Duns Scotus on Signification

Dominik Perler
1993 Medieval Philosophy and Theology  
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." 1 This brief statement may seem trivial at first sight, but it turns out to be innovative when it is assessed against the background of
more » ... he 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. Pinborg, Traditio 34 (1978): 82-84. On the sources of this division, see Alfonso Maierίi, "Signum dans la culture medievale," in Sprache und Erkenntnis im Mittelalter: Akten des VI. lnternationalen Kongresses fur mittelalterliche Phifosophie, ed. Wolfgang Kluxen et al., Miscellanea Mediaevalia 13 (Berlin and New York: de Gruyter, 1981) 1:51-72. 9. On the distinction between natural and conventional signs, which was a topos of medieval philosophy from Boethius onwards, see J. Engels, Όrigine, sens et survie du terme boecien 'secundum placituπΐ" Vivarium 1 (1963):
doi:10.5840/medievalpt199334 fatcat:25iwed3ykverpkjf6clvbi6g2a