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Merely Confused Supposition: A Theoretical Advance or a Mere Confusion?

From: Franciscan Studies
Volume 40, 1980
pp. 265-297 | 10.1353/frc.1980.0009

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MERELY CONFUSED SUPPOSITION A THEORETICAL ADVANCE OR A MERE CONFUSION? Introduction In this article we will discuss the notion of merely confused supposition as it arose in the mediaeval theory of suppositio personalis. The context of the analysis is our formaUzation of WilUam of Ockham's theory of supposition sketched elsewhere.1 The present paper is however, self-contained, although we assume a basic acquaintance with supposition theory. The detailed aims of the paper are: i) to look at the tasks that supposition theory took on itself and to use our formalization to relate them to more modern ideas; ii) to explain the notion of merely confused supposition and to defend it against certain criticisms; and iii) to discuss two issues closely related to the idea of merely confused supposition which we would not broach in a shorter article: the mode of supposition of terms in intensional contexts , and the possible existence of a fourth mode, often called suppositio copulatim. Our account is essentially a theoretical one which attempts to explain and account for a number of features of mediaeval supposition theory and, as such, it is ultimately to be tested against source material . Hence, although much of the evidence we shaU offer comes from Ockham's writings, our conclusions apply to the mediaeval theory of supposition, in terms of descent, as it is found in a number of authors. Our earlier article drew on three works of Ockham's: Summa Totius Logicae (henceforth STL), Elementarium Logicae (EL), and Tractatus Logicae Minor (TLM).2 Since then we have be1 G. Priest & S. Read, "The Formalization of Ockham's Theory of Supposition ," Mind, 86 (1977), 109-13. 2 STL: G. de Ockham, Summa Logicae, eds. P. Boehner, G. Gal & S. Brown 266GRAHAM PRIEST and STEPHEN READ come aware of Gál's persuasive doubts concerning the authenticity of the last two works. His conclusion is that they cannot be taken as genuine texts of Ockham's until further research has been carried out.8 We will find it possible here to draw most often on STL; however , the reader wiU note that our findings are consonant with both TLM and EL, and on occasions we will look there for support, and also to writings by later authors working in the same tradition. i. The Theory of Supposition and its Function The current notion of reference has a narrow use and a wide one. In the narrow sense of 'reference,' it is only singular terms that can have reference, for example 'RusseU,' 'that man,' 'the winner of the race.' In the wider sense of 'reference,' also caUed 'extension,' one can attribute reference not only to singular terms but also to general terms such as 'man,' 'men holding babies,' and even to quantified terms such as 'all women," and 'some woman holding a baby.' These terms relate to an object or set of objects whose properties are important in determining the truth or falsity of sentences in which the terms occur. This object or set of objects is the reference of the term in question. The mediaeval theory of personal supposition is a theory of reference in the wider sense of the term. A singular term was said to have discrete supposition for an object. A general or quantified term was said to have common supposition for the class of objects involved. (A general term such as 'man' supposited for every member of the class of men; so 'some men' supposits not for some men but for all men.) Common supposition was, in turn, of different kinds. WTe wiU turn to this division in § 4. What we need to note here is that only in the context of a sentence did a categorematic term have supposition. (Recall Frege's doctrine that only in the context of a proposition does a word have Bedeutung.) Moreover, the supposition of a term in a sentence is a measure of the way in which a term stands for certain objects, namely those in the extension of the term. (Opera Philosophica I: St. Bonaventure, 1974). EL: "The Elementarium Logicae of Ockham," ed. E. Buytaert, Franciscan Studies, 25 (1965), 151-276 and 26 (1966), 66-173. TLM: "Tractatus Logicae Minor of...