Philosophy | Medieval Philosophy
P515 | 3605 | Spade

This course will be in two parts. The first half will be devoted to a
study of some of the main concepts, theories and problems in late
mediaeval logic and semantic theory, mainly from the fourteenth
century. Major figures will include: William of Ockham, Walter
Burley, Jean Buridan and other luminaries. Topics will include:
mental language, the theory of signification, “supposition”-theory (a
kind of combination of reference and something like quantification),
connotation-theory, “complexly significables” (the
modern “propositions”), tense and modality. Once this background is
in place, the second half of the semester will focus on mediaeval
theories of insolubilia (“insolubles”), semantic paradoxes such as
the “Liar Paradox.” This was a hot topic from the late-twelfth
century on, and there is an enormous mediaeval literature on it. One
theme of this part of the course will be to highlight the differences
between mediaeval and modern attitudes to the paradoxes.
For the first part of the course, the main reading will be from my
monograph, Thoughts, Words and Things: An Introduction to Late
Mediaeval Logic and Semantic Theory. A PDF-formatted version of this
work is available on-line at: Printouts of a (hopefully
updated and corrected) version will be available as a course packet.
Other required and recommended readings for the course will be on
reserve in the main library or made otherwise available.
The Department’s Logic Area Committee has determined that this course
may be counted toward departmental certification in the area of logic
(although it cannot be used as a substitute for P505 or the
equivalent). It can also be counted toward certification in history
of philosophy. (But it cannot be counted in both logic and history at
No prior knowledge of mediaeval philosophy will be presupposed, and
neither will any specialized knowledge of logic. All readings will be
in English, as will the lectures for that matter. Students whose main
interests lie in modern logic should be aware the this course will
prove very few if any “theorems,” and that mediaeval logic had
nothing at all to do with mathematics. Also, you will be relieved to
know that we will not be talking about syllogistic and boring things
like that.
Class requirements: A mid-term and a final examination, regular (on-
line) quizzes during the first half of the semester, and
two “projects,” one for each part of the course. A “project” may
consist either of an in-class presentation leading the class through
the material for the day, or else of writing up a short report on
that material.
Note that students who have already had P515 may take it again under
the same number.