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TWO THEORIES OF SIGNIFICATION IN THE WRITINGS OF JOHN DUNS SCOTUS In a brief paper entitled, "Denotation," Professor Umberto Eco claims to have found a contradiction in the works of John Duns Scotus.1 Loosely speaking, Professor Eco noticed that near the beginning of his Commentary on the Perihermenias, Scotus staunchly defends the thesis that things are signified only as they are known. By this Scotus meant that all signification is mediated through concepts. In both the Lectura and Ordinatio, however, Eco alleges that Scotus rejected his earlier claim and expressly stated that spoken words signify things directly. Upon recognising the discrepancy between Scotus's two accounts, Professor Eco pleads bewilderment but does not press the matter any further. One purpose behind writing this study, then, is to press the matter. That is to say, this work is the result of an endeavour to present both of Scotus's views on signification and to attempt some explanation as to why he modified his position. Professor Eco's observation that Duns Scotus did argue, at least in part, for the direct signification of things in his later writings is a fairly well known fact. It has been expressed wonderfully by Antonie Vos in his treatment of semantic relations.2 Stephen Brown has considered it in the light of a wider historical context.3 Philotheus Boehner, Gabriel Nuchelmans, and Jan Pinborg have all made casual reference to it.4 Duns Scotus's claim that spoken words 'U. Eco, "Denotation," On the Medieval Theory of Signs, Foundations of Semiotics, ed. A. Eschbach, (Amsterdam 1989) pp. 62-63. 2A. Vos, "On die Philosophy of die Young Duns Scotus. Some Semantical and Logical Aspects," Mediaeval Semantics and Metaphysics. Studies Dedicated to L.M. De Rijk, Professor of Ancient and Mediaeval Philosophy at the Untverstiy of Leiden on the Occasion of his 60i Birthday, ed. E.P. Bos, Artistarium Supplementa II, (Nijmegen 1985) pp. 199-200. 'S. Brown, "A Modern Prologue to Ockham's Natural Philosophy," Sprache und Erkenntnis im Mittelalter, ed. Albert Zimmermann, (Berlin, 1981) pp. 107108 . 4P. Boehner, "Ockham's Theory of Signification," Collected Articles on Ockham, ed. E. Buytaert, (New York 1958) p. 219 n. 29. G. Nuchelmans, Theories of the Proposition, (Amsterdam 1973) p. 196. J. Pinborg, "Roger Bacon on Signs: 289 Franciscan Studies 58 (2000) 290J. A. Sheppard signify things as opposed to concepts has also enjoyed a fair amount of attention in Alan Wolter's scholarship.5 All of these studies are sound, yet none of them take into account the view that Duns Scotus expressed in his commentary on the Perihermenias. The result of this has been that the relation between spoken words and concepts, as it is expressed in both Scotus's earlier and later works, has been almost completely overlooked, and the inconsistency that Professor Eco found has been left unexplained. I. CHRONOLOGY OF SCOTUS'S WRITINGS Separating Duns Scotus's early writings from his later ones is convenient but where exactly do the 'early' and 'later' periods begin and end? It is a fact that any attempt at a definite chronology of Duns Scotus's writings would be premature. Indeed, there are an enormous number of unanswered questions concerning both the dates of composition and the authenticity of much of the work that is ascribed to him. For instance, with regard to his Commentary on the Perihermenias itself, although the authorship is not in doubt, the exact date that he wrote the work is still a matter of some speculation. Yet, if the few facts of Scotus's life, especially with regard to his academic career, are borne in mind, it would appear that he wrote his commentary sometime near the end of the period ranging from 1281-1288. Unfortunately, very little in the way of solid information has been gathered for this period. Perhaps the most useful outline has been proposed by Father André Callebaut. Basing his study of Scotus's early education on a comparison with the academic career of William Godin, Scotus's Dominican contemporary, Callebaut came up with the following dates. He suggests that between 1281 and 1288 Scotus was studying the arts A Newly Recovered Part of the Opus Maius," Medieval...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 289-312
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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