restricted access 4. Oratio mentalis
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78 chapter four Oratio mentalis U ntil the third century, the philosophical notion of interior discourse remained relatively stable. Different authors emphasized different aspects, and the contexts of its emergence varied, but in the final analysis interior discourse almost always appeared as something like a private discursive deliberation, purely intellectual and prelinguistic. From the moment the idea began to be revived in the Christian context, serving by way of comparison to clarify the status of the “Son” of God, its history is marked by a crucial bifurcation. On the one hand, there is the theological usage to which the previous chapter was devoted: an approach instigated by Justin—in passing and without special emphasis—that continued through to Augustine’s very elaborate doctrine of the mental word, in which the notion of discursivity is in effect eliminated in favor of the notion of interior generation. On the other hand, the theme continued independently as it was exploited by professional philosophers: after Porphyry, we regularly encounter it in the Neoplatonic tradition, with which we will now concern ourselves. Here, it takes on very different bearings, much closer to its origins. Contact with the Middle Ages, in this case, passes principally through Boethius , whose translations and detailed commentaries would, for the Latin West, rescue the first chapters of Aristotelian logic, the Categories and Perihermeneias in particular, as well as Porphyry’s Isagoge by way of introduction. Now, the idea that in the mind there are structured expressions, sentences, a discourse—in short, all that in the Organon is called logos (becoming oratio, in Boethius)—is reaffirmed many times in Boethius’s second commentary on the Perihermenias. Itisthistext(wellknowntothemedievals)thatWilliamofOckhamwillinvoke— even before mentioning Augustine—on the very first page of his Summa logicae to introduce his own theory of the oratio concepta or mentalis. The authority of Boethius on this point was later reinforced by the Latin translation (thanks to William of Moerbeke in the years 1266–68) of two other Neoplatonic commentaries that also occasionally addressed mental discourse: Ammonius’s commentary on the Perihermeneias and (to a much lesser degree) Simplicius’s commentary on the Categories. The Latin version of Ammonius’s work—which preserved, in one instance, the transliterated Greek term endiathetos—was also the first to render the expression logos endiathetos as oratio mentalis. 1. Ammonius, Commentaire sur le Peri hermeneias d’Aristote: Traduction de Guillaume de Moerbeke, ed. G. Verbeke (Louvain: Publications universitaires de Louvain, 1961), especially 41 (for endiatheton) and 455, 479 (for orationes mentales); and SimpliF6925 .indb 78 F6925.indb 78 10/24/16 12:52:23 PM 10/24/16 12:52:23 PM Oratio mentalis 79 Latin and Greek, these texts are directly related to one other and belong to a single, quite unified tradition, for the most part lost today—a tradition going back to Porphyry and his commentaries on Aristotelian logic. I will devote myself to retracing, as far as possible, the relevant positions of this author in order in turn to examine those of Ammonius and Boethius. At the end of the chapter, I will dedicate some pages to the contributions of the Muslim philosophers alF ârâbî and Avicenna—extremely influential in the Middle Ages and themselves profoundly influenced by Neoplatonism and the long line of Aristotle’s commentators . Our principal thread throughout will be the question of whether for the Neoplatonists mental discourse is bound by a particular language or whether it must rather be considered, like Augustine’s verbum in mente, as totally independent of the idioms of communication. In particular, we will ask to what extent and in precisely what way the Neoplatonic tradition sought to apply the grammatical categories of noun and verb to the analysis of interior language. The problem is delicate, and the most prominent recent commentators have divergent opinions on the subject, but much rides on this question—it is a matter of determining whether Porphyry and his successors put in place, as Danish scholar Sten Ebbesen believes, a semantico-grammatical theory of thought prefiguring the theory of William of Ockham, ten centuries later, and whether, in so doing, they laid the groundwork for a genuine compositional analysis of oratio mentalis. The case of Porphyry The question arises first concerning Porphyry. There is every reason to believe that the commentaries on the Perihermeneias by Ammonius and Boethius were both largely inspired by Porphyry’s, written toward the very end of the third century, but today lost. Boethius attributes to Porphyry by name a later...


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