The Meaning of Universal Nouns

Part of the Synthese Historical Library book series (SYHL, volume 1)


As has already been remarked, an examination of the Abelardian doctrine of universals is of particular interest in the discussion of the ‘significatio’ of a noun.


Single Thing Individual Thing Previous Text Negative Proposition Systematic Exposition 
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  1. 1.
    Porphyrius, Isagoge, Berlin 1887, p. 25 (10–3).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    G.L., p.3 (18–9).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Porphyrius, op.cit., p. 25 (6).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    G.L., p. 3 (21).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    G.L., pp. 4 (32), 8 (31), 12 (28), 29 (21), 34 (29), 36 (13).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    G.L., p. 22 (6).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    G.L., pp. 17, 18.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    G.L., p. 31 (19–30).Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    See also G.L., p. 31 (30).Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See Geyer, op.cit., p. 627.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    G.G., p. 9 (19–21).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    Reiners, Der Nominalismus in der Frühscholastik, Munster 1910, p. 52.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    As well as ‘voces’, note ‘nomina’, already in the formulation of the alternative: G.G., p. 9 (29).Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    G.G., p. 9 (21ff.).Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    G.G., pp. 10 (17), 11 (9); the theory seems to result — and the ‘teste Boethio’ might be a confirmation — from a contamination of the Platonic with the Aristotelian theory: the affirmation of the natural ‘subsistentia’ of universals refers to the first and more exactly to the conception of the ουσίαι, while the allusion to the other type of existence ‘actualis’), which arises from the occurrence of accidents refers to the Aristotelian power-act distinction.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Abelard, Ouvrages inédits, Paris 1836, letter I, c. 2.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    G.G., pp. 11–3. Abelard’s critical observations will not be specifically expounded here; they are incidentally summed up and paraphrased in Octavian’s work (Pietro Abelardo, Rome 1933) and in Vignaux’s article (‘Nominalisme’, in Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, Paris 1931).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    “... animal formatum rationalitate esse animal formatum irrationalitate”: G.G., p. 11 (15). The whole Abelardian argument in this text is a development of these observations, with the exception of the last point in which Abelard observes that if the individuals draw their variety from accidents, these latter must clearly be before the individuals (primary substance). This would mean that the accidents are in neither the individuals nor — and even less so — in the universals (secondary substances whose raison d’être resides solely in the primary substances). This is one of the numerous places where Abelardian terminology reveals a basic adherence to the Aristotelian metaphysical theory (see Geyer, G.G., Untersuchungen).Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    The explicative argument of the ‘brunellus’ is part of this charge. The procedure of the argumentation is wearisome, the order of the probative propositions being inverted and the conclusion anticipated. This is only one development of the Abelardian observation mentioned at the beginning of note 18 and applies to the individuals the consequences of the affirmed unity of the essence which makes the species undifferentiated. Abelard thus concludes polemically that Socrates is ‘burnellus’. We find ‘burnellus’ in Geyer’s edition of Ingredientibus. There is no evidence of the use of ‘burnellus’ in any other Latin text (Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis, Niort 1885); for this reason I have used the term ‘brunellus’, which is fairly frequent in the period slightly after Abelard.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    G.G., p. 12 (27–31). Standing fast by the same postulate (“eodem tempore tota in singulis”) this concerns the consideration of the opposite aspect to that observed by Boetius in an argument against Abelard’s ‘res generalis’ (G.G., p. 31 (1–23)). Boetius observes how the universal, which must be in several existences, loses its own reality. He singles out, namely, the inconvenience that derives from the placing of a universal ‘res’ by the fact that it loses its existence precisely because of its universality; Abelard, however, points out the reduction of the whole variety of individuals to the single general ‘res’.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    G.G., p. 14 (1–6).Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    G.G., p. 14(7–17).Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    G.G., p. 14 (18–31).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Prantl reads ‘individualiter’ and not ‘indifferenter’. But the reading ‘individualiter’ would not point to a movement and a distinction from the identical essence of the first position; it would only indicate the manifestation of the universal in the particular, which is a feature already present in the first formula of realism, if one looks closely at it (Prantl, Storia della logica in Occidente, Età medievale, Florence 1937, p. 238, n. 104).Google Scholar
  25. 24a.
