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PROPOSITIONALISM AND ATOMISM IN OCKHAM'S SEMANTICS* The term "propositionalism" has been proposed as a label for Ockham 's theory of language by the Spanish scholar Teodoro de Andrés in his 1969 book, El nominalismo de Guillermo de Ockham como filosofía del lenguaje. For de Andrés' Ockham, the proposition rather than the term is "the primary complete linguistic unit" and the "primary reality " ofknowledge.1 On the other hand, the expression "semantical atomism " is used by Michael Loux in a 1979 paper to characterize the standard terminist tradition which, he claims, Ockham breaks with. For Loux's Ockham, "the meaning of a general term is a function of the roles it plays in propositional contexts" and "it is impossible to isolate a non-propositional component in a speaker's linguistic knowledge."2 Andrés' and Loux's interpretations are remarkably similar to each other. I will call them "propositionalist interpretations of Ockham's semantics." They are not the only ones in the literature. The History ofPhilosophy edited in French by François Châtelet in 1972 has a chapter on Ockham written by Patrick Hochart, the main theme of which is that the primary character of a linguistic sign is that of being a part of a proposition.3 And Joël Biard, in a French paper on "the Ockhamist *I wish to thank John Boler, Sten Ebbesen, Jerry Etzkorn, and Robert Nadeau for helpful comments on prior versions of this paper, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada for its financial assistance. 1 Teodoro de Andrés, El nominalismo de Guillermo de Ockham como filosof ía del lenguaje (Madrid: Editorial Gredos, 1969) 219-20, 233-36, and passim. 2 Michael Loux, "Significatio and Suppositio: Reflections on Ockham's Semantics," TKe New Scholasticism 53 (1979): 423-24. 3 Patrick Hochart, "Le signe et sa duplicité," in La philosophie médiévale (du 1er au XVe siècle), ed. by F. Châtelet (Paris: Hachette, 1972) 190-91. 02CLAUDE PaNACCIO redefinition of signification," published in 1981, stresses what he calls the "propositional dimension of signification."4 Strikingly enough, none of these authors quotes or even mentions any of the others. They apparently all came to the same conclusion through their own independent reading of Ockham's Summa Logicae. Moreover, they unanimously see this propositionalist theory of Ockham as breaking in a very important way with the former atomistic philosophy of language. Let me quote Michael Loux's version of the claim (but more or less the equivalent can be found in the others): What I take to be novel or original in Ockham's account ofsignificatio and suppositio, then, is its incipient holism; and I want to claim that standard studies of his theory of language have gone wrong in failing to recognize this revolutionary aspect of his logic. Historians like to tell us that it was Kant who first rejected the atomism oftraditional philosophy. I am suggesting that this picture of the history of philosophy is wrong: Ockham took the Kantian turn several centuries earlier; or better: Kant's emphasis on the primacy of the judgmental form is a variation on an essentially Ockhamistic theme.5 A whole picture ofthe history ofphilosophy is thus at stake here. And it is true that the propositionalist readers ofOckham might very well have put their fingers on something important. But all of them exaggerate their case in a very misleading way when they say things such as: "the proposition (...) is in fact the primary complete linguistic unit";6 or: "the linguistic sign ... has meaning and validity only in the process of the proposition";7 or again: "Ockham (...) wants to deny that the word-world relations involved in personal suppositio are mediated by any prior semantical relation";8 or finally: "signification presupposes supposition."9 I will here discuss the arguments in favor of the propositionalist interpretation and show that they cannot support the very strong claims that are supposed to rest on them. I will 4 Joèl Biard, "La redéfinition ockhamiste de la signification," in Sprache und Erkenntnü im Mittelalter, ed. by W. Kluxen et al. (Berlin: De Gruyter, 1981) 458. 5 Loux 425. 6 Andr...


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