On Ladies’ Fashion, Plastic Surgery, and the History of Logic and Philosophy

My last two entries for the column What’s hot in medieval reasoning are really a two-parter on the History of Philosophy and the History of Logic. It’s both a bit personal and more than a bit silly – but I am a rather silly person, so…

It’s not strictly medieval, but it might be of interest.Image result for allegory logic

[Pt. 1 The Reasoner vol. 13, n. 2 (February 2019)]

[P]hilosophers’ convictions about the eternity of problems or conceptions were as baseless as a young girl’s conviction that this year’s hats are the only ones that could ever have been worn by a sane woman.

This passage in Collingwood’s An Autobiography (Oxford 1939, p. 65) has always resonated with me. The thing is, I am not entirely convinced that Collingwood was right, but he might have been onto something – besides women’s fashion. As a historian of medieval philosophy (and a casual historian of fashion), my professional identity is an odd beast, like a unicorn or a chimera. Not in the sense that historians of philosophy are mythical monsters – you can find a few of us wandering around departments of philosophy and it doesn’t look like we are particularly close to extinction, yet. But in the sense that we have multiple natures: we are historians and we are philosophers. On the one hand, the historian within me knows that Lady Philosophy has changed a lot over her long life. My inner historian likes to picture her as an old lady who’s had a few plastic surgeries too many and has lost a few bits here and there – oftentimes to replace them with more or less eccentric prosthetics, only to occasionally switch them over again, to keep pace with the ever-changing fashions of the day. Or perhaps my inner historian entertains the idea that Philosophy is not quite a lady, but rather a barely sketched vaguely written role interpreted by different actors; or even better an artificial person, like an institution: what that institution is and does changes with the people inhabiting it, its practices, its reformations and, overall, the times, and yet the institution itself is still in some sense the same. Some days, my inner historian thinks of Philosophy as a bit of both – the old lady and the institution – , i.e. the same sort of patchwork creature that we, her historiographers, are. Long story short and out of metaphor, a good chunk of philosophical issues and conceptions, that were essential at some point or another in the past, doesn’t count as philosophical at all in our eyes – think, for example, of some of the things historians of ideas, theology, or even science are interested in. The converse would probably be just as true. At the end of the day, my inner historian acknowledges the data and interprets it, trying to tell a coherent story of the hows and whys of this historical development. On the other hand, the philosopher within me is more conflicted, which is not surprising. My inner philosopher wants to believe that philosophical questions and theories, for the most part, are not unsolvable conundrums or unchanging truths – the very same we have been dealing with since the dawn of our discipline – that we have been doomed to address until the end of time, with no real hope of resolution. What a boring and utterly hopeless endeavour would philosophising be then! Yet, my inner philosopher has a recognition that there is some sense in which the stuff she is doing is the same kind of stuff that the philosophers of the past were doing, i.e. philosophy. That recognition might however be misguiding, or even delusional, not merely because my inner philosopher might be that bad at philosophising, but because the recognition itself comes with a preconception – very much shaped by our time and curricula – of what philosophy is supposed to look like. My inner philosopher, then, wonders about whether there is some deep core to philosophy, i.e. a set of essential features making something into “philosophy”, i.e. a common denominator shared by anything that was, is and will be philosophy, across ages and continents. It’s a tempting thought, of which my inner philosopher – fancying herself to be as nominalist as they come and being good friends with my inner historian – is pretty weary. The problem is even more evident as far as logic and its history are concerned.

