Agricola's De inventione dialectica has rightly been regarded as the most original and influential textbook on argumentation, reading, writing, and communication in the Renaissance. At the heart of his treatment are the topics (loci), such as definition, genus, species, place, whole, parts, similars, and so on. While their function in Agricola's system is argumentative and rhetorical, the roots of the topics are metaphysical, as Agricola himself explicitly acknowledges. It has led scholars to characterize Agricola as a realist or even an extreme realist. This article studies two little treatises on universals by Agricola that throw further light on his realism. It is suggested that they could be viewed as an early step in his long-term project of revising and re-organizing the systems of topics as he encountered them in Aristotle, Cicero, and Boethius. The article offers a close analysis of the treatises, suggesting that Agricola's realism owes a (general) debt to the school of the Scotists. In both earlier and later work Agricola emphasizes the common aspects of things that enable us to categorize and talk about things without denying their fundamental unicity and individuality. An edition of Agricola's second treatise on universals-a reply to a critic-is added.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)190-224
Number of pages35
JournalVivarium. A Journal for Medieval and Early-Modern Philosophy and Intellectual Life
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • universals
  • topics
  • humanism
  • dialectic
  • Agricola
  • Duns Scotus

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