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Force of words and figures of speech: The crisis over Virtus Sermonis in the fourteenth century

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Chapter Summary

It is in the fourteenth century that the distinction between virtus sermonis and usus loquendi becomes commonly used. The fullest discussion of virtus sermonis in William of Ockham occurs in his Summa logicae in the chapter dealing with improper supposition. The earliest mention of improper supposition appears to be in the logical treatise known as Cum sit nostra, written in England toward the end of the twelfth century and revised in the course of the thirteenth. All forms of improper supposition are based on figures of speech and use words ex usu loquendi, not de virtute sermonis. This chapter turns out attention to the controversial Parisian statute of 1340. Four of the six articles reassert the importance of distinguishing between the various senses of words used in propositions taken from past authorities in order to clarify the true meaning of the author.

Keywords: Parisian statute; Summa logicae; virtus sermonis; William of Ockham



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