[Pt. 2 The Reasoner vol. 13, n. 3 (March 2019)]

Just as with Lady Philosophy – or possibly even more so – several of Logic’s more or less committed lovers entertain the notion that their beloved remains eternally beautiful and true, i.e. that there is some unchangeable set of core features that make up Logic. Maybe this common attitude in thinking about Logic is due, at least in part, to the normative persuasion that Logic has always seemed to have. Or perhaps it’s because of the mathematical attire that Logic has put on in her modern incarnation. And certainly the fact that those devoted suitors of Logic often seem to believe her to be a young lady, born around 1879 or a handful of years earlier, reassures them in their belief of her unchanging nature and eternality – no matter how said belief is at odds both with Logic’s supposed young age and with the numerous deep changes that she has undeniably gone through during her presumedly short life. Philosophy is undeniably a silver fox, or a snake who has shed her skin and reinvented herself a few times too many; but as of now there aren’t many radical ongoing disagreements about what Philosophy is or is supposed to be – not so much about Logic, though. Even without committing to a form of logical pluralism – or especially then – many may even agree about Logic being in some sense normative. However, they disagree a lot about what the actual norms are, and overall about what Logic really is. At the end of the day, paraphrasing Anandi Hattiangadi, we are not even able to provide an adequate account of what we disagree about when we disagree about logic. (If you are curious about logical disagreement and want to go through a recent overview, go check out her chapter in C. McHugh – J. Way – D. Whiting (eds.), Metaepistemology, Oxford 2018). To complicate matters even further, if we look back at those long centuries between roughly Aristotle’s time and the publication of Frege’s Begriffsschrift, we find a bunch of folks claiming to be doing logic and debating about what that is as well as what it’s supposed to be. At this point, Logic’s fashion sense is on a different wavelength: she appears draped in a regimented version of ordinary language and sometimes she goes a little heavy on the ontology. Yet, she is still mainly about figuring out what follows validly from what, she is conflicted about what counts as formal, as well as what she should be doing with herself. Overall, traditional Logic is both recognisable enough for a modern reader to perceive her as something very much like a three-for-one deal combining Logic, metalogic and philosophy logic, or as what we would call reasoning at the very least. But traditional Logic is also other and different enough that sometimes we don’t really grasp what’s going on and have no idea about what to make of it. Many historians of medieval logic in particular are quite convinced that the object of their studies is not logic at all, but something else entirely that happens to be “logic” in a merely equivocal sense – see, for example, Laurent Cessali’s “What is Medieval Logic After All? Towards a Scientific Use of Natural Language” and ”Postscript: Medieval Logic as Sprachphilosophie” in Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 52 (2010), respectively p. 49-53 and 117-132. Personally, I think that there are several historical and philosophical reasons to be weary of this kind of approach – but this is a topic for another issue. Overall, I much prefer Paul Vincent Spade’s way of framing the problem (paraphrasing): “They called it logic, and they were there first”. Taking the self-proclaimed logicians of the past seriously – at least insofar as they claim to be logicians! – we might actually try to asses whether Logic is neither as young as she is often made out to be nor a series of identity thieves stealing one name to carry on very different lives. Over the course of her long existence, Philosophy has had a few drastic makeovers but has remained – for the most part – recognisable in her evolution, without any harsh breaks in continuity. While it would be unwarranted to claim that Logic has simply put on a fancy new dress embroidered with mathematical symbolism, she might have gone through a more radical and extreme version of the process Philosophy went through, with some breaks in continuity, to the point that she doesn’t look like herself anymore, but rather like a distant cousin. Who knows, maybe reconstructing the details of what Logic was and her changes over time could help us deal with our own disagreements and figure out what else Logic could be. It would probably still be better than holding onto the conviction that Logic is eternal: “if logic is eternal, then it can wait” (attributed to Oliver Heaviside), but a lady should never be left waiting!

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Buridan is dead, long live Buridan!

Semblablement, où est la reine 

Qui commanda que Buridan 

Fut jeté en un sac en Seine? 

Well into the 15th century the “buzz” about Buridan’s life and death was still circulating [1], since François Villon could record it in his Ballade des dames du temps jadis alongside some mythical and historical anecdotes that may sound more familiar, at least to a modern reader, presumably without any worry of being too cryptic.

Although it is probable that Buridan’s death was neither that unusual nor so gruesome, we still don’t know much about it, beginning with even when it was.

There is evidence leading to suppose that Buridan died on the eleventh of October, but the year is unclear. [2] We know that he was still alive and well in the summer of 1358, since he was dealing with an administrative incident between his Nation (Natio Picardiae) and the Natio Anglicana.

