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  • Nicholas of Amsterdam: Commentary on the Old Logic by Egbert P. Bos
  • Mary Sirridge
Egbert P. Bos. Nicholas of Amsterdam: Commentary on the Old Logic. Critical edition with introduction and indexes. Bochhumer Studien zur Philosophie, 58. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2016. Pp. liv + 384. Cloth, $180.00.

This is an edition of commentaries on Porphyry's Isagoge and Aristotle's Categories and On Interpretation attributed to Nicholas of Amsterdam (1390–ca. 1438), who taught as magister Erfordiensis at the University of Rostock. Nicholas's own position is what he calls "the position of the moderns" (via moderna), which in this instance means that he adopts and defends [End Page 540] primarily the approach of John Buridan (ca. 1300–1361) and Marsilius of Inghen (ca. 1340–1396), including their conceptualism. As Bos notes (xiii), Nicholas is thus a good source of information about how the works of Marsilius and Buridan were transmitted and studied. Nonetheless, Nicholas often, and frequently sympathetically, discusses Ockham's positions and those of such antiqui as Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, and John Duns Scotus in considerable detail. He is thus a good source of information about how later generations studied and understood Ockham's views and the ideas of the antiqui. His commentaries also contain references to the views of Boethius, Avicenna, Averroes, Peter of Spain, and a large number of later logicians (xiii).

Although, as Bos points out (xvii), these commentaries are edited versions, not transcripts of actual disputations, they may owe their distinctive structure to their origin as exercises (exercitia), university class sessions based on some prescribed text in which students were expected to play a somewhat active role. A question raised by the text is stated, for example, "[w]hether the definition given by Porphyry, which says, 'a genus is what is predicated with respect to what the thing is, of several things differing in species,' is correct" (64). There follow a series of preliminaries that offer an exposition of the text in question and a discussion of difficulties and related issues. In this case, there is an elaborate re-articulation of Porphyry's text to bring it into more obvious alignment with the "modern" answer to the previous question, namely, that universals have no being whatsoever independent of the intellect; a sympathetic explanation of Albertus Magnus's view that identity statements are not true predications; an argument against Marsilius's reading of "several things differing in species"; and a reinterpretation of his reading that shows how it can be accepted after all. Next, there follows a brief resolution of the original question (conclusio responsialis). Finally, there is a series of objections to the proffered resolution, and answers to these objections, often interconnected.

Central to Nicholas's own approach is the distinction between claims about entities and their relations (realiter) and claims about terms, their significations, and inferential relations. Thus, for example, the property of being able to laugh follows from being human inferentially, not causally (de consecutione non reali, sed logicali), because as soon as "Sortes is man" is true, so is "Sortes is able to laugh" (109). Nicholas often takes the opportunity to discuss controversial questions from physics and metaphysics in these logic commentaries; for example, whether quantity is distinct from substance (realiter, yes, but not suppositionaliter [179]).

For Nicholas, spoken and written terms refer to entities conventionally; they are imposed upon entities outside and inside the mind so as to signify them, that is, to represent them to a cognitive power by way of concepts (299). Singular terms signify individuals by way of singular concepts either actually, on the basis of the experience of the individual, or, as in the case of 'Antichrist,' by way of their capacity (aptitudo) to represent an individual to a cognitive power (302). The logical properties of spoken and written terms are determined by the corresponding concepts understood as mental terms; 'rational animal' and 'the first hour on St. Pantheleon's day, 1453 AD' are non-complex because they correspond to simple concepts in the mind (145).

In his substantial introduction, Bos observes that it is difficult to form a clear estimate of the importance of Nicholas's work, given that not much of his...


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