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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