Significative Supposition and Ockham’s Rule

in Vivarium
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Paul Spade argues that there is a tension between Ockham’s descriptions of the various types of supposition at Summa Logicae (sl) I.64 and a rule he provides at sl I.65. In later papers, Spade proposes a solution: a term supposits significatively (i.e., personally) just in case it supposits for everything it signifies. I evaluate Spade’s proposal and explore some of its implications. I show that it successfully resolves the tension and that it suggests a way to more precisely describe material and simple supposition. I argue furthermore that Ockham is committed to the proposal by showing that uncontroversial features of his theory imply it. In doing so, I raise and refute three potential objections. Finally, I highlight and discuss a controversial result: self-signifying conventional terms can supposit materially. I argue that this result makes for a more satisfying theory.

Significative Supposition and Ockham’s Rule

in Vivarium




P.V. Spade‘Ockham’s Rule of Supposition: Two Conflicts in His Theory’Vivarium 12 (1974) 63-73at 69-70. In that same paper 66-68 Spade points out a different tension between the rule and Ockham’s claim at William of Ockham Summa Logicae (sl) I.64 ed. P. Boehner Opera Philosophica I (St. Bonaventure 1974) 197.56-59 that the division of supposition into personal simple and material can be applied to items in the mental language. This issue has received a great deal of attention in the secondary literature. See e.g. M.M. Adams William Ockham (Notre Dame 1987) 348-351; C. Normore ‘Material Supposition and the Mental Language of Ockham’s Summa LogicaeTopoi 16 (1997) 27-33 at 30-33; C. Dutilh Novaes ‘Ockham on Supposition and Equivocation in Mental Language’ Proceedings of the Society for Medieval Logic and Metaphysics 3 (2003) 37-50; P.V. Spade ‘Synonymy and Equivocation in Ockham’s Mental Language’ Journal of the History of Philosophy 19 (1980) 9-22. I will not address this problem here.


P.V. Spade‘Ockham’s Distinctions Between Absolute and Connotative Terms’Vivarium 19 (1975) 55-76at 62 n. 23; idem ‘The Logic of the Categorical: The Medieval Theory of Descent and Ascent’ in Meaning and Inference in Medieval Philosophy: Studies in Memory of Jan Pinborg ed. N. Kretzmann (Dordrecht 1988) 187-224 at 214 n. 17; idem Thoughts Words and Things: An Introduction to Late Medieval Logic and Semantic Theory (2007) available online at 254-255. According to Spade ‘Logic of the Categorical’ 214 n. 17 this solution was suggested to him by Calvin Normore in conversation. I will continue to speak of it as ‘Spade’s proposal’ though perhaps it would be more accurate to call it the ‘Spade-Normore proposal’ or something similar. The qualification ‘primarily’ above is needed in order to account for personally suppositing connotative terms (which include paronyms such as ‘white’ and relative terms such as ‘father’) which secondarily signify (i.e. connote) a whole range of things they do not supposit personally for. Spade ‘Ockham’s Distinctions’ 62 n. 23 and Thoughts Words and Things 254 is aware of this point. See sl I.10 ed. Boehner 35-38 for Ockham’s account of connotative terms. See too Spade ‘Ockham’s Distinctions’ and C. Panaccio Ockham on Concepts (Aldershot 2004) 63-84 for good discussions of Ockham’s connotation theory. In what follows I will avoid explicitly stating the qualification but it should be understood as being there implicitly.


Spade‘Ockham’s Rule’69-70. Ockham sometimes speaks of a personally suppositing term as one that supposits for what it signifies “so that it is taken significatively” (“ita quod significative tenetur”) (e.g. see sl I.64 ed. Boehner 195.8). At other times he drops the qualification (e.g. see sl I.64 ed. Boehner 195.4-5 9-21).


I am here following Normore‘Material Supposition’, 32, and C. Dutilh Novaes, ‘An Intensional Interpretation of Ockham’s Theory of Supposition’Journal of the History of Philosophy 46.3 (2008) 365-394 at 392 in using angle brackets to mention natural terms. Read ‘<x>’ as ‘the concept of x’. I use single quote marks to mention conventional terms whether written or spoken.


Dutilh NovaesFormalizing8.


Cf. Spade‘Ockham’s Rule’70.


Dutilh NovaesFormalizing1-77; eadem ‘An Intensional Interpretation’.


C. Dutilh Novaes‘The Role of ‘Denotatur’ in Ockham’s Theory of Supposition’Vivarium 51 (2013) 352-370; eadem Formalizing esp. 35-40.


P. Boehner‘A Medieval Theory of Supposition’Franciscan Studies 18 (1958) 240-289at 256: “It seems that Ockham still admits a broader interpretation of supposition when he not only speaks of actual supposition but also of denoted supposition.” In personal correspondence Dutilh Novaes has told me that she prefers a unified account to this twofold notion of supposition. (But cf. Dutilh Novaes “The Role of ‘Donotatur’ ” 363.) I agree that a unified account seems preferable but I do not see exactly how it can be made compatible with this account of significative supposition.


C. Normore‘Some Aspects of Ockham’s Logic’ in The Cambridge Companion to Ockham ed. P.V. Spade (Cambridge 1999) 31-52 at 39-40.


Dutilh NovaesFormalizing45. That Dutilh Novaes’ account allows for such cases is also confirmed by row 5.b in the table at Formalizing 59. So too S. Read ‘How is Material Supposition Possible?’ Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999) 1-20 at 6: “The need is to distinguish those cases where a word has personal supposition for itself (e.g. ‘Omnis vox profertur’) from those where it has material supposition for itself (e.g. ‘Vox est sonus’ or ‘Vox est nomen’).” Again cf. my remarks regarding quantifiers below.


Read‘How is Material Supposition Possible?’, esp. 3-9, criticizes some fourteenth-century theories—including Ockham’s—on the grounds that they do not account for how this range is determined. Expanding on some observations made by E. Karger, ‘La Supposition Materielle Comme Suppositions Significative: Paul de Venice, Paul de Pergula’ in English Logic in Italy in the 14th and 15th Centuries: Acts of the Fifth European Symposium on Medieval Logic and Semantics Rome November 10-14 1980ed. A. Maierù (Naples 1982) 331-341 Read ‘How is Material Supposition Possible?’ esp. 9-19 argues furthermore that two post-Ockhamist developments repair this deficiency—the elimination of non-significative supposition and the introduction of non-ultimate concepts. Panaccio and Perini-Santos ‘Guillaume d’Ockham’ 216-218 argue to my mind convincingly that Read’s criticism does not apply to Ockham.


T. Parsons‘The Development of Supposition Theory in the Later 12th through 14th Centuries’ in Handbook of the History of Logicvol. 2 Medieval and Renaissance Logic ed. D.M. Gabbay and J. Woods (Amsterdam 2008) 157-280 at 195 n. 45.

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