Scotus on Supposition

in Vivarium
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In his commentaries on Porphyry and Aristotle’s Organon (Categories, Peri hermeneias, Sophistici elenchi, and Topics) and in his other works, John Duns Scotus shows his knowledge of both the modistic theory of language and the theory of supposition. My contribution sheds some light on the relationship between Scotus’ philosophy of language and the theory of supposition, collecting and commenting on all the passages in which he makes use of it or discusses some theoretical points. I take into special account the almost unknown commentary on the Topics, which is preserved in a Vatican manuscript.

Scotus on Supposition

in Vivarium



AshworthE.J. KoernerK.NiedereheH.-J.RobinsR.H. ‘‘Can I Speak More Clearly than I Understand?’ A Problem of Religious Language in Henry of Ghent, Duns Scotus and Ockham’ Studies in Medieval Linguistic Thought 1980 dedicated to G.L. Bursill-Hall (Amsterdam 1980 29-38) (also in Historiographia Linguistica 7/1-2 (1980) 29-38)

BosE.P. de RijkL.M.BraakhuisH.A.G. ‘The Theory of the Proposition According to John Duns Scotus’ Two Commentaries on Aristotle’s Perihermeneias Logos and Pragma: Essays on the Philosophy of Language in Honour of Prof. Gabriel Nuchelmans 1987 (Nijmegen 1987 121-139)

BoulnoisO. ‘Représentation et noms divins selon Duns Scot’ Documenti e studi sulla tradizione filosofica medievale 1995 6 255 280

BraakhuisH.A.G. ‘The Views of William of Sherwood on Some Semantical Topics and Their Relation to Those of Roger Bacon’ Vivarium 1977 15 111 142

BraakhuisH.A.G. De 13de eeuwse tractaten over syncategorematische termen: Inleidende studie en uitgave van Nicolaas van Parijs’ Sincategoreumata 1979 2 vols. (Dissertation Leiden Nijmegen 1979)

DahlstromD.O. ‘Signification and Logic: Scotus on Universals from a Logical Point of View’ Vivarium 1980 18 81 111

EbbesenS. ‘Roger Bacon and the Fools of his Times’ Cahiers de l’institut du moyen âge grec et latin 1970 3 40 44

EbbesenS. ‘Early Supposition Theory (12th-13th Cent.)’ Histoire Epistémologie Langage 1981 3 1 35 48

EbbesenS. LewryP.O. ‘OXYNAT: A Theory about the Origins of British Logic’ The Rise of British Logic 1985 Acts of the Sixth European Symposium on Medieval Logic and Semantics 19-24 June 1983 Balliol College, Oxford (Toronto 1985 1-17)

EbbesenS. KretzmannN. ‘Concrete Accidental Terms: Late-Thirteenth-Century Debates about Problems Relating to such terms as ‘album’’ Meaning and Inference in Medieval Philosophy. Studies in Memory of Jan Pinborg 1988 (Dordrecht-Boston-London 1988 107-161)

EbbesenS. LöweB.KannC.RodeC.UckelmanS. Modi significandi in Logic and Grammar’ Modern Views of Medieval Logic forthcoming (Recherches de théologie et philosophie médiévales—Bibliotheca) (forthcoming)

EbbesenS.Rosier-CatachI. AngelelliI.Pérez-IlzarbeP. ‘Robertus Anglicus on Peter of Spain’ Medieval and Renaissance Logic in Spain 2000 Acts of the 12th European Symposium on Medieval Logic and Semantics 26-30 May 1997 University of Navarre, Pamplona (Philosophische Texte und Studien 54; Hildesheim-Zürich-New York 2000 61-95)

GoubierF. ‘Influences prédicatives et conséquences référentielles: un aspect de l’approche terministe de la première moitié du XIIIe siècle’ Cahiers de l’institut du moyen âge grec et latin 2000 71 37 70

de LiberaA. KoernerK.NiedereheH.-J.RobinsR.H. ‘On Some 12th and 13th Century Doctrines of Restriction’ Studies in Medieval Linguistic Thought Dedicated to G.L. Bursill-Hall 1980 (Amsterdam 1980 131-143) (also in Historiographia Linguistica 7/1-2 (1980) 131-143)

de LiberaA. ’Supposition naturelle et appellation: aspects de la sémantique parisienne au XIIIe siècle’ Histoire Epistémologie Langage 1981 3 1 63 77

de LiberaA. KretzmannN.KennyA.PinborgJ.StumpE. ‘The Oxford and Paris Traditions in Logic’ The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy 1982 From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Desintegration of Scholasticism 1100-1600 (Cambridge-London-New York-New Rochelle-Melbourne-Sydney 1982 174-187)

de LiberaA. ‘Les Summulae dialectices de Roger Bacon. I-II. De termino. De enuntiatione’ Archives d’ histoire doctrinale et littéraire du moyen-âge 1986 53 139 289

de LiberaA. HackettJ. ‘Roger Bacon et la logique’ Roger Bacon and the Sciences 1997 Commemorative Essays (Leiden 1997 103-132)

MarmoC. EcoU.MarmoC. ‘Ontology and Semantics in the Logic of Duns Scotus’ On the Medieval Theory of Signs 1989 (Foundations of Semiotics 21; Amsterdam-Philadelphia 1989 143-193)

