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Virtus sermonis and the semantics-pragmatics distinction

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Late medieval theories of language and contemporary philosophy of language have been compared on numerous occasions. Here, we would like to compare two debates: that between the nature of Virtus sermonis, on the medieval side—focusing on a statute published in 1340 by the Faculty of Arts of the University of Paris and its opponents—and, on the contemporary side, the on-going discussion on the semantics-pragmatics distinction and how the truth-value of an utterance should be established. Both the statute and Gricean pragmatics insist on the importance of taking into account the speaker’s intention and the context in establishing the signification of an utterance. Yet, upon closer examination, a more convincing parallel might be drawn between the statute’s position and current theories in truth-conditional pragmatics. Focusing on a few aspects of the statute that seem to find a counterpart within contemporary pragmatics, we try to show how the issues they give rise to converge, but also diverge.

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