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Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Medieval Logicians on the Meaning of the Propositio

Author(s): Norman Kretzmann
Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 67, No. 20, Sixty-Seventh Annual Meeting of the
American Philosophical Association Eastern Division (Oct. 22, 1970), pp. 767-787
Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc.
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fiable assertions. For instance, I do not in any event accept the

suggestion that empirical testability is the hallmark of a scientific
theory, and I would under no circumstances wish to grant that
falsifiable counsels of perfection are scientific statements.
University of Pittsburgh


WT THEN the medievalsspokeof a propositiothey were speak-
ing not of a propositional content but of a propositional
sign, written or spoken or mental. I shall use the word
'proposition' in this paper in order to speak of written or spoken
propositional signs-type-sentences or token-sentences in the indica-
tive mood. Mental propositional signs I shall call mental proposi-
tions. I shall simplify the topic by considering only completely gen-
eral, nonindexical propositions, those whose meaning and truth
value remain the same regardless of who utters them or the circum-
stances of their utterance.
I am taking it for granted that a complete theory of linguistic
meaning must include accounts of what signs stand for and of what
signs convey-broadly speaking, a theory of reference and a theory
of sense. I believe that medieval logicians produced a theory of ref-
erence and a theory of sense for propositions, but in two separate
developments, without recognizing that the theories were comple-
mentary. One of these was terminism, the semantic theory character-
istic of terminist logic. Briefly, terminism is an elaborate analysis of
the ways in which all the words making up the proposition affect
one another's reference or logical status. The other development
consists in a family of semantic, logical, epistemological, and onto-
logical doctrines centering around the notion of the significatum,
or enuntiabile, or dictum of the proposition. I shall speak of this
development, and especially of its semantic component, as dictism.
* To be presented in an APA symposium on Medieval Logic, December 29, 1970;
other speakers will be Mark Sullivan and Ignacio Angelelli; see this JOURNAL, this
issue, pp. 788-800, and 801-815, respectively.
I am very grateful to Francesco Del Punta, who kindly allowed me to consult
his transcriptions of William Heytesbury, Paul of Venice, Johannes Venator, and
Richard Ferrybridge, the last two of whom he is editing. I am indebted also to
Marilyn McCord Adams, Robert Merrihew Adams, Gabriel Nuchelmans, and L. M.
de Rijk, each of whom supplied very helpful information and criticism. My re-
search was in part supported by The National Endowment for the Humanities.

In this paper I want to give some idea of the nature of these two
developments and to suggest that we can piece together the most
complete theory of propositional meaning medieval logic has to offer
if we take terminism as a theory of propositional reference and dic-
tism as a theory of propositional sense. I shall begin by considering
terminism from that point of view.
Medieval logicians regularly used two sorts of definition of a proposi-
tion. Both have their roots in Aristotle, but the one I want to con-
sider first was more directly associated with him and may be called
the Aristotelian definition. When it was quoted, it was quoted from
De interpretations 17a20 or 17a25, but it was more often para-
phrased. The version given by William Ockham in his commentary
on De interpretations will serve to represent the Aristotelian
A proposition is a composite entity considered not as a unit in itself but
as put together out of a subject, a predicate, and a copula which, so to
speak, joins the subject together with the predicate (Expositio aurea;
Bononiae 1496;fol. 97va).

This version reflects not only the Aristotelian analysis into that which
is said (the predicate) and that of which it is said (the subject) but also
the structure of the opening chapters of De interpretations, in which
the discussion of the proposition is approached by way of a discussion
of its constituents-the name and the verb-and their significations.
If one conceives of a proposition as an analyzed whole whose con-
stituents are interacting parts, as it is conceived of in the Aristotelian
definition, it seems natural or even mandatory to begin a theoretical
account of the meaning of propositions by observing that proposi-
tions are composed of words which themselves have meaning. What-
ever may be the meaning of the proposition, then, it seems clear that
it depends upon the meanings of its constituent words." Starting from
the Aristotelian definition, an account of the meaning of the propo-
sition is built up out of accounts of the meanings of all the words in
their occurrences in the proposition. Terminism viewed as an account
of propositional reference fits this line of thought perfectly.
Any attempt to build up an account of the meaning of the proposi-
tion out of accounts of the meanings of its constituents must recognize
that not all words have the same sort of meaning. In terminism that
' Cf. Bertrand Russell, "On Propositions: What They Are and How They Mean"
(1919), in Logic and Knowledge, R. C. Marsh, ed. (London: Allen & Unwin,
1956), pp. 285-320, esp. p. 290.