In 1356, a dispute erupted between these two nations concerning a student, John Mast, who, having determined with the natio Anglicana to which he belonged, petitioned to incept with the natio Picardie. Themon Judeus, Anglican magister artium, refused his approval. The controversy was not settled until the end of 1358. A general assembly had already convened in the beginning of June 1357 and decided to exclude the two proctors (i.e. the heads of the nations) from being part of the committee that would arbitrate the dispute. In July, John Buridan was sent to submit a rotulus with the arguments of the natio Picardie and to argue their case before the committee. The two nations resumed the negotiations in July 1258 and the representatives reached an agreement on 12 July [3].

It is generally presumed that Buridan was dead by 1361, since a benefice from the Collegiate Church of St Paul-sur-Ternoise (Arras) – of which Buridan had been the beneficiary for some time, possibly for life – was devolved to someone else. [4] On the one hand this would make for a reasonably persuasive argument that at this point Buridan was not among us anymore – because who would pass on some easy money that had been coming on the side already for a while? On the other hand, one might argue that benefices of this kind were destined mostly to advanced students and young masters in need of financial support, and certainly not to popstar philosophers at the end of their prestigious careers. Besides, there may be hints here and there that could lead us to forward the date, or at least to do more research on the issue. For example, as Bert Bos noticed several years ago, one of the manuscripts of Buridan’s Quaestiones super octo libros Physicorum (Liège, 144 C, f. 2ra) reads: “Tabula questionum libri primi Physicorum magistri Iohannis Buridani in vico straminum Parisio anno domini MºIIIº66º pronuntiatarum”[5]. That “1366” could well be due to a scribal error. If it turns out to be confirmed by other sources, we would not have a much better approximation of Buridan’s date of death, but we might have to reconsider the physiognomy of Parisian philosophy in the third quarter of the 14th century.  And that is definitely worth checking out!



[1]  Edmond Faral, Jean Buridan: Maître des Arts de l’Université de Paris, Extrait de l’Histoire littéraire de la France, Tome 28, 2e partie, Paris 1950, Imprimerie Nationale.

[2] Stephen Read, “Introduction” to John Buridan, Treatise on Consequences, New York 2015, p. 1; for some more references, check Read’s notes (n. 1, p. 163).

[3] See Denifle – Chatelain (eds.), Auctarium Chartularii Universitatis Parisiensis, vol. I, p. 206-212 and 233-236.  On a side note, among the witnesses deemed trustworthy who signed the settlement (specially chosen and summoned for the occasion), we find both John Buridan and Albert of Saxony. The day after, the masters from both nations met to celebrate the happy resolution of the controversy at a local tavern. William Buser was there (he helped with the part of the bill that the nation’s funding did not cover), Albert of Saxony was there too (and he apparently had to borrow money from John Mast, the student!), and presumably so was Buridan, being one of the witnesses – although we don’t know for certain, but that might just be because Buridan knew how to manage his own money wisely.

[4] Read, p. 1-2

[5] E.P. Bos, review of Hubien’s edition of the Tractatus de consequentiis, in Vivarium XV (1977), p. 159-160.

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Who is Luisius Turrianus?

All right, this isn’t quite medieval, nor quite logical, but in the context of researching “Pepper is sold here and in Rome”, I came across a post-medieval text that mentions this example, in the context of a theological discussion. And I had no idea who the author is.

The text is Tractatus de Augistissimo Trinitatis Mysterio, printed in 1630. The text is attributed, in Latin, to “Luisii Turriani”. This name does not appear in any wikipedia — not totally surprising since often the Latin forms of names of Renaissance people don’t appear in the relevant articles. The issue is that it’s not immediately clear what the right vernacular is — I searched for “Luisio”, “Luigi”, “Luigio”, “Ludovico”, “Lodovico”, etc., working under the (ungrounded) assumption that the author was Italian.