    Gilson (op.cit., p. 293) interprets it as ‘indifferenter’.Google Scholar
  26. 25.
    See the fragment mentioned by Prantl (op.cit., p. 242, n. 108a), which probably belongs to Guillaume de Champeaux.Storia della logica in Occidente, Età medievale, Florence 1937Google Scholar
  27. 26.
    Prantl, op.cit., p. 262.Google Scholar
  28. 27.
    Prantl, op.cit., p. 264.Prantl, Storia della logica in Occidente, Età medievale, Florence 1937Google Scholar
  29. 28.
    G.G., pp. 14 (32), 15 (22).Google Scholar
  30. 29.
    G.G., p. 15 (16–8).Google Scholar
  31. 30.
    G.G., pp. 16 (39), 17 (19).Google Scholar
  32. 31.
    G.G., p. 16 (22–35).Google Scholar
  33. 32.
    G.G., p. 136 (31).Google Scholar
  34. 33.
    G.G., p. 18 (6–9).Google Scholar
  35. 34.
    G.G., p. 30 (6–8).Google Scholar
  36. 35.
    G.G., p. 18 (17–20).Google Scholar
  37. 36.
    G.G., p. 19 (21–5).Google Scholar
  38. 37.
    One recalls the “idem totum inesse in pluribus” of the realistic formula, while Abelard uses the expressions ‘conveniunt’ and ‘similes sunt’: G.G., p. 19 (23–32).Google Scholar
  39. 38.
    G.G., p. 20 (6–9).Google Scholar
  40. 39.
    G.G., p. 14 (18ff.): “ eo quod homines sunt ... convenire” and G.G., p. 518 (25ff.): “...aliquis status est participatione cuius multae (substantiae) sunt convenientes.”Google Scholar
  41. 40.
    Gilson, however, does so (op.cit., p. 293).Gilson, La philosophie au moyen âge, Paris 1944Google Scholar
  42. 41.
    G.G., p. 20 (9–12).Google Scholar
  43. 42.
    See Chapter II, n. 14.Google Scholar
  44. 43.
  45. 44.
    G.G., p. 22.Google Scholar
  46. 45.
    G.G., pp. 20 (18–36), 21 (32).Google Scholar
  47. 46.
    G.G., p. 22 (2–4).Google Scholar
  48. 47.
    G.G., p. 22 (7), 23(15), 24 (32–7).Google Scholar
  49. 48.
    G.G., p. 513 (16–9).Google Scholar
  50. 49.
    G.G., p. 23 (20–4).Google Scholar
  51. 50.
    G.G., p. 25 (15–25).Google Scholar
  52. 51.
    G.G., p. 25 (29–32).Google Scholar
  53. 52.
    Gilson, La philosophie au moyen âge, Paris 1944, p. 287.Google Scholar
  54. 53.
    The distinction of the ‘intelligere’ and thus of the meaning of a noun from the world of ‘res’, is, as has already been seen, anything but radical. The expression “...eum qui fallitur non intelligere” with an Anselmian flavour is significant (G.G., p. 322 (1)); here Abelard bases the identity of the ‘intellectus’ on the identity of the ‘res’ ‘ubicumque’, and accentuates the fundamentally in the intellective act of the comprehension of objective reality.Google Scholar
  55. 54.
    This attitude is clearly visible in the discussion of the ‘quaestio’ of foresight (G.G., p. 27), not so much in the resolution of the problem which repeats the Aristotelian solution (De Interpretatione, ed. Minio, p. 19a) as in the awareness that this is one of the cases in which discourse and ‘res’ cannot coincide.Google Scholar
  56. 55.
