Spotlight on Thomas Bricot

I’m moving office right now, which involves packing up all of my books (my dept. admin expressed doubt when I said seven crates wouldn’t be enough; I’ve now filled up that many twice, and still have about 1-2 more crates’ worth left), and packing up all my books involves looking at all of them, and being reminded of the fact of just how many texts on medieval logic there are that have hardly been touched at all when it comes to modern commentary and analysis.

One of these is Thomas Bricot’s Tractatus Insolubilium, edited by E. J. Ashworth and published by Ingenium in 1986. The book has always interested me in part because it is so short — always a bonus when your Latin skills are never quite what you wish them to be — and I thought today I’d spend a bit of time poking around to see just what there is (or is not) that has been written about this book so far.

First, a bit about Bricot himself, because his name is certainly not one of the better known. He was born in Amiens, France in the middle of the 15th century, and he obtained his BA, MA, and doctorate from the university of Paris in 1478, 1479, and 1490, respectively. After 1490 he held various ecclesiastical and academic posts, in Amiens and Paris, and he died in Paris on April 10, 1516, so we’ve just missed one of his centenaries! More details about his life can be found in his entry in Thomas Sullivan’s Parisian Licentiates in Theology, A.D. 1373-1500. A Biographical Register; Sullivan calls Bricot “a leading figure in Parisian philosophical studies” (p. 115), and Ashworth notes that

Bricot’s work enjoyed considerable success in Paris in the last two decades of the fifteenth century as one can see from the number of editions printed there, as well as in other French centres (p. xiii)

and indeed, much of the references that I found to Bricot modernly are in the context of incunabula (cf., e.g., the Glasgow Incunabula Project). Ashworth’s edition of the Tractatus is based on printed editions only, as no manuscripts of the text are known (or were known in the 1980s). The earliest of these printed editions is from 1491, but the treatise was almost certainly composed earlier, in the 1480s, when Bricot’s focus was on philosophical rather than theological matters. (See more about his works here; a digitized version of the 1498 edition of the treatise on insolubles is available online here).

Given that Ashworth edited the text, it is no surprised that she is also the primary producer of modern commentary on his work:

  • Ashworth, E.J. 1972. “The Treatment of Semantic Paradoxes from 1400 to 1700”, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic 13, no. 1: 34-52.
  • Ashworth, E.J. 1974. Language and Logic in the Post-Medieval Period (D. Reidel), especially chapter 2.
  • Ashworth, E.J. 1977. “Thomas Bricot (d. 1516) and the Liar Paradox”, Journal of the History of Philosophy 15, no. 3: 267-280.
  • Ashworth, E.J. 1978. “Theories of the Proposition: Some Early Sixteenth Century Discussions”, Franciscan Studies 38: 81-121.
  • Ashworth, E.J. 1994. “Obligationes Treatises: A Catalogue of Manuscripts, Editions and Studies”, Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 36: 116-147.
  • Ashworth, E.J. 2016. “The Post-Medieval Period”, in the Cambridge Companion to Medieval Logic, ed. C. Dutilh Novaes & S. Read (Cambridge University Press): 166-193.

However, recently Hanke has been studying Bricot’s semantics, especially with respect to the views of one of Bricot’s students, John Mair, in his 2014 article, “The Bricot-Mair Dispute: Scholastic Prolegomena to Non-Compositional Semantics”, History and Philosophy of Logic 35, no. 2. (Interestingly, both Bricot and Mair were satirized by Rabelais (cf. Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy, p. 794; the CHRP discusses Bricot’s Aristotelian natural philosophy but not his logic). Finally, Bricot is discussed by Lagerlund in his chapter on “Trends in Logic and Logical Theory” in the Routledge Companion to Sixteenth Century Philosophy (2017).

So, there’s a short spotlight on the life of Thomas Bricot and modern discussions of his logic, for anyone who would like to investigate this rather underinvestigated author!

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