recognition took the form of separate treatments of categorematic and

syncategorematic words. Categorematic words, those which can serve
as ordinary subject or predicate terms, have the sort of meaning the
terminists called signification, and some categorematic words have
consignification as well. 'Ran', for example, signifies the action of
running and consignifies past time. The nature of a word's significate
was a disputed point in terminism, but for present purposes it may be
defined as whatever the word can be made to refer to (supponere pro,
stare pro) on any occasion of its literal use. What a word is made to
refer to on a given occasion and the effect it has on what other cate-
gorematic words in the proposition refer to were sorted out under
the "properties of terms" other than signification-suppositio, copu-
latio, and appellatio.2 Syncategorematic words were rarely said to
have signification and less rarely said to have consignification. Their
distinctive contribution to the meaning of a proposition is the effect
they produce on the interpretation of words or clauses in the propo-
sition by exercising some "function" (officium); for example, nega-
tion, distribution, exception, exclusion, conjunction, or condition-
We may take the analysis of the proposition 'Every man is an ani-
mal', a favorite among medieval logicians, as an illustration of the
sort of account of propositional reference terminism was capable of
providing. The Latin for 'Every man is an animal' is 'Omnis homo
est animal'. Hence the indefinite article 'an', for this use of which
Latin has no exact counterpart, will not figure in the analysis, which
may be presented in the following way.4
In the proposition 'Every man is an animal' the affirmative distrib-
utive sign 'every' distributes 'man' in respect of 'animal' for all the
individual human beings constituting the remote parts of man (as dis-
tinct from kinds of human beings, which constitute the proximate
parts of man). 'Every' also helps to produce merely confused suppo-
sitio in 'animal' and contributes to the indication of conditional
being by means of 'is'. 'Man' has mobile distributive confused per-
sonal formal proper suppositio. Proper, in that it refers to something
within its significate (i.e., it is being used literally); formal, in that
2 For details see L. M. de Rijk, Logica Modernorum: A Contribution to the
History of Early Terminist Logic [hereafter Log. Mod.] (Assen: Van Gorcum, vol. I,
1962; vol. iI, 1967), especially vol. II; also my William of Sherwood's Introduction
to Logic (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1966) [hereafter WSIL], es-
pecially chapter v.
3 For details see my William of Sherwood's Treatise on Syncategorematic Words
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1968) [hereafter WSTSW].
4 I have drawn primarily on positions taken by William of Sherwood, but differ-
ences among various terminist analyses are of no importance for present purposes.

it refers to something other than the word 'man' itself or some occur-
rence of it; personal, in that it refers not to humanity but to individ-
uals of which humanity can be truly predicated; confused, in that it
refers to more than one individual indeterminately; distributive, in
that it refers to many in such a way as to refer to any; mobile, in that
it refers to any in such a way as to warrant a logical descent under the
expression 'every man' to proper names or demonstrative expressions
indicating individual human beings. Because there actually exists at
least one individual of which humanity can be truly predicated,
'man' has appellatio as well as supposition 'Is' indicates not actual but
conditional being, serving as the means whereby a genus is predicated
of one of its species and thereby giving rise to a necessary categorical
proposition which has the force of the conditional 'If it is a man, it
is an animal'. 'Animal' has not distributive but merely confused sup-
positio in that it refers to many but not in such a way as to refer to
any in particular. The question of its logical mobility thus does not
arise. It presents the form animality as inhering in the individuals
under the subject term 'man', and since there actually exists at least
one such individual, 'animal' too has appellatio as well as suppositio.
The proposition I chose for purposes of illustration is of course a
relatively simple one. It involves no categorematic modifiers (among
which are included most adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional
phrases) and no verbs other than the substantive verb 'is', and hence
it presents no instance of the property of terms known as copulatio.
It involves no relative pronouns, no modal words, no names without
bearers, no metaphors, no devices of negation, exclusion, ampliation,
restriction, etc., all of which were taken into account in the develop-
ment of the terminist analysis of the meaning of propositions. Per-
haps most important of all, it involves no indexicals-no tensed verbs,
no temporal or locational adverbs, no personal or demonstrative pro-
nouns. But indexicals, too, were taken into account in terminism.
Terminism was thus a semantic theory providing a basis for the
interpretation of any word in its occurrence in any proposition, the
materials for a complete analysis of the reference of a proposition
taken word by word. But the results were presented as separate dis-
cussions of the various properties or functions of a given word in
different propositions and not as a unified semantic analysis of a
proposition. Some reasons why terminism was not presented explic-
itly as a theory of propositional reference will appear if we look
briefly at its historical development.5
5 For details see Log. Mod. The stages of the historical development are sum-
marized in my review of Log. Mod., Philosophical Review, LJx, 2 (April 1970):

