Fall 2016 Lecture Series: John McCaskey Delivers “Inductio: The Medieval Transmission and Humanist Solution to the Scandal of Philosophy”

This past 6 December, 2016-2017 Medieval Fellow Dr. John McCaskey delivered his lecture “Inductio: The Medieval Transmission and Humanist Solution to the Scandal of Philosophy,” concluding this semester’s Medieval Studies lecture series.  Addressing the textual transmission of the concept of inductive reasoning from Aristotle and Socrates through Scholastic thinkers and into the Renaissance, McCaskey presented medieval thinkers as reinterpreting the Aristotelian definition of inductive reasoning so as to create a new form of philosophical analysis, which, though perhaps contrary to the original intention of Aristotle, stood as a unique form unto itself.

While Aristotle and, later, the Italian humanists who reexamined his work and thought, understood induction to be a process of enumeration, scholastics and Neo-Platonists, McCaskey believes, understood induction to be a process equating to deduction.  According to McCaskey, medieval thinkers approached inductive reasoning as a process of narrowing down the nature of what something is by what traits it shares in common with something else.  Classical and Renaissance thinkers, conversely, approached induction as defining what something is by understanding what it does in relation to what other similar things do.  Using the example of magnets attaching or not attaching themselves to an iron rod, McCaskey described this difference by showing that we can define a magnet according to its appearance being similar to other magnets or according to whether a magnet actually is attracted to the iron rod.  The difference is in how we define a magnet: is it a thing that does what all magnets are supposed to do, or is a magnet that which appears to be a magnet, regardless of actual function?  This difference in interpretation between Classical and Humanist and Medieval thinkers McCaskey largely attributes to alterations and items lost in the 500 years of translation of Aristotelian and Socratic texts as they made their way from Greek to Syriac, to Arabic, then Hebrew, and finally Latin.

The Centre would like to thank Dr. McCaskey for his lecture and for ending the semester’s lecture series on such an engaging note.

Introducing Sara Moens, CMS Visiting Fellow for Spring 2016

The Center for Medieval Studies welcomes our newest fellow, Dr. Sara Moens.


Central to the research of Sara Moens is the development of monasticism during the Central Middle Ages. For her doctoral dissertation at Ghent University she reconstructed the world of Guibert of Gembloux (c 1124-1214). This Benedictine monk and abbot is mostly known as the last secretary of the famous Rhenish prophetess, Hildegard of Bingen, yet he merits scholarly attention in his own right. The works (letters, vitae) and manuscripts Guibert produced during his life illuminate the rich life and network of this very fascinating figure and, at the same time, offer a glimpse into the way traditional coenobitism positioned itself within a changing religious and intellectual landscape after the middle of the 12th century.

For her current postdoc research project “Female devotion, male commitment? The rise of Cistercian women and the provision of the cura monialium in the Southern Low Countries, 1150-1275” she studies the flourishing of female spirituality in the Southern Low Countries, in particular the place of the Cistercian nuns within this broader movement. By examining their spiritual ideals, the interplay with other spiritual women e.g. beguines or recluses and the institutionalization process of their communities she traces the emergence of a specific Cistercian identity. In addition, she explores the role of men, both ecclesiastical and monastic, in the formation and support of these Cistercian women’s communities, thus contributing to the ongoing debate on the cura monialium.

During her stay at Fordham University she will focus on the study of several vitae and exempla collections relevant for her research project. These hagiographical sources testify to a culture of shared ideals and networks between Cistercian nuns and other spiritual women, and provide a window onto the men that were drawn to the care for these nuns and their motives. She will also prepare a book proposal of her PhD dissertation.

