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  • Die Syncategoremata des Wilhelm von Sherwood. Kommentierung und Historische Einordnung. Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 98
  • Joke Spruyt
Raina Kirchoff. Die Syncategoremata des Wilhelm von Sherwood. Kommentierung und Historische Einordnung. Studien und Texte zur Geistesgeschichte des Mittelalters, 98. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2008. Pp xix + 756. Cloth, $234.00.

The thirteenth-century treatises on syncategorematic words still form a gold mine for studying the development of logic after Aristotle and Boethius. Generally speaking, the class of words labelled syncategoremata included expressions that, more than their categorematic counterparts, require the context of an expression in order to be meaningful. Nouns and verbs, such as ‘man’ and ‘to run’, were considered as having a more determined meaning than expressions such as ‘every’ or ‘not’. In the early days of the syncategoremata literature, the criteria for distinguishing categorematic from syncategorematic words were not entirely clear; authors used both syntactic and semantic criteria to separate the two classes from each other. The different ways of describing the two classes of words sometimes led to alternative lists of syncategoremata. Eventually the list came to include: the verb ‘is’; the negation ‘not’; the modal adverbs ‘necessarily’ and ‘contingently’; the exclusives ‘only’ and ‘alone’; the exceptives ‘except’ and ‘unless’ (‘preter’, ‘preterquam’); the distributive signs ‘every’ (‘omnis’), ‘whole’ (‘totum’), ‘both’ (‘uterque’), and ‘of whatever kind’ (‘qualislibet’); the consecutives ‘if’ (‘si’), ‘unless’ (‘nisi’), and ‘but that’ (‘quin’); the copulatives (e.g., ‘and’ [‘et’]); the disjunctive ‘or’ (‘vel ’, ‘aut’); the adverb ‘whether’ (‘an’); and the verbs ‘begins’ (‘incipit’) and ‘ceases’ (‘desinit’).

Throughout the Middle Ages, authors developed their own views about the precise characteristics of syncategoremata, including their identity, nature, and (linguistic and logical) function(s). The late twelfth and thirteenth centuries saw independent treatises composed on syncategorematic words; somewhat later the topics and analyses found in these works were incorporated into writings of a wider range. The medieval theories of syncategoremata are important not only for understanding medieval accounts of language and logic, but also for conveying an author’s views of other philosophical questions.

Raina Kirchoff’s book is devoted to an important sample of Syncategoremata treatises from the thirteenth century. It is a thorough piece of work, carefully written and clearly structured, which provides a comprehensive introduction to and in-depth study of William of Sherwood’s Syncategoremata.

The introduction presents a historical overview of the development of medieval interest in syncategorematic words. Drawing on existing research, it traces its origins to the works of Aristotle, Boethius, and the grammarian Priscian (unfortunately, Kirchoff has not taken into consideration the groundbreaking work by L. M. de Rijk, Aristotle: Semantics and Ontology [Brill, 2002]; hence her mistaken identification of Aristotle’s use of ‘to be’ as the “copula” [20]). Next is a discussion of the topic from Abelard onwards, followed by an overview of the contents of all the syncategoremata treatises and a comparison highlighting the similarities and differences between them. The book includes a table of all the sophisma-sentences (problematic sentences whose truth value cannot immediately be established) in syncategoremata treatises and related works (i.e., the sophistaria and distinctiones treatises) from the same period. This enables the reader to see precisely where different sophisma-sentences are considered. The book concludes with a brief chapter on later developments.

The main part of the book is devoted to a commentary on Sherwood’s Syncategoremata. While the jury is still out on whether Sherwood’s treatise is the most important of its kind, as Kirchoff suggests, it certainly deserves our attention. The commentary focuses on Sherwood’s explanation of the semantics and function of syncategorematic words. Sherwood’s accounts of the different sophisma-sentences (e.g., totus Sortes est minor Sorte; infinita sunt finita) are presented and explained, and compared to other authors’ solutions. Kirchoff is aware of the dangers of comparing medieval and modern logic, but has nevertheless attempted to render Sherwood’s analyses of sophisma-sentences in the formal notation of predicate logic, where doing so would help the reader to gain a better understanding of Sherwood’s thinking. [End Page 623]

This book should prove to be a welcome contribution to research on syncategorematic words. Kirchoff has managed to give a complete overview...