    G.G., p. 314 (25–7). This statement follows the denial of the reality of universal s and is aimed against the Platonic-realist doctrine which called these forms ‘res incorporee (G.G., p. 314 (14).Google Scholar
  57. 56.
    G.G., p. 317 (3–7).Google Scholar
  58. 57.
    G.G., p. 317 (15–8).Google Scholar
  59. 58.
    G.G., p. 24 (32–7).Google Scholar
  60. 59.
    This might seem to be already evident in the term ‘intellectus’, with which Abelard indicated the nature of universals as cognitions. However, this term might also have been used in the broad sense, to indicate any type of cognition, even ‘opinio’ which seems closer to the ‘imaginationes’ than to the ‘intellectus’ (G.G., pp. 136–7).Google Scholar
  61. 60.
    G.G., p. 316 (16).Google Scholar
  62. 61.
    Contrary to what Gilson says (op.cit., p. 286). Abelard in fact compares it to ‘opinio’ only with regard to the cognition that God possesses (G.G., p. 23 (11–2)).Gilson, La philosophie au moyen âge, Paris 1944, p.Google Scholar
  63. 62.
    G.G., pp. 27 (29), 29 (37). The only noteworthy point seems to me to be the meaning of the term ‘significare’ on page 29, line 37, which is more unique than unusual. Abelard in fact uses it to indicate both the reference to ‘res’ (more exactly ‘nominatio’) and the common ‘conceptio’. This seems due to the particular form of the period.Google Scholar
  64. 63.
    G.G., p. 30 (1–5).Google Scholar
  65. 64.
    “Non iam permanentibus rosis”: in fact the origin of the meaning can always be seen in the ‘causa impositionis’, or rather in the particular structure of the real (G.G., p. 30 (8)).Google Scholar
  66. 65.
    G.G., p. 512 (14).Google Scholar
  67. 66.
    G.G., p. 512 (19–22).Google Scholar
  68. 67.
    G.G., pp. 514 (32), 515 (9).Google Scholar
  69. 68.
    G.G., p. 515 (10–3).Google Scholar
  70. 69.
    G.G., p. 515 (32ff.).Google Scholar
  71. 70.
    G.G., p. 516 (7ff.).Google Scholar
  72. 71.
    Gilson, op.cit., p. 280.Google Scholar
  73. 72.
    G.G., p. 518 (9ff.).Google Scholar
  74. 73.
    The passage is mentioned by Prantl (op.cit., p. 256, n. 133).Google Scholar
  75. 74.
    G.G., p. 518 (25–7).Google Scholar
  76. 75.
    G.G., p. 14 (4).Google Scholar
  77. 76.
    G.G., p. 19 (21ff.).Google Scholar
  78. 77.
    Another difficulty for the singling out of those supporting the doctrine of ‘convenientia statu’ crops up if we bear in mind that Walter de Mortagne presented a theory of the universal understood as ‘status’ in Paris at this time.Google Scholar
  79. 78.
    G.G., pp. 518–20. The structure of the passage in question, as often happens in Nostrorum, is particularly difficult and asystematic.Google Scholar
  80. 79.
    G.G., p. 521 (25–9).Google Scholar
  81. 80.
    G.G., pp. 521 (30), 522 (9).Google Scholar
  82. 81.
    Prantl, op.cit., p. 262.Prantl,Storia della logica in Occidente, Età medievale, Florence 1937Google Scholar
  83. 82.
    G.G., p. 522 (10). Geyer does not point out any lacuna.Google Scholar
  84. 83.
    This constituted rather a section of particular nominalistic doctrines. Geyer, op.cit., p. 628; Reiners, op.cit., p. 58–9.Google Scholar
  85. 84.
    Prantl, op.cit., p. 143.Google Scholar
  86. 85.
    Prantl, op.cit., p. 217.Google Scholar
  87. 86.
    G.G., p. 513(15–23).Google Scholar
  88. 87.