Terminist logic, the distinctive features of which I am calling ter-

minism, originated in the third quarter of the twelfth century. Its
early stages survive in several anonymous manuscripts produced after
the nonterminist logic of Peter Abelard and before the fully termi-
nist logic of William of Sherwood. Problems associated with lin-
guistic fallacies provided the initial stimulus for the new develop-
ments, and by their nature those problems of interpretation directed
the logicians' attention to the work of the grammarians. Terminism
began by attending to the ways in which changes in propositional
context may cause a single common noun serving as a subject term to
be used univocally, to refer in different contexts to different things,
even to things of different sorts, while undergoing no change with
regard to its sense. Eventually terminism expanded to cover all the
words making up any given proposition and to explicate all the inter-
relations among them that affect the reference of the proposition.
But in view of its original aim and its piecemeal progress toward its
all-inclusive final stage it is not so surprising that terminism was not
presented explicitly as a semantic theory about propositions.
Dictism, on the other hand, was directly and explicitly concerned
with the semantics of propositions throughout its long history. It took
its cue, I believe, from the other of the two standard medieval defini-
tions of a proposition, which characterizes the proposition not in
terms of its constitution, as does the Aristotelian, but in terms of its
signification. This definition was almost always quoted in the formu-
lation given it by Boethius and may be called the Boethian definition:
A propositionis an expressionsignifyingwhat is true or what is false.8
Boethius and the medievals sometimes used the words 'significatio'
and 'significare' as their broadest semantic terminology, much as we
use the words 'meaning' and 'to mean'. But those words had a techni-
cal use as well, beginning with Boethius-a use in which they were
associated with what signs convey as distinct from what signs stand
for. As Boethius put it,
6 De differentiis topicis (PL 64.1174B): "Propositio oratio verum falsumve
significans". Cf. In librum de interpretations editio secunda (PL 64.451D, 454C,
454D). The Aristotelian root of the Boethian definition is in De interpretatione
16b33. But the definition seems to have more important connections with Stoicism.
The Stoic axioma is a lekton that is either true or false, and a lekton is a simaino-
menon, or thing signified (significatum). For details see Benson Mates, Stoic
Logic (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1953). It seems reasonable to suggest
that, as terminism is an outgrowth of the analytic approach taken to propositions
in Aristotle's syllogistic and formulated in the Aristotelian definition, so dictism
is an outgrowth of the holistic approach of Stoic propositional logic as formulated
in the Boethian definition.

. . . the utteranceitself indeed signifiesthoughts(intellectis), . . . but

through the medium of the thoughts the utterance indicates (demon-
strat) the actual things that are the subjectsof thought (In librum de
interpretationeeditio secunda,PL 64.395B).

Broadly interpreted, signification is meaning; strictly interpreted,

signification is sense. I believe that a confusion of these two inter-
pretations played an important part in the development of dictism,
and so I shall retain the words 'signification' and 'signify' in describ-
ing it and try to sort out the confusion afterwards.
If one begins with the Boethian definition, it seems right to say
that propositions signify whatever it is that serves as the subject of
a correct statement of the form '. - . is true' or of the form '. . . is
false'. As regards the proposition 'Every man is an animal' it would
be natural to produce this:
(1) That every man is an animal is true.
And as regards the proposition 'A man is a donkey' it would be natu-
ral to produce this:
(2) That a man is a donkey is false.
In both (1) and (2) the subject term is an expression in indirect dis-
course, the standard Latin construction for which is the oratio infini-
tiva (subject accusative and verb infinitive). The standard Latin ver-
sions of (1) and (2), then, are these:
(1') Omnem hominem esse animal est verum.
(2') Hominem esse asinum est falsum.
If formulations of this sort enable one to identify what it is that
is true or what it is that is false, then, according to the Boethian defi-
nition, they enable one also to identify what it is that a proposition
signifies. Just as the oratio infinitiva serves as a subject term for
C.. . est verum' or'. . . est falsum', so does it serve as a direct object
of the verb 'significat' when the subject term is a name of some propo-
sition. Thus
(3) 'Every man is an animal' signifies that every man is an animal.
(3') 'Omnis homo est animal' significat omnem hominem esse
(4) 'A man is a donkey' signifies that a man is a donkey.
(4') 'Homo est asinus' significat hominem esse asinum.
What is true or what is false-that is, what is signified by a propo-
sition-was designated in various ways in the development of the
dictist account. The most prominent among the various designations
came from among these three pairs: 'significatum'/'significabile',

