Commentary/book review: Virginie Greene, Logical Fictions in Medieval Literature and Philosophy (part 2)

(Read part 1 of the review.)

Part I: Logical Fables

Chapter 1: Abelard’s donkey: the non-existent particular

Greene: “What is the contrary of a lion? Some may say a mouse; some may say a snail. What is the contradictory of a lion? Aristotle may say a non-lion. [1]” (p. 13)

But ‘contrary’ and ‘contradictory’ apply to propositions, not terms; whether ‘non-lion’ is opposed to ‘lion’ contrarily or contradictorily depends on the nature of the propositions they are embedded in; ‘Some animal is a lion’ is opposed to ‘Some animal is a non-lion’ contrarily (taking the proposition involving the infinite term to be logically equivalent to the one with a negated finite term), while ‘Some animal is a non-lion’ is opposed to ‘All animals are lions’ contradictorily (again, with the same parenthetical proviso).

Greene: Footnote [1]: “I am playing here with Aristotle’s classification of negation and opposition, in particular with this distinction between contraries (bad v. good) and contradictories (he sits vs. he does not sit). For a summary of Aristotle’s theory of negation, see Horn, A Natural History of Negation, pp. 6-21.”

Ah. So, “playing with” Aristotle’s definitions. To me, “playing with” indicates a use of them which is non-precise, which is rather antithetical to the logician’s use of a term (and that includes Aristotle). I’m also a bit disappointed that Aristotle himself is not cited here.

Greene: “I will examine Abelard’s thoughts about imagination and the status of its products in the soul…while introducing my own theory about fiction as a mental process of creating imaginary particulars” (p. 14).

Excellent. My own views on the nature of fictional objects tends towards creationism, so I look forward to seeing what Abelard might have to contribute to this discussion.

Greene: “The minds who named twenty-four sorts of syllogisms with names such as Barbara, Festino, or Bamalip…” (p. 15)

Bamalip? Hmm, not come across that one before. Alas, no footnote.

Greene: “In sum, Aristotle contradicts himself by stating that universals (such as genus and species) are and are not things, exist and do not exist. [9].” (p. 16)

Err, what?? Oooh, footnote! Maybe there’ll be some supporting references and discussion there!

Greene: Footnote [9]: “This is, indeed, a simplified presentation of Aristotle’s formulations. On Aristotle and Plato’s thoughts on universals, see Libera, La Querelle, pp. 29-64.”

Oh. No Aristotle.

This first section on Abelard concludes with the recognition that our lives are made up of reference to many, many, many non-existent things — a thesis that necessarily falls out of presentism, that is, the idea that only the present exists. Presentism goes back (at least) to Augustine, who says that “for the past now has no existence, and the future is not yet” (Confessions, Book 11). Nevertheless, language is able to produce meaningful sentences about non existent objects, and these sentences can be either true or false. The question for the next section (and the next part of my commentary/review) is how?

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