Introducing Dr. Ronald Herzman, Medieval Fellow for 2015-2016


Dr. Ron Herzman

The Center for Medieval Studies welcomes Ron Herzman, our current medieval fellow in residence. Dr. Herzman, State University of New York Distinguished Teaching Professor of English at the College at Geneseo, studies the relationship between Dante and the visual culture of Italy. He has published widely on Dante and the Middle Ages, with a special interest in the connections between Dante and Francis of Assisi. Dr. Herzman has also taught at Georgetown University, St. John’s College in Santa Fe, and Attica Correctional Facility, and has directed eighteen seminars for high school teachers for the National Endowment for the Humanities in Italy and the United States. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from his alma mater, Manhattan College, and was the recipient of the first CARA Award for Excellence in Teaching Medieval Studies from the Medieval Academy of America. He is currently the Director of Dante Outreach and Education for the Dante Society of America.

Dr. Herzman delivered the final lecture of the Fall 2015 Lecture Series, “Dante and the Frescoes of the Sancta Sanctorum” on Tuesday, December 2.


The frescos at the Sancta Sanctorum, showing Pope Nicholas III presented to Christ by Saint Peter and Saint Paul.

In his engaging presentation, Dr. Herzman elucidated the connection between the visual program of the Sancta Sanctorum, a papal chapel in Rome, and the imagery used by Dante in his criticisms of Popes Nicholas III and Boniface VIII in Canto IXX of the Comedia. Dr. Herzman argues that the fresco cycle provided the material for Dante’s deconstruction of Pope Nicholas’ agenda in Canto IXX. The Sancta Sanctorum was decorated in the lavish style of royal chapels such as Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle, Justinian’s Hagia Sophia, and Charlemagne’s palace at Aachen, and was designed to publicly proclaim the legitimacy and holiness of the controversial Orsini Pope, Nicholas III, who was known for his excessive nepotism.

Dr. Herzman attracted a huge crowd that included many high school students and his own sophomore English teacher, Bill O’Malley, S.J., a longtime teacher at Fordham Prep. He even opened with a joke about simony that took the entire room by surprise, using this colorful moment to suggest the danger of the co-option of the spiritual by the material.

Dr. Herzman’s talent as a teacher shined through the combination of his commanding knowledge of Dante’s Italy and his acerbic wit. His lecture was a pleasure for all in attendance.


By Alexa Amore

Introducing Alice Ramos, Visiting Fellow at the CMS Fall 2015

Alice Ramos is Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University in Queens, New York. She holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Navarra in Spain and a Ph.D. in French Literature from New York University. Her publications include a recent book titled Dynamic Transcendentals: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty from a Thomistic Perspective (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, May 2012), two edited books for the American Maritain Association: Beauty, Art, and the Polis (2000) and Faith, Scholarship, and Culture in the 21st Century (co-edited with Marie I. George, 2002), a book written in Spanish titled Signum: De la semiótica universal a la metafísica del signo (EUNSA, 1987), and over sixty articles in areas such as Thomistic metaphysics and ethics, Christian anthropology, and Kantian ethical theology. alie_ramos_philosophy_260x160She is the recipient of grants for scholarly work both in the United States and in Europe. She is a past president of the American Maritain Association (2002-2004) and has served several terms on the executive council of the American Catholic Philosophical Association.

Her present research project deals with the relationship between the thought of Thomas Aquinas with the twentieth-century German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. Recent scholarship on Hans-Georg Gadamer has focused its attention on a brief but dense section of Gadamer’s magnum opus Truth and Method where he speaks of “language and verbum.” For Gadamer, the encounter of the Greek logos with the Christian idea of the Incarnation and the theological doctrine of the Trinity constitutes an event that does justice to the being of language and prevents the forgetfulness of language in Western thought. Her contribution to this inquiry extends this insight by focusing on how Gadamer’s thought can be enriched by reference to the perspective of a medieval thinker such as Aquinas, who offers key hermeneutic principles for a continuation in our present times of the fundamental intuitions of Gadamer regarding language and verbum. She is presently working on a part of her project which attempts to articulate the relationship between language, being, and beauty, while also working out its metaphysical foundation.

We welcome Dr. Ramos to the Center for Medieval Studies and look forward to collaborating with her in the coming months!