enuntiatum/'enuntiabile', 'dictum'/'dicibile'.7 Many distinctions

were drawn regarding what is signified by a proposition, but as far
as I know none of them was associated with the difference between
the '-tum' and the '-bile' forms of these designations, which seem
to have been used indifferently.8 The coexistence of these two forms
of designation may reflect attempts by the transmitters of ancient
philosophy to the middle ages to reproduce what they thought of as
a mixture of actuality and potentiality conveyed in the Greek word
'lekton', for it is the Stoic lekton from which the medieval significa-
turmpropositionis descended, by however tangled a thread. (In the
remainder of this paper I shall use one or another of these designa-
tions as seems most appropriate, but for standard purposes I shall
use 'significatum'.)
7 The designations 'significatum', 'enuntiabile', and 'dictum' were very wide-
spread. 'Significabile' is associated especially but not exclusively with Gregory of
Rimini (see p. 779 below). 'Dicibile' is rare. It occurs in St. Augustine's Principia
dialecticae (PL 32.1411): "Quod dixi, 'dicibile', verbum est; nec tamen verbum, sed
quod in verbo intelligitur et in animo continetur significat." [See Jan Pinborg,
"Das Sprachdenken der Stoa und Augustins Dialektik", Classica et Mediaevalia,
xxiii (1962): pp. 148-177.] Even though Augustine's use of 'dicibile' concerns a
word and not a proposition, William Kneale, in The Development of Logic [here-
after Development] (New York: Oxford, 1962), p. 188, maintains that "this is a
passage which may have stimulated medieval logicians to work out again for them-
selves the Stoic theory of propositional contents". 'Dicibile' occurs also as the Latin
equivalent of 'lekton' in William of Moerbeke's translation (1268) of Ammonius's
commentary on De interpretatione, G. Verbeke, ed. (Louvain: Publications Uni-
versitaires, 1961; Corpus Latinum Commentarium in Aristotelem Graecorum, II),
p. 32; cf. pp. 385-386. 'Enuntiatum' seems rarest of all; I have not found it used by
medievals in this sense. Seneca uses it (along with 'enuntiativum quiddam', 'ef-
fatum', and 'dictum') as a translation for 'lekton' (Epistulae, 117.13; quoted in
Development, p. 141). Cicero uses 'enuntiatum' to mean proposition in De fato
19 and 28 and uses 'effatum' to translate the Stoics' 'axioma' in Academica ii, 95.
8 The unknown author of the Ars Burana explicitly stated the view on which
the general practice appears to have been based: "Nota ergo, sive dicatur 'dictum
propositionis', sive 'significatum propositionis', sive 'enuntiabile', idem est"; see
Log. Mod. iI (2), p. 208.16-17.
9 I do not know of any medieval logician who was conscious of this historical
connection or even of the terminological links. Seneca's later letters (89-124) were
not available in the West before the middle of the twelfth century [see L. D.
Reynolds, The Medieval Tradition of Seneca's Letters (New York: Oxord, 1965),
chs. 8 and 9], and by that time Abelard had already been using 'dictum' in the
relevant sense. See Maria-Teresa Beonio-Brocchieri Fumagalli, The Logic of
Abelard (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1969), pp. 73-74. And William of Moerbeke's transla-
tion of Ammonius first appeared after the terminology had become well established.
In any case his (and Augustine's) 'dicibile' seems not to have caught on among the
dictists. A manuscript containing philosophical works of the twelfth century also
contains a Latin translation of the Outlines of Pyrrhonism of Sextus Empiricus,
who discusses the lekton in book iI, chs. viii and xi and book iII, ch. vii, 52. See
L. Minio-Paluello, Twelfth Century Logic, vol. i (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Let-
teratura, 1956), p. xv. If the medievals can be said to have recognized any historical
source for the central notion of dictism it is Aristotle's Categories, ch. 10, 12b6-15.

