Skip to main content

Kilwardby, Robert (c. 1210–1279)

(c. 12101279)

Robert Kilwardby was an English Dominican. He was a master of arts at the University of Paris between 1237 and 1245 and a student and master of theology at Blackfriars, Oxford, between 1248 and 1261. He then became prior provincial of the English Dominicans and in 1273 he was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury. In 1278 he entered the papal service as cardinal-bishop of Porto and Santa Rufina; he died in Viterbo in 1279.

Kilwardby had a profound influence on thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Scholasticism. In general he tried to promote the philosophical views of Augustine in a time when Aristotle's influence was becoming more and more important. As archbishop of Canterbury he even tried to suppress Aristotelian views by condemning thirty errors in philosophy in the so-called Oxford condemnation of 1277.

His most important and long-lasting influence, however, was in logic. During his Paris years he commented on the whole Organon of Aristotle, wrote two Sophismata (Sophismata grammaticalia and Sophismata logicalia ) and also several books on grammar. His commentary on Priscianus minor is the most important. During this incredibly productive time of his life he also wrote a commentary on Porphyry's Isagoge, and perhaps the earliest commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics.

Very few of these works have been studied, and most of them still remain in manuscripts. The logical work that in recent years has received most attention is his commentary on Aristotle's Prior Analytics. As an exposition of Aristotle's theory of the syllogism, the commentary maintains an extraordinarily high degree of fidelity to Aristotle's text. As part of his overall project of constructing faithful interpretations of Aristotle, Kilwardby aims in his commentary to produce an accurate interpretation of Aristotle's modal syllogistic. The commentary is significant because it appears to be the origin, in the Latin world, of a tradition in which Aristotle's essentialist metaphysics is deployed in the interpretation of his syllogistic.

Kilwardby's work makes use of a number of technical concepts in a very disciplined way. These include notions of a per se term and a per se necessity and two concepts of simpliciter predication. The analysis of these concepts requires both the notion of an essential property and the notion of a necessary proposition. For example, a term is per se provided that it is necessary that, whatever it is, it is essentially that. Per se terms are contrasted with per accidens terms like walking for which nothing that is walking is essentially walking. Hence, a sentence like "Every B is necessarily A " expresses a per se necessity provided that (i) "B " is a per se term and (ii) "A " is a per se term and (iii) "Every B is A " is a necessary proposition.

The most important works from Kilwardby's tenure in Oxford are the De ortu scientiarum (1250), which is a classification of the sciences and was intended to be an introduction to philosophy, and his questions on the Sentences of Peter Lombard from around 1256. The Sentence -commentary is influenced by Richard Rufus of Cornwall. Kilwardby also produced smaller but very interesting treatises on relation, on time, and on imagination during this period.

See also Aristotelianism; Augustinianism; Logic, History of: Medieval (European) Logic; Rufus, Richard.


primary works

De natura relationis (On relation, c. 12561261), edited by L. Schmücker, Brixen: L. Schmücker, 1980. A late work on relations.

De ortu scientiarum (On the origin of science, c. 1250), edited by A. G. Judy. Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi 4, London: British Academy, 1976. Kilwardby on natural philosophy.

De spiritu fantastico (On imagination, c. 12561261). On Time and Imagination: De tempore, De spiritu fantastico, edited by P. O. Lewry. Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi 9. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1987. A late work on imagination.

De tempore (On time, c. 12561261). On Time and Imagination: De tempore, De spiritu fantastico, edited by P. O. Lewry. Auctores Britannici Medii Aevi 9. Oxford: Oxford University Press for the British Academy, 1987. A late work on time.

In donati artem maiorem III (Commentary on Donatus, c. 12371245), edited by L. Schmücker. Brixen: Typographia A. Weger Fund, 1984. Commentary on the grammatical work of Donatus.

In libros Priorum Analyticorum expositio (Exposition on the books of the Prior Analytics, c. 1240). Printed under the name Aegidius Romanus, Venice 1516. Reprinted Frankfurt 1968. Commentary on the Prior Analytics.

