The legal relationship to the tradition is different from the creative traditionalism of Anselm. Anselm, although he was less dialectical than Abelard, was more creative and even more courageous, and nevertheless keener (about) the substance of the tradition.
Some of Abelard’s special doctrines: He shows subjectivity in all his doctrines, ethical and theological. Connected with the subjective reason is his doctrine of ethical autonomy. He is a predecessor of Kant, in spite of the tremendous difference in time and situation. He first teaches that it is not an act in itself that is good or bad, but the intention makes it good or bad. As Kant expressed the same idea, nothing is good except a good will. And this man of the 12th century expresses the same idea. The work itself is indifferent; only the intention is decisive.. .”In the intention consists the merit.” Therefore not nature itself, not even the desire itself makes us sinful, but the intention, the will. Not the contents of a moral system are important, but the conscience which follows or does not follow these contents. The contents of the moral system are always questionable in their application to a concrete thing. You never can take them absolute. But your conscience must guide you. The perfect good, of course, is if the objective norm and the subjective intention correspond; if our conscience shows us what is actually right. But this is very often not the case. And if it is not the case, it is better that we follow our conscience, even if it is objectively wrong. He says: “There is no sin except against conscience.” Now in one way even Thomas Aquinas accepted this idea. Aquinas said: “If a superior in my order, to whom I have sworn obedience, asks me to do something which is against my conscience, I shall not do it, although I am obliged to keep obedience to him”. — The conscience was regarded as ultimate judge, even if it is objectively erroneous. The Protestants ,and Kant, were preceded in these formulas, which, at that time, couldn’t work because the educational element is neglected by Abelard. If you tell these uneducated masses that they should follow their conscience, and you don’t give them objective norms with sufficient strictness, you let them loose, and they may go astray. This means that in this respect, as in so many others, Abelard was an anticipation of something which later became actual.
He had much of 18th century thinking in France. In the same way he discussed the theological problems.
1) He denies the idea that in Adam all have sinned. Not sensuality is sin, but acts of will. Without an agreement of the will, no sin; and since we didn’t agree with our will when Adam sinned, it is not sin for us. Here you see how. the subjectivity, exactly as in the 18th century, dissolves first of all from the very beginning the doctrine of original sin, because this doctrine shows the tragic side of sin, the objective and not the personal, subjective side, the agreement of will.
2) In Christology, he emphasizes the human activity in Christ, and denies radically that Christ is, so to speak, a transformed God or Logos or higher Divine being. For him the personal activity of Christ is decisive, and not His ontological coming from God.