    Bréhier, op.cit., p. 165. This should be left out of consideration in a psychological relation which a realistic theory of universals has with that of archetypal ideas.Google Scholar
  89. 88.
    G.G., p. 522 (11). This might suggest that the doctrine was new and very personal.Google Scholar
  90. 89.
    G.G., p. 522 (13–21).Google Scholar
  91. 90.
    G.G., p. 522. (In Ingredientibus Abelard had already guarded against understanding the universal as a physical sound, pointing out that hereby one would fall into the difficulty of realism (G.G., p. 38).)Google Scholar
  92. 91.
    G.G., p. 38.Google Scholar
  93. 92.
    G.G., pp. 16 (22), 35, 522 (17).Google Scholar
  94. 93.
    G.G., p. 32 (2–6).Google Scholar
  95. 94.
    One should, however, note that also in Ingredientibus ‘vox’ has already been underclassed to indicate the physical sound (G.G., p. 36 (4–7).Google Scholar
  96. 95.
    Prantl, op.cit., p. 144.Prantl,Storia della logica in Occidente, Età medievale, Florence 1937Google Scholar
  97. 96.
    See Geyer, op.cit., p. 627, and Reiners, op.cit., p. 54ff.Google Scholar
  98. 97.
    G.G., p. 522 (15–6). One must then observe that it would have been more logical, for whoever had examined the text of De Interpretatione, to call the universal by a term which gave a better indication of its semantic and non-natural power (see the Abelardian comment on the Aristotelian passage in the Glosse letterali. G.L., p. 76). But the Boetian-Roscellian terminology must have contributed to Abelard’s solution in Ingredientibus. John of Salisbury records Abelard as the supporter of the ‘sermo’ doctrine (see Metalogicus, L. II, c. 17, ed. Webb, p. 92 (1–7).Google Scholar
  99. 98.
    A residue of the use of ‘vox’, in the sense of Ingredientibus, is also to be found in Nostrorum: G.G., p. 537 (7–10).Google Scholar
  100. 99.
    Unlike Geyer and Reiners, Arnold thinks that Abelard simply pushed the struggle against realism to its limits in his polemic against the ‘vox’ (op.cit., pp. 58–9). It seems to me that one should bear in mind as well the desire to distinguish his own position from the Roscellian position.Google Scholar
  101. 100.
    One comes across this statement in Nostrorum as well: G.G., p. 524 (32–5).Google Scholar
  102. 101.
    G.G., p. 525 (2).Google Scholar
  103. 102.
    G.G., pp. 525 (30), 28(1).Google Scholar
  104. 103.
    G.G., p. 525 (32).Google Scholar
  105. 104.
    G.G., p. 526 (10–3).Google Scholar
  106. 105.
    G.G., p. 526 (18–21).Google Scholar
  107. 106.
    Porphyrius, op.cit., p. 1 (9–10).Google Scholar
  108. 107.
    Ibidem, p. 25 (11).Google Scholar
  109. 108.
    G.G., p. 526 (27–30): “ statu illo in quo plura participare possunt.”Google Scholar
  110. 109.
    G.G., p. 527 (1–5).Google Scholar
  111. 110.
    G.G., p. 527 (30–40).Google Scholar
  112. 111.
    G.G., p. 527.Google Scholar
  113. 112.
    G.G., p. 528 (9–19).Google Scholar
  114. 113.
    G.G., p. 528 (30–4). The second part of the Boetian argumentation against the existence of the universal ‘res’ is openly aimed against the ‘collectio’ hypothesis, as could already be argued from the hint in Ingredientibus. See G.G., pp. 30–1.Google Scholar
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    G.G., p. 530 (1–15).Google Scholar
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    G.G., p. 530 (15–20).Google Scholar
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    G.G., p. 530 (20–5).Google Scholar
  118. 117.
    G.G., p. 531 (14–9).Google Scholar
  119. 118.
    G.G., p. 531 (19–20).Google Scholar
  120. 119.