However, I then took a closer look at the dedication of the book, which is:

Ad illustrissimum, et excellentissimum Dominum D. Bernardinum Fernandez de Velasco Castellae, Legionisque Comitem Stabilem, Ducem de Frias, Marchionem de Berlanga, Comitem de Haro, & Castilnouo, antiquissimorumque Larium de Velasco, & Lara Dominum, Regium cubicularium, &c.

(The duke in question is probably the 6th duke of Frías (c1610-1652), rather than the 1st duke of Frís (c1450-1512), who bore the same name.) Perhaps Turriani was Spanish, not Italian.

If one googles for “Luisii Turriani” one gets a number of library catalog records; the Tractatus de Mysterio is not the only thing he wrote. There’s a Diuersorum opusculorum theologiae, a Disputationum in secundam secundae D. Thomae De iustitia, a Tractatus de Angelis, a Disputationes de poenitentia, and a Tractatus de censuris [et] irregularitate, among others (this list may be complete) — and these are the only hits google has. But! The library catalogues also list these works under the authorial name “Luis de Torres”, and one even gives his dates as 1562-1655! We’re getting closer…

But none of the Luis (de) Torres in wikipedia is the right one. (Nor indeed are either of the Ludovico de Torres). Digging through google hits for “Luis de Torres 1655”, we find precious little information. He was a Jesuit (this is clear from the title page of the De Mysterio: “Luisii Turriani Complutensis e Societate Iesu in Eiusdem Complutensi Collegio”, and he was previously a professor of theology. This page gives his birthplace as Alcalá.

James Tunstead Burtchaell, Catholic Theories of Biblical Inspiration Since 1810: A Review and Critique, gives de Torres’s birthdate as 1582, not 1562, and simply calls him “a Spaniard”, and lists him in a group of Jesuits who held the “more rigid view that the entire text of the Scriptures had been supplied word-for-word by the Spirit to the human writers” (p. 88).

And that’s about it. I have been unable to turn up anything more on this elusive — yet prolific! — figure, other than that he is likely not the Don Luis de Torres Mazuela(s) (or Ma&ccedila;uela(s)) who is mentioned here, here, and here.

Anyone got any more info on this guy? I’d be very interested to know more about him!

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On the selling of pepper: Sherwood, Auxerre, Bacon, and Spain

After our brief political digression last week, this week we’re back to the pepper puzzle. Since writing that post, I’ve been continuing to collect data on how medieval authors analysed these two sentences:

(1) Pepper is sold here and in Rome

(2) Pepper is sold in Paris and in Rome

(It’s interesting just to note which sentence is used by whom…a subtle indication of the location of the author when writing? Perhaps…)

I’m starting off with the Big Four (Sherwood, Bacon, Auxerre, Spain), because they are the first texts where supposition theory is presented in a relatively mature form. Of the four, Sherwood’s is the most nuanced, as he makes subdivisions that the authors do not, while Bacon’s is the most idiosyncratic, as he introduces new distinctions that the others do not use, and which do not appear to be taken up by later authors (though since we’re focusing on the 13th C yet, and haven’t gotten to the 14th C, we may be proven wrong).

Both Sherwood and Auxerre say that in (1), “pepper” exhibits simple supposition. Auxerre defines simple supposition as:

that according to which a term is interpreted for itself or for its [signified] thing without relation to the supposita contained under it [Auxerre, ¶1253].

Compare this with Sherwood, where a word:

supposits what it signifies for what it signifies [Sherwood, p. 107].

Auxerre notes that there are two ways in which “without relation to” can be understood; one, when there is in fact no relation whatsoever, and the other when there is some relation, but it isn’t determinate, rather indeterminate. He admits that in this latter case, the term “simple supposition” is used only loosely.

Again, compare this to Sherwood, who divides simple supposition into three types, according to the three different ways in which a word can stand for what it signifies [Sherwood, p. 111]:

  • without any connection to things (and then it is manerial)
  • connected with things insofar as it is actually preserved in every single thing and is predicable of it (and then it is reduplicative)
  • connected with things insofar as it is related to anything generally, in an unfixed way, and is not identified with anything in a determinate way (and then it is unfixed)

The “unfixed” or vaga (Lat. ‘vague’) simple supposition clearly picks up on Auxerre’s second way of understanding simple supposition. For both authors, this is the type of supposition that “pepper” has in (1).

