Species, Concept, and Thing: Theories of Signification in the Second Half of the Thirteenth Century
Pini, Giorgio (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa)
Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999)
Students of later medieval semantics are familiar with the controversy that developed at the end of the thirteenth century over the signification of names. The debate focused on the signification of common nouns such as ‘man’ and ‘animal’: Do they signify an extramental thing or a mental representation of an extramental thing? Duns Scotus is commonly recognized as having played an important role in this debate. In his Ordinatio, he alludes to a magna altercatio among his contemporaries concerning signification. What is more, he gives, in his two commentaries on Aristotle’s Peri hermeneias, a detailed and fair analysis of the two contrasting positions on this issue.
At the center of the debate is a famous passage from the first chapter of Aristotle’s Peri hermeneias, according to which spoken sounds are signs of affections of the soul, and affections of the soul are likenesses of things. The medieval debate on signification can be regarded as a commentary on these few lines.