Notule libri prisciani de accidentibus (Commentary on De accidentibus, c. 12371245), edited by P. O. Lewry, "Thirteenth-Century Teaching on Speech and Accentuation: Robert Kilwardby's Commentary on De accidentibus of Pseudo-Priscian." Medieval Studies 50 (1988): 96185. Commentary on Priscian.

Quaestiones in librum [primum/secundum/tertium/quartum] Sententiarum (Questions of the [first/second/third/fourth] book of the Sentences ) [c. 1256]. primum, edited by J. Schneider; secundum, edited by G. Leibold; tertium, part 1, Christologie (Christology), edited by E. Gössmann, and part 2, Tugendlehre [Virtue], edited by G. Leibold; quartum, edited by R. Schenk. Veröffentlichungen der Kommission für die Herausgabe ungedruckter Texte aus der mittelalterlichen Geisteswelt. Munich: Verlag der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, primum, 1986; secundum, 1992; tertium, 1982 (part 1), 1985 (part 2); quartum, 1993. Questions on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

secondary works

Braakhuis, H. A. G. "Kilwardby verus Bacon? The Contribution to the Discussion on Univocal Signification of Beings and Non-Beings found in a Sophism attributed to Robert Kilwardby." In Medieval Semantics and Metaphysics, edited by E. P. Bos, 111142. Artistarium supplementa 2, Nijmegen: Ingenium, 1985. An introduction to Kilwardby's theory of meaning.

Celano, A. J. "Robert Kilwardby and the Limits of Moral Science." In Philosophy and the God of Abraham, edited by R. James Long, 3140. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1991. Study of Kilwardby's moral philosophy.

Ebbesen, S. "Albert (the Great?)'s Companion to the Organon." In Albert der Grosse. Seine Zeit, sein Werk, seine Wirkung, edited by A. Zimmerman, 89103. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1981. Ebbesen shows that Albert the Great copies Kilwardby's Prior Analytics commentary.

Gál, G. "Robert Kilwardby's Questions on the Metaphysics and Physics of Aristotle." Franciscan Studies 13 (1953): 728. On the attribution of a set of questions on metaphysics and physics.

Lagerlund, Henrik. Modal Syllogistics in the Middle Ages. Leiden: Brill, 2000. Chapter 2 contains a detailed study on Kilwardby's modal syllogistics.

Lewry, P. Osmund. "The Oxford Condemnation of 1277 in Grammar and Logic." In English Logic and Semantics from the End of the Twelfth Century to the Time of Ockham and Burleigh, edited by H. A. G. Braakhuis and L. M. de Rijk, 235278. Artistarium supplementa 1, Nijmegen: Ingenium, 1981. An account of the implications for logic of the 1277 condemnation.

Lewry, P. Osmund. "Robert Kilwardby on Imagination: the Reconciliation of Aristotle and Augustine." Medioevo 9 (1983):142. Discussion of Kilwardby's view of the soul.

Lewry, P. Osmund. "Robert Kilwarby's Commentary on the Ethica nova and Vetus." In L'homme et son univers au moyen-âge, edited by C. Wedin, 799807. Philosophes médiévaux 27, Louvain-la-Neuve: Editions de l'Institut Superieur de Philosophie, 1986. A summary of Kilwardby's views on ethics.

Lewry, P. Osmund. "Robert Kilwardby's Writings on the Logica Vetus Studied with Regards to Their Teaching and Method." Ph.D. diss. University of Oxford, 1978. Still the standard text for a discussion of Kilwardby's logic.

Henrik Lagerlund (2005)

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Kilwardby, Robert (c. 1210–1279)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . 17 Aug. 2018 <>.

"Kilwardby, Robert (c. 1210–1279)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . (August 17, 2018).

"Kilwardby, Robert (c. 1210–1279)." Encyclopedia of Philosophy. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.