Medieval logicians on ‘and’, Part 3

(If you like, you can read Part 1 and Part 2).

The best part about this series is that when Thursday afternoon comes around and I realize “Oh! We need something to post on the Medieval Logic blog!”, all I have to do is turn to my bookcase, select a text, and see what it has to say.

The text for today is the anonymous Syncategoremtata Monacensia, written in England in the last quarter of the 12th C, chosen because it is handily translated in Kretzmann & Stump’s Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts, vol. 1: Logic and the Philosophy of Language (pp. 163-173). In the introduction to the translation, they say that according to the grammarian, “syncategorematic words are all the others — e.g., conjunctions, adverbs, and prepositions” (this list is taken from Priscian Minor XVII 10, p. 114.9-20, which Nicholas of Paris explicitly notes in his Syncategoremata, which appears on p. 180 of the same volume) and that “only some of those grammatically syncategorematic words were of interest to the logicians — those whose inclusion in a proposition alters the inferential force of the proposition” (p. 163). What is surprising given these two facts is that conjunction is not discussed in this short treatise, despite the fact that it is (a) grammatically syncategorematic and (b) alters the inferential force of the proposition. This makes the second twelfth-century text that we’ve looked at that doesn’t really consider conjunction as a logical connective. Albeit this is very early stages in the consideration, but I am beginning to develop a hypothesis. It will be interesting to see if future analyses will bear it out: That conjunction as a logical/propositional connective only really starts being separated out in the 13th century. (Of course, if anyone knows of any study on this topic that’s already been done — especially one that gives counterexamples! — I’d love to hear about them.)

Next week I hope to return to the other 12th C texts in the Logica Modernorum; I had planned to do so today but left my copy at home. Thank goodness for Kretzmann & Stump providing me back-up.

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One Response to Medieval logicians on ‘and’, Part 3

  1. The appropriate question may not be why some 12th/13th century texts omit conjunction from discussions of logic, but why we, along with some later medievals, include it. I’ve always found it significant that Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics begins with a discussion of Meno’s paradox, and considering this might be significant for understanding how many medievals viewed the aim of logic differently than we often do. Arguably, the aim of reasoning (hence of a part of logic, if not the whole of it) is to make explicit things we know implicitly by putting together things we do know explicitly in an appropriate way: to move from the better known to the less known, in Aristotle’s terms. Whatever its limits, syllogistic does this marvelously. But when one stops to think about it, it’s doubtful whether conjunction – especially propositional conjunction – really does this. Do I really come to know something new when I form a conjunction of all the basic, ‘atomic’ propositions I know? I tend to think not.

    As for term conjunction, many cases of it involve problems of existential import (e.g. does ‘every tall tree has leaves’ imply ‘every tall and old tree has leaves’? It may depend on whether there are any old trees.). It’s possible some earlier texts avoided conjunction to avoid getting entangled in this problem.

    A final reason, relevant to both the propositional and term use, may have to do with a different understanding of the unity of the proposition. For Aquinas, for instance, the unity of a proposition isn’t determined by the simplicity of its syntactic units, but rather by the simplicity of the significata of its terms (e.g. animal currit is not simplex simpliciter because its subject is generic). Given a certain understanding of logical combination as proceeding from insight into metaphysically simple things, conjunction may just not have had much of a role to play in this endeavor (cf. Aquinas, Peri Hermeneias commentary, L. 1, lec. 8).

    As for why a discussion of conjunction is missing in a text on grammar (this is how I would classify the syncategoreumata), this seems to be a different question. It may depend on what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for conjunctio, it may be that the term conjunctio was not used to mean ‘conjunction’, but was closer to what we mean by ‘connective’, and included terms like ‘ut’, ‘si’, etc. (see Priscian, Institutiones Grammaticae L. 16). If you’re looking for ‘et’, it may be that at the propositional level, the term ‘et’ was not viewed as basic, but was regarded as taking on the semantic meaning of the enclitic ‘-que’ (ibid.). Or it may be that the behavior of ‘et’ was regarded as too basic to merit much consideration.


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