Often enough in medieval logic one or another of those designa-

tions was attached to the oratio infinitiva itself, particularly by logi-
cians whose main concern was not the dictist account of the significa-
tion of propositions.'O But in theoretical discussions of the elements
of dictism it was sometimes explicitly stated and otherwise generally
assumed that while the oratio infinitiva is the subject term in state-
ments of the form '. . . est verum', the subject, that which really is
what is true, is not to be identified as a linguistic entity. And it seems
to have been almost universally assumed that what is signified by a
proposition is not itself a linguistic entity.
Once the significatum has been distinguished from the oratio in-
finitiva there is a natural tendency to reify the significatum along
such lines as these:
(i) The proposition 'Every man is an animal' signifies that every
man is an animal.
(ii) That every man is an animal is signified by the proposition
'Every man is an animal'.
(iii) That every man is an animal is what is signified by the proposi-
tion 'Every man is an animal'.
(iv) That every man is an animal is the significatum of the propo-
sition 'Every man is an animal'.
(v) That every man is an animal is a significatum, the proper name
of which is the oratio infinitiva 'that every man is an animal'."
Whether or not the outcome of this reification process is supporta-
ble, it certainly seems to proceed by easy stages. (i) seems unexcep-
tionable, and the move from (i) to (ii) seems to be an unproblematic
active-passive transformation.12 From (ii) through (iv) the process is
especially smooth, particularly in Latin, where the counterpart to
'what is signified' is simply 'significatum'.'3 The move from (iv) to
Abelard refers to it via Boethius's commentary (Logica "Ingredientibus", B. Geyer,
ed., p. 367.20-39; cf. p. 275.3-13 and p. 327.23-26), and Gregory of Rimini refers to
it directly [Super primum et secundum Sententiarum (Venice, 1522), facsimile
edition published as Franciscan Institute Publications, Text Series, No. 7 (St. Bona-
venture, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 1955), Prologus, q. I, a. 1; fol. 2ra; cf. fol. lvb].
10 This is particularly true of 'dictum', which was regularly used by terminist
logicians as a designation for the oratio infinitiva occurring as the subject term of
a de modo proposition-e.g., 'That Socrates is running is contingent'.
11 On this last point see, e.g., Abelard, Dialectica, L. M. de Rijk, ed. (Assen: Van
Gorcum, 1956), p. 151.13-16, where the oratio infinitiva is described as "a kind of
name of that which expressed by the proposition." See also Ars Meliduna [Log.
Mod. II(l), p. 319 and esp. p. 3591, where the oratio infinitiva is described as the
propria appellatio of the enuntiabile of the proposition; also the passage from Ars
Burana quoted in note 14 below.
12 Pierre d'Ailly (1350-1425), however, maintained that just such a transforma-
tion is illicit, and that every statement of the form of (ii) is ungrammatical (in.
(v) then reflects the original insight that the oratio infinitiva is no
more the actual subject or the actual object than is the name 'Socrates'
the actual subject or the actual object in 'Socrates loves Plato' or in
'Plato loves Socrates'.'4
John Buridan (d. ca. 1358) was one of the medieval logicians who
rejected any reification of the significatum. In a valuable article on
him Arthur Prior took an "excursion into grammar" designed to
elucidate Buridan's theory of truth, and in doing so produced an
attempt to block the reification.15
When we come to the meaning of propositions, the word 'means' is
again without meaningon its own, but is part of the expression'means
that', which constructsa propositionnot out of two names but out of
a name and a proposition-'A man is a donkey'means that a man is a
donkey.So we need not ask what is named by the clause 'that a man is
congrua). [Conceptus et insolubilia (Paris: Guido Mercator, 1498). The edition is
unpaginated, but if the explicit of the Conceptus and the incipit of the Insolubilia
are considered as occurring in fol. Iva, then the passage referred to occurs in fol.
8vb.] Paul of Venice (d. 1428/9) discusses Pierre d'Ailly's view in detail as the
"Opinio quarta" in his Logica magna (Venice, 1499), pars ii, tractatus xi, De sig-
nificato propositionis" fols. 163rb 167rb.
13 At one point in the Logica magna of Paul of Venice (pars I, tractatus i, "De ter-
minis", fol. 6rb) an argument is supported by invoking the "rule" that the passive
verb form 'significatur' may be resolved into the participial phrase 'est signifi-
14 The following passage from Ars Burana [Log. Mod. II(2), p. 209.6-22] sum-

marizes much of what has been said so far about the elements of dictism. "But
since they [i.e., enuntiabilia] do not have proper names, the Doctors of Arts de-
cided that an expression (oratio) should be wrenched out of the proposition by
means of a familiar transformation. This expression is, as it were, a proper name
of the enuntiabile which is signified by the proposition. In this way, for example,
one derives from the proposition 'Homo est animal' the appellation of the dictum:
'Verum est hominem esse animal'. Thus the difference between the appellation
and the dictum is the difference between a proper name and its bearer (appel-
latum). For just as Socrates is not his name but its bearer, so the enuntiabile which
is signified by the proposition 'Socrates est homo' is not the expression 'Socratem
esse hominem', but its bearer. Thus just as when one says 'Socrates est homo' the
name 'Socrates' is the subject in that it is the subject term and Socrates himself is
the subject in that the discourse is about him, so when one says 'Socratem esse ho-
minem est verum' the expression 'Socratem esse hominem' is the subject in that it is
the subject term and the enuntiabile itself is the subject in that the discourse is
about it. There is also a difference between the proposition and the appellation of
the dictum in that the proposition signifies the enuntiabile while the appellation
of the dictum names (appellat) the enuntiabile and brings it under the locution."
15 "Some Problems of Self-Reference in John Buridan," Proceedings of the
British Academy, XLVIII (1962): 281-296; p. 288. I have replaced Prior's word
'sentence' with the word 'proposition' throughout the passage. Prior's treatment
of 'means that' resembles the treatment of 'says that' proposed by Carnap in
1937 and by Geach in 1957. See Donald Davidson, "On Saying That," pp. 158-
174 in Davidson and J. Hintikka, eds., Words and Objections: Essays on the Work
of W. V. Quine (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1969), p. 162, n. 5.

