The Summa

The summa is a literary genre that derives from the medieval university. It is essentially a collection of disputed questions regarding questions of philosophy, theology, or law setting out the position of a particular teacher in the ongoing debate regarding what it means to be human.

summa is organized, like other academic texts, into parts which address particular groups of questions, the individual questions themselves, and articles which address a particular aspect of a question.

Each article contains:

  • a statment, in question form, of the teacher’s thesis,
  • a series of objections to the teacher’s position. These were originally generated in the course of the teaching process, as students possible objections to the “common wisdom” of the day, but in a published summa will also generally summarize the arguments for the principal alternatives to the teacher’s position.
  • a statement of the dominant position on the question, generally using the form E contra … or On the contrary …
  • the teacher’s argument for their position on the question, generally using the form Responsio quod … or I answer that …
  • answers to the objections, if these have not already been clearly addressed already.

The summa contained in this archive is a work in progress which is intended to address systematically, in dialogue with direct and indirect interlocutors, the principal dimensions of the question of what it means to be human. As I am able to add more complex features to the site, it should be possible for readers to actually participate in the debate, in a kind of discussion board, but at this point you will at least be able to leave comments.  These may include questions that are not being addressed and suggestions regarding reformulation of the question, as well as contributions to the argument around the question at hand.

Contributions to the summa will take the form of blog posts, under the category Summa with the relevant subcategory –e.g. Summa: Introduction.

A collage illustrating images from various spiritual traditions.