Bacon takes a different tactic. He does not divide simple supposition into subtypes, nor does he speak of using simple supposition loosely in the way that Auxerre does. Instead, he introduces some distinctions that are orthogonal to the orthodox ones — distinctions that apply across the categories of personal and simple supposition. He says that:

there is another division of supposition and appellation, namely this: some suppositions and appellations are gemina, others antonomastic, still others are metonymical, and so on for the other figures of speech and construction [Bacon, ¶266].

(1) is an instance of gemina “twinned” supposition because of the conjunctive predicate. However, he says that there still remains a doubt as to whether the gemina supposition of “pepper” is simple or personal. He considers objections to both possibilities; we will discuss the objections and his resolution to the dilemma in another post.

Spain’s typology of supposition is the simplest of the four, with the fewest distinctions and divisions. He defines simple supposition as

the taking of a common term in place of the universal thing signified by it [Spain, p. 243].

He considers three ways in which a term may have simple supposition: It can be a common term used as a subject; a common term used as an affirmative predicate; or a common term used after an exceptive expression [Spain, pp. 243, 245]. His focus is to show that in each of these ways, it is not legitimate to move from something with simple supposition to something with personal supposition. (1) is not even mentioned, much less discussed.

We now have a sturdy thirteenth-century foundation upon which to build further investigations!


Roger Bacon. The Art and Science of Logic. Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 2009. Trans. by Thomas S. Maloney.

Brian P. Copenhaver, editor. Peter of Spain: Summaries of Logic, Text, Translation, Introduction, and Notes. Oxford University Press, 2014. With Calvin Normore and Terence Parsons.

Lambert of Auxerre. Logica or Summa Lamberti. University of Notre Dame, 2015. Thomas S. Maloney, trans.

William of Sherwood. William of Sherwood’s Introduction to Logic. University of Minnesota Press, 1966. Norman Kretzmann, trans.

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A medieval Brexit sophism

(With apologies to Burley, Buridan, Ockham, and PoV.)

Curtain opens.

Scene: the EU/UK Brexit negotiating room. PLATO, playing the part of the EU negotiators, is sitting at the table.

Enter SOCRATES, playing the part of the UK parliament.

SOCRATES: “In order to get change from Europe we need to demonstrate there is a majority in Parliament for something! That’s what we’ve done by voting for the Brady amendment!”

PLATO: “Great! So, what is the majority for?”

SOCRATES: “The majority of parliament voted for something!”

PLATO: “Yes, yes, go on — tell us what!”

SOCRATES, proudly: “We voted for…alternative arrangements!”

PLATO: “What arrangements?”

SOCRATES: “The ones that a majority in parliament voted favor of!”

PLATO: “Can you be a bit more specific? For instance, was a majority in favor of staying in the customs union?”

SOCRATES: “Nope, that’s not what there’s a majority for.”

PLATO: “For new technological solutions to the border — which, remember, don’t yet exist?”

SOCRATES: “Nope, not that either! Hahah!”

PLATO: “Are they the ones that violate the Good Friday agreement?”

SOCRATES: “Hah, gotchya! It’s not those either!”

PLATO, exasperated: “Then what, exactly, is there a majority for?”

SOCRATES: “There is a majority in parliament for something!”

PLATO, wearily: “Yes, so you said.”

Lights dim. Curtain closes

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A medieval puzzle of generic subjects and conjunctive predicates

Last weekend I had the pleasure of giving a keynote talk at the Twelfth Annual Cambridge Graduate Conference on the Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic. I was asked to give an overview/introduction to medieval logic (here are my slides), working under the assumption that few people in the audience would know anything about the topic. All of the other speakers presented on much more modern material, so in addition to giving my own talk, I also did my best to play the role of the annoying person in the Q&A who raises their hand and goes “But what about X….” (Or rather: To connect modern questions to medieval ones and suggest them as an interest case for the modern analysis).

