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Mental Language and Tradition Encounters in Medieval Philosophy: Anselm, Albert and Ockham

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Medieval philosophy is often presented as the outcome of a large scale encounter between the Christian tradition and the Greek philosophical one. This picture, however, inappropriately tends to leave out the active role played by the medieval authors themselves and their institutional contexts. The theme of the mental language provides us with an interesting case study in such matters. The paper first introduces a few technical notions—'theme', 'tradition', 'textual chain' and 'textual borrowing'—, and then focuses on precise passages about mental language from Anselm of Canterbury, Albert the Great and William of Ockham. All three authors in effect identify some relevant Augustinian idea (that of 'mental word', most saliently) with some traditional philosophical one (such as that of 'concept' or that of 'logos endiathetos'). But the gist of the operation widely varies along the line and the tradition encounter is staged in each case with specific goals and interests in view. The use of ancient authoritative texts with respect to mental language is thus shown to be radically transformed from the eleventh to the fourteenth century.

Affiliations: 1: University of Quebec at Montreal

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