Ockham and Ambiguity

Ockham and Ambiguity

Sinkler, Georgette

Medieval Philosophy and Theology, vol. 4 (1994)


In the Sophistichi eknchi, Aristotle identifies thirteen types of fallacies or ways one can go wrong in arguing. According to Aristotle, of these fallacies, six come about in language, and seven are independent of language. The six in language can be characterized as types of ambiguity that arise because of the peculiarities of natural language. These types of ambiguity are equivocation, amphiboly, composition, division, accent, and figura dictionis. The seven ways independent of language in which one can go wrong in arguing can be characterized as arising because of the limited mental capacity of human beings. And these ways of going wrong are accident, affirming the consequent, begging the question, many questions, treating as cause what is not the cause, secundum quid et simpliciterf and ignoratio elenchi.

At the beginning of the twelfth century, with the recovery of the Sophistichi elenchi in the Latin West, philosophers became particularly interested in the six types of ambiguity that Aristotle identifies as coming about in language—those of composition and division more so than the others.

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