a donkey'; the word 'that' does not belong here but with the 'means'
that precedesit, and what is left, 'a man is a donkey', names nothing
becauseit is not a name but a (subordinate)proposition.
In evaluating this attempt in a historical context it is important
to notice that the oratio infinitive itself is not a proposition and that
there is no word in the oratio infinitiva construction corresponding
to the 'that' of the English indirect-discourse construction. Thus the
move Prior makes with regard to 'means that' was not open to me-
dieval logicians, Buridan included, when confronted with the oratio
infinitiva as the direct object of 'significat'. This is not a shortcoming
of Latin or of medieval logic. For one thing, medieval Latin does pro-
vide an alternative to the oratio infinitival the 'quod'-construction,
which parallels the English exactly.
(3"1)'Omnis homo est animal' significat quod omnis homo est
(4") 'Homo est asinus' significat quod homo est asinus.
Medieval logicians did use the 'quod'-construction in that way, but
infrequently in comparison with their use of the oratio infinitiva;
and at least one of them went so far as to rule it out as unsuitable for
purposes of the dictist approach.'6 Stylistic considerations would lead
one to avoid the 'quod'-construction, but they are unlikely to have
had much influence on medieval logicians. They may have preferred
the oratio infinitive because it involves inflections different from
those in the proposition itself and is thus a more effective device for
distinguishing the significatum from the proposition.
For practical purposes English may be said to lack an exact counter-
part to the oratio infinitiva. If instead of saying
(5) 'I am he' signifies that I am he.
we regularly constructed such statements as
(6) 'I am he' signifies me to be him.
on the model of
(5') 'Ego sum is' significat me esse eum.
then the sort of move Prior makes would not suggest itself. But we
need not savage the language in order to see that the treatment of the
'that' as belonging to the verb rather than to the following clause is
implausible outside a narrow range of constructions. Prior's example
16 Ars Meliduna, Log. Mod. ii (1), p. 361. Cf. Dialectica Monacensis [Log. Mod.
II(2), pp. 485.32-486.1], which lists three ways-the oratio infinitival 'quod' + sub-
junctive, and 'quod' + indicative-of forming the appellation of the enuntiabile
or dictum, all three apparently acceptable. Also Richard Ferrybridge, Tractatus de
veritate sive logica (MS. Padua, Biblioteca Universitaria 1123, fol. 83va: "idem sit
realiter quod Socrates est albus et Socratem esse album".

(7) 'A man is a donkey' means that a ma is a donkey.

could be correctly reconstructed as
(8) That a man is a donkey is what 'A man is a donkey' means.
which destroys "the expression 'means that'", but not as
(9) A man is a donkey is what 'A man is a donkey' means that.
which preserves it. The implausibility deepens when one tries to
apply Prior's sort of analysis to another sort of statement involving
indirect discourse and of special importance to dictism.
(10) It is false that a man is a donkey.
One cannot make a plausible case for saying of statement (10) that
the 'that' is part of the expression 'is false that', by means of which a
statement is constructed out of a pronoun and a proposition. (10) is
of course not even a case of a genuine pronoun serving as a genuine
subject term, but an expletive construction, the nonexpletive version
of which is statement (2) (on page 772 above). And the standard
Latin parallel to either (2) or (10) is (2').
Thus there are reasons apart from peculiarities of Latin grammar
for rejecting Prior's anti-reification analysis; but in any case the
nature of the oratio infinitiva necessitated a different sort of approach
on the part of those medieval logicians who rejected the reification
of the significatum.
The great majority of logicians, especially after Ockham, seem to
have felt that the significatum had to be identified with some recog-
nized entity if not given a special ontological status of its own, and
they argued for and against various views in discussions of the quid-
ditas of the significatum. I can give some idea of the range of possi-
bilities considered by presenting a catalogue of such views as I have
encountered in a limited survey. Although the key term in the me-
dieval versions of these views is often 'dictum' or 'enuntiabile', they
are clearly views on a single topic, and I shall present them as if they
had all been presented explicitly as views on the quiddity of the sig-
nificatum. Several of them survive, as far as I know, only as they were
presented by logicians who wanted to refute them.
The views may be conveniently grouped into four categories, ar-
ranged in something like an order of increasingly independent reifi-
1. The significatumas a linguistic entity
1.1 The significatumof a propositionis the propositionitself, so that the
sign and the significatumareone and the same.17
17 Rejected by Paul of Venice, op. cit., fols. 162v,,-162vb.

