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OCKHAM'S THEORY OF SIGNIFICATION OUR previous investigation has sufficiently shown that already in the thirteenth century the theory of signification and at least an equivalent of the theory of supposition were linked up with the theory of truth. This historical sketch has proved that Ockham's theory of truth, which is more explicitly based on the theory of supposition than that of any other previous system, remains within the pale of the Scholastic tradition; but it has also prepared the way for making the difference between his own theory and that of his predecessors evident. The Venerabilis Inceptor is in agreement with his predecessors in maintaining that the relation which constitutes the truth of propositions is a relation of correct signification or supposition; but he disagrees with them — in different degrees — regarding the exact specification of this relation. Ockham follows Aristotle1 when he refers the predicate "true" or "false" only to propositions, whether spoken, written or mental. Propositions are composed of spoken, written or mental terms. The terms in a proposition have a certain supposition, and supposition in its turn is related to signification. Hence we have to start our analysis with a discussion and explanation of Ockham's theory of signification. The present article will quote Ockham's texts extensively, partly because these texts are not easily accessible, and mainly because they are almost all revised according to the best manuscripts known to us. 1. The Meaning of Sign Not Confined to Language A faithful account of Ockham's Semantics must avoid the danger of confusing different types of signs, because he himself 1. Secundo notandum, quod raro invenitur a Philosopho quod ponit aliquam veritatem vel falsitatem nisi in propositione, et ideo, ut communiter, Philosophus non vocat aliquid verum vel falsum nisi propositionem. Expositio super lm Iibrum Perihermenias, ad: Est autem quemadmodum in anima... Cf. P. Wilpert, "Zum Aristotelischen Wahrheitsbegriff," in Philosophisches Jahrbureh der Görres-Gesellschaft 53 (1940) 1-16, especially p. 16: "Für eine Entwicklung im Wahrheitsbegriff des Aristoteles können wir feststellen, dass die ontologische Wahrheit Piatons mehr und mehr zurücktritt und an ihre Stelle die logische Wahrheit den ersten Platz einnimmt,¦wenn auch die ontologische Bedeutung des Begriffes nie ganz verschwindet." 143 144OCKHAM'S THEORY OF SIGNIFICATION has carefully distinguished them. "Sign" can be taken in a very broad sense, but then signs which are terms (spoken, written or mental) are not necessarily a sub-class of sign in general, though they may partly be characterized by the properties of sign in general. Or "sign" can be taken in the specific meaning of language-sign; and so it needs a specific characterization. We shall first deal with the meaning of sign in the broader sense. According to Ockham, a sign in the broad meaning of the term is everything which, when apprehended, makes something different from itself, which is already habitually known, actually known: (Signum accipitur) pro omni illo, quod apprehensum aliquid aliud in cognitionem facit venire, quamvis non faciat mentem venire in primam cognitionem eius, sicut alibi est ostensum, sed in actualem post habitualem eiusdem.2 This notification of the meaning of sign is undoubtedly inspired by the much quoted definition offered by St. Augustine: Signum est enim res praeter speciem quam ingerit sensibus aliud aliquid ex se faciens in cogitationem venire.3 However, we note immediately that Ockham's wording differs in important details from the definition given by St. Augustine. In fact, Ockham's definition while wider in its scope yet adds a certain limitation. It is wider in its scope. For Ockham's calls "everything which makes something different from itself known" a sign. Hence, by definition, the function of sign is not confined to sensible facts; on the contrary, everything, whether it is a thing or a sign, a material or an immaterial reality, can be a sign in this sense if it is the cause of the knowledge of something else. Smoke, for instance, is a sign in this sense, for it can be the cause of the knowledge of fire; or a word, too, is a natural sign in this sense, for it is a natural sign of its cause, viz., the speaker. Furthermore, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 143-170
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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