10. Reactions
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198 chapter ten Reactions T he Ockhamist conception of mental discourse was quickly impressed upon the attention of university intelligentsia and became, at least in its broad outlines, one of the key elements of the via moderna in the late Middle Ages. This development merits a study of its own; here, at the end of our journey, we will limit ourselves to examining the shortterm echoes of Ockham’s innovation. First, in England, in the environment in which it was produced, we may discern two types of discussions immediately prompted by it: one concerns the very existence of an interior discourse composed of concepts, in the sense intended by Ockham, while the other, taking this for granted, bears instead upon certain precise aspects of the syntactic and semantic structure of this oratio mentalis. The first involves Dominican authors such as Hugh Lawton, William Crathorn, and Robert Holcot; recently this has been made the object of some fine studies, whose main results I shall report. The second, which unfolded in Franciscan territory, has so far been of less concern to commentators; it reveals the rapid spread of certain of William of Ockham’s ideas on the subject of mental language, even among his fiercest adversaries. Without getting into the details, I will consider, finally, the reception of this doctrine in the faculty of arts of the University of Paris—especially in the influential nominalist school of John Buridan—that played a major role in its later dissemination. The nature of mental language Hugh Lawton is one of the first authors to have reacted directly to Ockham’s theories on our chosen theme. His Commentary on the Sentences, no longer extant , was most probably written in the second half of the 1320s. We know from Crathorn, who reports on it in detail, that the author developed a substantial argument explicitly against the Ockhamist doctrine of the oratio mentalis. His own position is that no such mental propositions exist—he thus strongly rejects a thesis generally accepted in the medieval university of the time by Thomist 1. On this topic, I will loosely use here certain developments of an earlier article (Panaccio 1996). 2. Schepers 1970–72; Gelber 1984; Perler 1997. 3. Crathorn, Quästionen zum ersten Sentenzenbuch, q. 2, ed. F. Hoffmann (Münster: Aschendorf, 1988), 172–75. Crathorn’s Commentary on the Sentences dates from the beginning of the 1330s. F6925.indb 198 F6925.indb 198 10/24/16 12:52:30 PM 10/24/16 12:52:30 PM Reactions 199 Dominicans, among others. For Lawton propositions are spoken or written only. Crathorn attributes to him fourteen arguments on this point, which the American scholar Hester Gelber some years ago discussed in much greater detail than I can do here. She showed that the argumentation relies largely on a superficial understanding of Ockham’s positions, and on this subject I can only refer the reader to her article in Franciscan Studies. I would like, nevertheless, to draw attention to one of Lawton’s objections— the eleventh—which is especially revealing, it seems to me, insofar as it manifests a marked reluctance to apply the semantic vocabulary of suppositio to the order of mental similitudines. Lawton argues that intellectual representations— whose existence he seems to admit—are not the kinds of things that could naturally “supposit” for something else, for if the natural function of supposition depended on simple resemblance (similitudo), anything could a fortiori supposit for something else of the same species (Socrates for Plato, for example), which, he says, is not true. Without being uninteresting or impertinent, the argument is rather brief—to say the least—and fails to do justice to the virtues of the approach it criticizes. In fact, what is manifest in these lines of Lawton is an instinctive resistance to what constituted the crux of the Ockhamist innovation : infusing the theory of the mind and knowledge with the apparatus of the sciences of language, especially semantics. Crathorn disagrees with Lawton. He discusses each of the fourteen arguments in turn and contests every conclusion. For all that, however, his intention is not to defend Ockham: while, according to him, there do indeed exist propositions in the mind, they are not composed, as the venerabilis inceptor thought, of concepts outside of language, but rather of mental representations of words in a given language. His position on this subject is remarkable for its time: the mental proposition, which is the privileged unit of discursive thought, always pertains to...