    G.G., p. 532 (3–8).Google Scholar
  121. 120.
    G.G., pp. 532 (30), 533.Google Scholar
  122. 121.
    G.G., p. 540 (10–2).Google Scholar
  123. 122.
    G.G., p. 23.Google Scholar
  124. 123.
    This seems confirmed by the difficult form of the exposition.Google Scholar
  125. 124.
    Abelard, Dialectica, Assen 1956, p. XIV. If one thinks that here too Abelard has followed the Porphyrian schema as in the two preceding works, one must add a treatment De communitatibus.Google Scholar
  126. 125.
    Above all the passage in D., p. 112–3.Google Scholar
  127. 126.
    This deduction is permitted by consideration of the comment on the Porphyrian treatises where, for example, one sees the use of ‘res specialis’ (G.G., pp. 72–3), which indicates a certain looseness in the terminology when one is outside the systematic exposition of the theory.Google Scholar
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    D., p. 124 (27–31).Google Scholar
  129. 128.
    D., p. 321 (15–28); see also D., pp. 538 (36)–9 (1–2).Google Scholar
  130. 129.
    D., pp. 51 (24–5), 130 (9).Google Scholar
  131. 130.
    See D., p. 593 (17–26). The same name and meaning is characterised by the unity of ‘impositio’, whereby a noun is one in matter and meaning (G.G., p. 339). The ambiguity arises from the identity of sound and the difference in the concepts meant (G.G., pp. 117–21).Google Scholar
  132. 131.
    D., p. 225 (1–3).Google Scholar
  133. 132.
    D., p. 597 (18–9).Google Scholar
  134. 133.
    This, however, has little luck in Nostrorum either where, in the treatises, we find only ‘nomen’, ‘vocabulum’, while ‘sermo’ belongs only to the formulation of the theory.Google Scholar
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    E.g., D., p. 112(32).Google Scholar
  136. 135.
    E.g., D., p. 115(1).Google Scholar
  137. 136.
    E.g., D., p. 65 (15–6).Google Scholar
  138. 137.
    E.g., D., p. 544 (28).Google Scholar
  139. 138.
    Even in Nostrorum, in the de genere treatise (p. 537 (7)) one finds ‘voces’ with the meaning of ‘nomina’.Google Scholar
  140. 139.
    D., p. 321 (35).Google Scholar
  141. 140.
    See p. 28.Google Scholar
  142. 141.
    D., p. 181 (25–37); see also p. 227 (36).Google Scholar
  143. 142.
    The study of the ‘causa communis’ through the context of the whole D. is perhaps more difficult than others: we must keep in mind that, for the convenience of expression, Abelard will use a terminology that is at times suspect of Platonism. It will be as well to bear in mind the author’s statement in Ingredientibus (G.G., p. 39 (6–9)), on the need to consider that, in order to construct a science, some properties of nouns do exist.Google Scholar
  144. 143.
    D., p. 383 (17–84).Google Scholar
  145. 144.
    The example Abelard gives of the identity of essence ‘animalis’ in man and ass reveals his attitude of mockery.Google Scholar
  146. 145.
    D., p. 384 (1–3).Google Scholar
  147. 146.
    An indirect criticism of realism occurs in a passage from De divisionibus (D., p. 575ff.).Google Scholar
  148. 147.
    This is confirmed in a passage from Aventinus (Prantl, op.cit. p. 143, n. 317) which calls the nominalists ‘avari rerum’, not those denying the real basis, by their demand that logical inquiry deals solely with nouns.Prantl, Storia della logica in Occidente, Età medievale, Florence 1937Google Scholar
  149. 148.
    Reiners considers that the Abelardian doctrine is a development of the Roscellian doctrine: op.cit., p. 55.Google Scholar
  150. 149.
    De Rijk, op.cit., p. cliv.Google Scholar
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    Reiners, op.cit., p. 54Google Scholar
  152. 150a.
    Geyer, op.cit., p. 628.Google Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1969

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