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FORCE OF WORDS AND FIGURES OF SPEECH: THE CRISIS OVER VIRTUS SERMONlS IN THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY On the Friday after Christmas in 1340 the Arts Faculty at the University ofParis, during the rectorship of Alain de Villa Colis, enacted a statute listing propositions and types of argumentation that should not be used in the schools by any master, bachelor, or scholar under pain of expulsion from the faculty forever.1 Most of the articles in that statute concerned arguments employing the phrase de virtute sermonis , to the effect that propositions taken from authoritative sources should not simply be called false, de virtute sermonis. This statute was identified in the fifteenth-century manuscript of the Chartularium as being directed against Ockhamist errors—a rubric repeated in Denifle's edition of the Chartulary and expanded upon by Michalski, who attempted to link the expression de virtute sermonis to Ockham's theory of language and personal supposition.2 That interpretation was subsequently rejected as highly unlikely by Boehner and Moody, but has been resurrected and defended by Ruprecht Paqué in his book-length study of this statute, and by T. K. Scott.3 1 Chartularium Universitatis Parisiensis, ed. H. Denifle and E. Châtelain, Vol. II (Paris, 1891), 505-07, n. 1042, henceforth cited as CUP. 2 The relevant section of the manuscript of the Chartularium, whose somewhat topical structure was rearranged and added to in Denifle's edition, is Arch. Univ. Paris., Reg. 100 (formerly 94), p. 67, n. 59. C. Michalski, "Le problème de la volonté à Oxford et à Paris au XIVe siècle," in Studia Philosophica 2 (1937), 255-61. 3 Ph. Boehner, "Ockham's Theory of Supposition and the Notion of Truth," Franciscan Studies, 6 (1946), 261-92, reprinted in Collected Articles (St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1958), 232-67; E. A. Moody, "Ockham, Buridan, and Nicholas of Autrecourt: The Parisian Statutes of 1339 and 1340," Franciscan Studies, 7 (1947), 113-46, reprinted in Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Science, ??8WILLIAM COURTENAY As has been established elsewhere,4 this statute was mislabeled and was not one of the two anti-Ockhamist statutes promulgated in the same period at Paris-one in September of 1339 that is still extant , and one early in 1341 that no longer exists, but which can be partially reconstructed from references to it in the 1341 oaths of the arts faculty and in the Nominalist defense of 1474. Even so, the 1340 statute with which we are here concerned did appear in the midst of a crisis over the degree to which Ockham's writings and views should be used in the schools, and a study of the meaning and function of the phrase de virtute sermonis, particularly in the fourteenth century, may hold some answers for its original context and purpose. As far back as 1946 Boehner attempted to erase many ofthe misunderstandings about the meaning of the expression de virtute sermonis and shed light on Ockham's use of it.5 The persuasiveness of his analysis was handicapped by his need for brevity (it was given as an aside in the context of another article), by a few unfortunate mistakes, and probably by the ad hominem assumption by many that Boehner had a vested interest in freeing Ockham from the taint of heresy. Yet when Boehner's analysis is considered on its own merits, it is essentially correct. It is only insufficient in the degree of attention given to the pre- and post-Ockhamist history of the phrase de virtute sermonis and the limitation of discussing it only in the context of supposition theory, leading to the mistaken inference that the expression de virtute sermonis was equivalent to and interchangeable with proper supposition , as opposed to improper supposition, or ex usu loquendi. I. Meaning and Verbal Sense: the Origins of Virtus Sermonis Although the specific phrase de virtute sermonis is not found, so far as I am aware, before the thirteenth century, the distinction ofwhich and Logic (Berkeley, 1975), 127-60; Ruprecht Paqué, Das Pariser Nominalistenstatut (Berlin, 1970); T. K. Scott, "Nicholas ofAutrecourt, Buridan, and Ockhamism ," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 9 (1971), 15-41. 4 W. J. Courtenay and K. H. Tachau, Ockham...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 107-128
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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