One very interesting talk, given by James Kirkpatrick (Oxford), was on generics — things like “Ducks lay eggs” and “Ravens are black”. Listening to it, I was reminded of a particular sentence that occurs in William of Sherwood’s discussion of supposition:

Pepper is sold here and in Rome

The question is what ‘pepper’ supposits for — and in what way does it supposit — in this sentence. It can’t be for the species of pepper, because species are not sold, nor is it an essential part of the species of pepper that it be sold here and in Rome, but rather accidental. But it also cannot be specific pepper individuals, because no individual item is sold both here and in Rome (at the same time; though with modern technology and dropshipping, it’s not longer clear that one and the same cannot be sold in two different places at the same time!). It’s clearly making a generic statement about the subject, pepper, in the same way that “ducks lay eggs” and “ravens are black” does; but there’s an added issue of the conjunctive predicate — “sold here and in Rome”.

So I suggested this to Kirkpatrick as an example he might find interesting to consider in his analysis, and decided myself I was interested in going back to Sherwood, and the other three of the Big Four (Lambert of Auxerre, Peter of Spain, Roger Bacon) to see what they all have to say about the analysis of this sentence. That work is now ongoing, and I’ll probably report back on it occasionally. However, three things surprised me:

  • I searched the archives of Vivarium to see what modern commentators have had to say about this sentence, and found nothing. In fact, when I restricted my search to simply “pepper”, I only got three hits:
    1. The first is “Jean Buridan and Nicole Oresme on Natural Knowledge” by Edward Grant (XXXI-1, 1993). Apparently, Oresme wonders “why pepper in small quantities is a laxative and a diuretic in large quantities”. I had no idea… Interesting, but not useful for my purposes.
    2. The second is “The Real Difficulty With Burley’s Realistic Semantics” by Michael J. Fitzgerald (XXVIII-1, 1990). Apparently, Burley doesn’t describe what he means by formal supposition, but Fitzgerald thinks it has to cover sentences like “pepper is hot”. In such a sentence “pepper” supposits for both individual instances of pepper, AND for pepper the species. This account therefore won’t work for “Pepper is sold here and in Rome”, since where pepper is sold is not apart of its essence.
    3. The third is “The Role of Discrete Terms in the Theory of the Properties of Terms” by Julie Brumberg-Chaumont (51, 2013). This is the only paper to actually address the example sentence in question, and does so only in a footnote — part of an explanation of why William of Sherwood thinks that ‘pepper’ has simple supposition in that context.
  • I then searched JSTOR for the English phrase, and also found only three papers!

    1. The first is a review of Grabmann’s edition of Sherwood’s Introductiones (by one “R. McK.” in the Journal of Philosophy in 1938), where it is merely mentioned.
    2. The next is Ivan Boh’s translation of Paul of Pergola’s treatise on supposition (Franciscan Studies 25, 1965). Paul has a rule that numeric adverbs and conjunctive clauses “cause terms to have merely confused mobile supposition”. He gives this sentence as an example of a conjunctive clause.
    3. The final is Tom J. F. Tillemans, “Formal and Semantic Aspects of Tibetan Buddhist Debate Logic” (Journal of Indian Philosophy, 17, no. 3, 1989). Tillemans draws a comparison to the Tibetan question of whether a word refers ONLY to a general notion/property (rang ldog) or whether it ALSO refers to the things having the property (gzhi ldog). Tillemans says “the Tibetans never developed a theory approaching the complexity of the Medievals’ theory of suppositio” (p. 280) — this is definitely a place where some more in-depth comparative work would be super interesting!
  • I then searched for the phrase in Latin on googlebooks, and that got me quite a bit more — but almost all of it was pre-modern!

So it appears that no one has done any sort of systematic survey of this topic, and that there are a large number of medieval and post-medieval occurrences of the sentence (or similar ones, such as “Pepper is sold in Paris and in Rome”)! It just goes to show what I always say when I’m introducing medieval logic to modern logicians — there is so much low-hanging fruit, so apart from any theoretical interest the topic has, there’s good pragmatic reasons for getting involved in medieval logic as a research enterprise!

