Preface
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xi Preface This book is the result of a project originally much more narrowly circumscribed : it aimed to trace the theoretical discussions of the period (from approximately 1250 to 1320) that led to William of Ockham’s theory of mental language (oratio mentalis). At the time, I was guided by two motivations that I feel it is appropriate to describe here, as they remained decisive throughout my research. On the one hand, I asked myself whether these scholastic debates, seemingly so different from our own and quite often conducted in a theological context, nonetheless had some relation to the problem of the “language of thought” that is treated in contemporary cognitive science. The very possibility of an intellectual conversation with authors as distant from us as the medievals was called into question in the 1960s, thanks to the spectacular success of such notions as rupture, incommensurability, and paradigm shift. But perhaps the conclusions and hypotheses of Thomas Kuhn and Michel Foucault have been too readily accepted. The question, it seems to me, should be addressed in terms of detailed analyses of particular cases; indeed, the topic of mental language would especially seem to demand such treatment. On the other hand, recent work by historians of ideas—in particular, William Courtenay, Zenon Kaluza, and Katherine Tachau—has forcefully demonstrated the need to reevaluate the place of William of Ockham in the history of later medieval philosophy, as well as the impact of his work on his immediate contemporaries and successors. Tachau, for example, maintained (in an important work that appeared in 1988, Vision and Certitude in the Age of Ockham) that the Ockhamist theory of knowledge was quite poorly received in the universities of the day and did not lead to the establishment of a philosophical school. However, Tachau’s inquiry was restricted to select themes—namely, those surrounding intuitive cognition (notitia intuitiva) and the mental image (the species). It seemed to me that a similar study of the idea of mental language, central for the venerabilis inceptor, could perhaps act as a counterweight and in any case would provide a useful completion of the portrait. My hypothesis was—and still is—that William of Ockham accomplished, in the years 1315–25, a major and highly influential theoretical revolution, precisely through the development of the concept of oratio mentalis. It quickly became clear, however, that I would need to move beyond the limited chronological frame to which I had initially confined myself in order to allow a detailed reexamination of the topic’s Greek, Roman, patristic, and Arab sources,aswellasoftheentiremedievaldevelopmentofthethemesinceAnselm of Canterbury in the eleventh century. For not only did the texts of Aristotle, Augustine, Boethius, and John Damascene (as well as those of Anselm), on F6925.indb xi F6925.indb xi 10/24/16 12:52:18 PM 10/24/16 12:52:18 PM xii Preface this topic and others, influence later reflection, but further, no recent work in the history of classical notions of logos endiathetos and verbum cordis provided an overview that could supply adequate background for my projected inquiry. It was thus necessary for me to venture—with fear and trembling!—into territory with which I was initially less familiar. With that, the feasibility of the enterprise became much less obvious. I believed that I ought to persist, despite the obstacles, only because I was convinced, on the basis of my readings and numerous discussions with colleagues, that it was necessary to evaluate, in a synthetic manner, the large question of interior discourse in ancient and medieval thought. Inevitably, errors will have escaped my attention. I only hope that the completed work will appear, as I believe, sufficiently fruitful that others might be willing to supplement or correct it where needed. In any case, the project would never have succeeded without the continuing support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the Quebec Fund for the Formation of Scholars and the Advancement of Research (FCAR), and the Institutional Research Fund of the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières. My recognition of these organizations is all the greater for their generous help in permitting many assistants to accompany and stimulate my research, some over many months, others for several years. Here I wish to thank warmly all those students who were indispensable to the work of the bibliography , documentation, and analysis: Ivan Bendwell, Luc Bergeron, Richard Caron, Mario Charland, Guy Hamelin, Marcelo Lannes, Sylvie Laramée, Renée Lavergne, Maxime Lebeuf, André Leclerc...