1.2 The significatum of a proposition is the oratio infinitiva itself.'s

2. The significatum as a mental entity
2.1 The significatum of a proposition is a concept conceived through
vocal sounds and formed on the model of the oratio infinitiva.19
2.2 The significatum of a proposition is the complex opinion (sententia)
which is signified both in the proposition and in the oratio infinitiva.20
2.3 The significatum of a (true) proposition is a mental composition,
framed by the understanding putting concepts together or separating
3. The significatum as an extra-mental entity
3.1 The significatum of a (true, affirmative, present-tense) proposition
(whose principal verb is not an ampliating verb and whose predicate
is neither distractive nor ampliating) is the very same real thing as is
signified by one or the other term of the proposition.22
3.2 The significatum of a (true) proposition is a mode of being of the
real thing (if any) which is signified by its subject term.23
18 Rejected by William Heytesbury, De veritate et falsitate propositionis
(Venice: Bonetus Locatellus, 1494), fols. 183vb and 184va; and by Paul of Venice,
op. cit., fol. 162va.
19 Rejected by Abelard, Dialectica, p. 154.25-29; and in Ars Meliduna, Log.
Mod. II(l), pp. 357-358.
20 Stated in Dialectica Monacensis, Log. Mod. n(2), 485.30-31. Dionysius Thrax
used 'dianoia' in place of 'lekton', and 'dianoia' in that use was taken into Latin
as 'sententia (or sensus) enuntiati' [see Ars grammatica, ed. G. Uhlig (Leipzig:
Teubner, 1883), pp. 7.5-6, 22.5, 86.3, and 144]. Compare related uses of 'sententia'
in Martianus Capella, De nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii, A. Dick, ed. (Leipzig:
Teubner, 1925), p. 156 and pp. 186-188; Boethius, In librum de interpretatione
editio secunda (PL 64.442A) and Introductio ad syllogismos categoricos (PL 64.-
765A); Abelard, Dialectica, p. 178; and Robert of Melun (d. 1167), Sententie, R.
M. Martin, ed., Spicilegium Sacrum Lovaniensie, fasc. 21 (Louvain, 1947, tome
iII, vol. i, p. 11.27-28. See esp. Hugh of St. Victor (ca. 1096-1141), Didascalion, in,
9 (PL 176.771D-772A): "Exposition comprises three things: the letter, the sense,
and the sententia. The letter is the grammatical arrangement of words, which we
also call the construction. The sense is the easy and obvious signification, which
the letter presents on the face of it. The sententia is the deeper understanding
(profundior intellegentia), which is discovered only by means of exposition or
21 Rejected by Richard Ferrybridge, op. cit., fols. 82va and 83ra-83rb; and by

Johannes Venator, Logica, tr. i, cap. vii, "De significato propositionis" (MS. Cod.
Vat. lat. 2130), fols. 73rb_73va; 74va; and 75ra; and Paul of Venice, op. cit., fols.
162rb 162va. View 2.1 may represent the view of Pierre d'Ailly; see Kneale, Develop-
ment, pp. 230-231.
22 I have stated this view by closely paraphrasing the version given by Richard

Ferrybridge, op. cit., fols. 82va-82vband 83rb-84rb, who supports it. It is supported
as well in a less detailed version by Johannes Venator, op. cit., fols. 73va; 74vb;
and 75ra-76va. Rejected by William Heytesbury, op. cit., fols. 183va and 183vb-
23 Rejected by William Heytesbury, op. cit., fols. 183va and 184rb; and by Rich-

ard Ferrybridge, op. cit., fols. 82va and 82vb-83ra; and by Johannes Venator, op.
cit., fols. 73rb_73va; 73va_74ra; and 74vb_75ra; and by Paul of Venice, op. cit., fols.