MarmoC. Semiotica e linguaggio nella scolastica. Pariggi Bologna Erfurt 1270-133): la semiotica dei Modisti 1994 (Nuovi Studi Storici 26; Roma 1994)

MarmoC. EbbesenS.FriedmanR. ‘The Semantics of the Modistae’ Medieval Analyses in Language and Cognition 1999 Acts of the Symposium The Copenhagen School of Medieval Philosophy January 10-13 1996 (Copenhagen 1999 83-104)

MarmoC. CarotiS.ImbachR.KaluzaZ.StabileG.SturleseL. ‘La funzione del contesto: teorie ‘continentali’ e ‘inglesi’ a confronto sull’eliminazione dell’equivocità tra fine XIII e inizio XIV secolo’ ‘Ad Ingenii Acuitionem’. Studies in Honor of Alfonso Maierù 2006 (Louvain-La-Neuve 2006 249-280)

MarmoC. FiorentinoFrancesco ‘Scotus’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Topics Lo scotismo nel Mezzogiorno d’Italia. Atti del Congresso Internazionale (Bitonto 25-28 marzo2008) in occasione del VII Centenario della morte di Giovanni Duns Scoto 2010 (Turnhout 2010 153-170)

PerlerD. ‘Duns Scotus on Signification’ Medieval Philosophy and Theology 1993 3 97 120

PerlerD. WilliamsTh. ‘Philosophy of Language’ The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus 2003 (Cambridge-New York 2003 161-192)

PinborgJ. ZimmermannA. ‘Bezeichnung in der Logik des XIII Jahrhunderts’ Der Begriff der repraesentatio im Mittelalter Stellvertretung—Symbol—Zeichen—Bild 1971 (Miscellanea Mediaevalia 8; Berlin-New York 1971 237-281)

PinborgJ. ParretH. ‘Some Problems of Semantic Representation in Medieval Logic’ History of Linguistic Thought and Contemporary Linguistics 1976 (Berlin-New York 1976 254-278)

PiniG. ‘Signification of Names in Duns Scotus and Some of His Contemporaries’ Vivarium 2001 39 20 51

PiniG. Categories and Logic in Duns Scotus. An Interpretation of Aristotle’s Categories in the Late Thirteenth Century 2002 (Leiden 2002)

PiniG. ‘Il dibattito sulle specie intelligibili alla fine del tredicesmo secolo’ Medioevo 2004 XXIX 267 306

de RijkL.M. Logica Modernorum. A Contribution to the History of Early Terminist Logic. 1962-1967 I On the Twelfth Century Theories of Fallacy; II/1: The Origin and the Early Development of the Theory of Supposition II/2: Texts and Indices (Assen 1962-1967)

de RijkL.M. ‘On the Genuine Text of Peter of Spain’s Summule Logicales. I. General Problems Concerning Possible Interpolations in the Manuscripts’ Vivarium 1968 6 1 34

de RijkL.M. ‘The Development of suppositio naturalis in Medieval Logic. I. Natural Supposition as Non-contextual Supposition’ Vivarium 1971 9 71 107

de RijkL.M. de RijkL.M. vide Peter of Spain. Tractatus 1972 (Assen 1972)

de RijkL.M. KennyA.KretzmannN.PinborgI.StumpE. ‘The Origins of the Theory of the Properties of Terms’ The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Desintegration of Scholasticism 1100-1600 1982 (Cambridge-London-New York-New Rochelle-Melbourne-Sydney 1982 161-173)

Rosier-CatachI. La parole comme acte. Sur la grammaire et la sémantique au XIIIe siècle 1994 (Paris 1994)

Rosier-CatachI. La parole efficace. Signe rituel sacré 2004 (Paris 2004)

SpadeP.V. KretzmannN.KennyA.PinborgJ.StumpE. ‘The Semantics of Terms’ The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Desintegration of Scholasticism 1100-1600 1982 (Cambridge-London-New York-New Rochelle-Melbourne-Sydney 1982 188-196)

VosA. BosE.P. ‘On the Philosophy of the Young Duns Scotus: Some Semantical and Logical Aspects’ Medieval Semantics and Metaphysics 1985 (Artistarium Supplementa II; Nijmegen 1985 195-220)


See for instance Dahlstrom (1980); Vos (1985); Bos (1987); Marmo (1989); Perler (1993) (2003); Pini (2001) (2002) and (2004). The authenticity of the logical works usually ascribed to Scotus (i.e. Quaestiones on Porphyry’s Isagoge on Aristotle’s Praedicamenta on Perihermeneias and on Sophistici elenchi) is definitively assessed by the editors (cf. Andrews et al. (2004) 31-33). I will also use Scotus’ litteral commentary on Aristotle’s Topics leaving aside the discussion about its authenticity (see Marmo (2010)). I am deeply indebted to Chris Martin for his thorough revision of my English version.


See Ashworth (1980); Boulnois (1995).


See Perler (2003) 164.


See Marmo (1994) 121 and (2006) 279-280.


See Rosier-Catach (2004) ch. 2 for a thorough presentation of the different models used in explaining the causality of the sacraments: Scotus’ explanations have these discussions as their framework.


See Marmo (1999) 85-89.


See Marmo (2006) 259-264.


See Ebbesen (1988) and (forthcoming).


Roger BaconSummulae dialectices2.2 in: De Libera (1986) 288.


Cf. Marmo (1999).


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