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Spotlight on Gaunilo

Sometime between 1032 and 1064, a miller named Gualdrich, his wife Richilde, and their three daughters, Adelaide, Dominica, and Alburg, were indentured to the abbot of Marmoutier Abbey in Tours, and a document was drawn up in witness of this act. [1] An ordinary sort of activity — Marmoutier had many serfs, especially from the 11th century onwards when Marmoutier was one of the richest abbeys in Europe — and an ordinary sort of document — with many serfs come many records.

So what’s so interesting about this particular one? It isn’t anything to do with Gualdrich or Richilde or their excellently named daughters, but rather someone else who is mentioned in the document, namely, one of the witnesses, one Guanilo monachus.

“Guanilo”, you, well-versed in medieval philosophy, say. “Huh. I recognise that name. But, surely…”

Surely it can’t be that Gaunilo. Surely it can’t be the one who refuted Anselm’s ontological argument. I mean, he is from the 11th C, but we don’t really know anything about him, do we?

Well, that’s what I’d always assumed; I’d never actually read up on Gaunilo myself. So I did what any self-respecting academic would do, and plugged “Gaunilo” into wikipedia. Turns out, the conventional wisdom is that the Gaunilo of best-island-ever fame was a Benedictine monk of Marmoutier Abbey, in Tours, France. I.e., the guy who also witnessed the indenture papers of Gualdrich, Richilde, and family.

Little is known about the author of the rejoinder to Anselm. The Liber pro insipiente objection to Anselm, written around 1079 [2], is the only philosophical writing that has been attributed to him. (This rejoinder to Anselm is available in English translation from the Medieval Sourcebook [3], but I’ve not yet found a Latin edition easily accessible. [4]) In 2009, Ian Logan questioned whether the author of the Liber pro insipiente was in fact Gaunilo of Marmoutiers:

Neither Anselm nor his biographer, Eadmer, refer to the author of the Pro insipiente by name. Anselm appears to be unaware of the identity of the author, given the manner in which he ddresses him at the beginning of his Responsio: “Indeed you say — whoever you are…’. Eadmer refers to Anselm’s opponent simply as ‘someone’. [5]

Logan traces the basis for the ascription of the work to Gaunilo to a single early manuscript from the late 11th/early 12th century from Jumièges, now at Rouen (MS 539 (A366)), where “Gaunilo monachus Majoris-Monasterii” is given as the author (it is the only early MS to do so). Logan says that “as there is no separate manuscript tradition for the Pro Insipiente to that originating with Anselm at Bec (not even at Marmoutiers), it is possible that this ascription is the result of a scribal fantasy” [5].

But why would some scribe pluck an attribution like this out of thin air? Gaunilo is not a common name in 11th C France (or indeed later), so an explanation whereby the scribe picked a ‘generic’ name for the author of the text cannot be admitted. [6] Why, too, would the scribe specifically locate the author at Marmoutier?

Both of these seem to be unlikely choices for someone to simply make up. We aren’t, here, however, in the position of being able to address the question of whether Gaunilo, the monk at Marmoutier, was the author of the Pro insipiente or not. Let us rest content without further questioning the attribution of the work to this Marmoutier Gaunilo, and instead ask: What else can we find out about this Gaunilo from the indenture records collected in [1]? For the charter with which we opened our discussion is not the only one that “Gaunilo monachus” is mentioned.

He next appears in charter LXVI, dated to 1062, witnessing an indenture record concerning Fulcher of Tours and his sister Agnes. The next year he is mentioned in another document of a much more personal nature, for it concerns the nephew (and namesake), Gaunilo, of Gaunilo the monk (domni Guanilonis monachi nostri), in charter CIII.

