Duns Scotus on Signification
Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 3 (1993)
In both versions of his Commentary on the Sentences, Scotus alludes to a great controversy among his contemporaries over the question of whether a spoken word signifies a thing or a concept. He does not give a detailed account of this controversy, but confines himself to saying, “in short, I grant that what is properly signified by a spoken word is a thing.”
This brief statement may seem trivial at first sight, but it turns out to be innovative when it is assessed against the background of medieval Aristotelian semantic theory. From Boethius onwards, the overwhelming majority of the commentators on De interpretatione held that it is a concept and not a thing that is primarily and directly signified by a spoken word.