In all three charters, the editor of [1] is confident that the “Guanilo monachus” mentioned is the same one — this is not an unreasonable assumption given that Gaunilo or Guanilo was not a common 11th C French name, and therefore the likelihood of there being more than one monk by that name at Marmoutiers is small. (There are other people named Gaunilo in these documents; but those that are identified in secular contexts cannot be equated with the monk.) The fact that the monk Gaunilo had a nephew named after him allows us to find him in a few other charters as well (that is, ones where he’s not explicitly identified by the editor). In charter I of the appendix, again dated between 1032 and 1064, there is a reference to one Guanilo Thesaurarius (i.e., treasurer). Later in the same charter is a mention of Guanilo nepos Guanilonis thesaurarii ‘Guanilo nephew of Guanilo treasurer’. The fact that we already know (from charter CIII) that our Gaunilo had a nephew named Gaunilo makes it almost certain that these two are the same, so we can conclude that not only was Gaunilo a monk at Marmoutier, he had, at some point, held the office of treasurer. Gaunilo the treasurer-monk turns up again in appendix charter VIII, dated 1040-1044, as both a witness and as the “owner” of the charter: after a lengthy opening, we get the phrase Proinde ego Guanilo, thesaurarius Sancti Martini ‘Hence I, Gaunilo, treasurer of Saint Martin’. But here, he’s not the only Guanilo:

Nihardus de Monte Aureo nepos meus, sed et alius nepos meus, Guanilo nomine, filius Gauscelini, nec non et alii duo nepotes mei Cleopas et Guanilo filii Malranni de Castor Noiastro, cum sorore ipsum, nomine Hersindi, uxore Adelardi Barduni.

That is to say:

Nihard of Mons Aureus my nephew, and another nephew of mine, by name Gaunilo, son of Gauscelin, and yet further two other nephews of mine Cleopas and Gaunilo sons of Malram of Noyers, with their sister, by name Hersinde, wife of Adelard Bardun.

This means that in appendix charter XX, dated around 1063, when we find one Guanilo de Montiniaco (i.e., of Montigny) and a reference to Guanilo thesaurarius avunculus ejus ‘Guanilo treasurer his uncle’, this is either Guanilo son of Gauscelin or Guanilo son of Malrann.

So not only do we have Gaunilo the treasurer, who is almost certainly the same as Gaunilo the treasurer-monk, who is definitely the same as Gaunilo the monk, we have a whole bunch of his relatives too. How cool is that?


[1] André Salmon, ed., Le Livres des Serfs de Marmoutier, Publications de la Société Archéologique de Touraine XVI (Tours: Imprimerie Ladevèze, 1864), charter LV.

[2] Jasper Hopkins, “Anselm’s Debate with Gaunilo”, ch. 4 of Anselm of Canterbury, vol. 4: Hermeneutical and Textual Problems in the Complete Treatises of St. Anselm (Toronto and New York: Edwin Mellen Press, 1976), p. 97.

[3] It’s a modernized version of the translation published in St. Anselm: Proslogium; Monologium: An Appendix In Behalf Of The Fool By Gaunilo; And Cur Deus Homo, Translated From The Latin By Sidney Norton Deane, B. A. With An Introduction, Bibliography, And Reprints Of The Opinions Of Leading Philosophers And Writers On The Ontological Argument, (Chicago, The Open Court Publishing Company, 1903, reprinted 1926). Another translation, due to Jasper Hopkins, is available here, along with Anselm’s rejoinder.

[4] The Latin text appears in S. Anselmi Cantuariensis Archiepiscopi Opera Omnia, edited by Franciscus Salesius Schmitt, O.S.B. (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Friedrich Frommann Verlag, I968), Tome I, Volume i, p. I28, as well as in Jasper Hopkins, A New, Interpretive Translation of St. Anselm’s Monologion and Proslogion, (Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Benning Press, 1986) p. 264–275, and [5] below.

[5] Ian Logan, Reading Anselm’s Proslogion: The History of Anselm’s Argument and its Significance Today (Farnham: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 115-16. Thanks to Mark Thakkar for the reference.

[6] A much more generic choice of name for 11th C France would have been, e.g., Guillaume.

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