3.3 The significatumof a proposition is a real thing or a way in which

real things may be related to each other.24
4. The significatumas an entity sui generis
4.1 The significatumof a propositionbelongsto no Aristoteliancategory,
and it may thereforebe called "extra-categorical";but it belongs to
a "categoryof enuntiabilia", for it has its own mode of existing
per se.25
4.2 The significatum of a proposition is aliqualiter esse et complexe
significabile,an entity which does not exist but is neverthelessreal,
particular,abstract,and eternal.26
I shall have more to say about these views, but for my immediate
purposes it is less useful to consider the significatum as an entity whose
ontological status was in question than as a device to which several
different roles were assigned. It will be easier to describe the roles if
I begin by speaking not of the significatum but of its linguistic coun-
terpart, the oratio infinitiva (pace view 1.2 above).
As we have seen, the oratio infinitiva was important for medieval
logicians first of all as a subject term in statements of the form
'. . . est verum' or '. . . est falsum'. In keeping with the Boethian
definition it was therefore also the standard form of subject term in
statements of the form '. . . est significatum propositionis' or of
direct object in statements of the form "Haec propositio '. . .' signifi-
cat . . .". Because propositional modes were conceived of as determi-
nants of the relation between a subject and a predicate, truth and
falsity were regularly included among the modes. It was therefore
simply a natural extension of the first role assigned to the oratio in-
finitiva to assign to it as well the role of subject term in de modo
statements of the form '. . . est necessarium' or '. . . est possibile',
or '... est contingens', or'. . . est impossibile'. From the standpoint of
philosophy and theology, however, the crucial role assigned to the

24Abelard's view. See Dialectica, p. 160.28-36. See also Kneale, Development,

pp. 205-206; Beonio, Abelard, ch. Iv; de Rijk, Log. Mod. ii(l), p. 188.
25 Supported in Ars Burana, Log. Mod. II(2), p. 208.21-31. Cited in Ars Meli-

duna as the view held by the anonymous author's master, perhaps Robert of
26Gregory of Rimini's view; loc. cit. (fn. 9 above); also op. cit., d. XXVIII, q.
i, a. 2; fol. 131va. See also Hubert Elie, Le Complexe significabile (Paris: Vrin,
1926); Mario dal Pra, "La Teoria del 'significato totale' della proposizione nel
pensiero di Gregorio da Rimini," Rivista critica di storia delta filosofia, xi (1956):
287-311; T. K. Scott, "John Buridan on the Objects of Demonstrative Science,"
Speculum, XL (1965): 654-673; Maria Elena Reina, Il Problema del linguaggio in
Buridano (Vicenza: Gualandi, 1959). Rejected by Paul of Venice, op. cit., fols.
162vb-163rb;and by John Buridan, Sophisms on Meaning and Truth, T. K. Scott,
tr. (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1966), pp. 68-70; see also Scott's Intro-
duction, pp. 15-16.

oratio infinitiva was that of direct object for such verbs of proposi-
tional attitude as 'scire' ('to know'), 'credere' ('to believe'), 'opinari',
('to think'), and 'dubitare' ('to doubt').
In the light of this survey of the roles assigned to the oratio infini-
tiva some analogous things may be said about the significatum of a
proposition. Regardless of the stand they may have taken on its quid-
dity, most medieval logicians in the dictist tradition took the sig-
nificatum to be not only (I) what is signified by a proposition, but
also (II) what is true or false, (III) what is necessary, possible, con-
tingent, or impossible, and (IV) what is known, believed, thought,
or doubted.27
Some late medieval logicians who made systematic use of the ter-
minology of dictism and engaged in theoretical discussions regarding
its elements rejected all attempts to give the significatum, especially
in the guise of the complexe significabile, an ontological status of its
own.28But their efforts were preceded and at least indirectly inspired
by those of William Ockham, whose views on propositions evidently
provoked a crisis in medieval thought.
Ockham was quite outside the dictist tradition; what he had to say
about the meaning of a proposition was said in his highly developed
terminism. The notion of a mental proposition was important to his
philosophy, but he did not identify the mental proposition as the
significatum of the proposition. Although the mental proposition
signified naturally rather than conventionally, it corresponded in
detail to the proposition, and so Ockham's terminism provided a se-
mantic theory for both at once.29 His extension of grammatical cate-
gories to mental entities was so thoroughgoing that he may be said to
have considered mental as well as extra-mental propositions to be
indicative type-sentences.
What is important about Ockham's views for present purposes is
that he attempted to treat the proposition itself, usually without ex-
27 'Scitum' ('known'), 'creditum' ('believed'), 'opinatum' ('thought') and the like
were sometimes considered as modal words-e.g., by the Pseudo-Scot (see Kneale,
Development, p. 243) and by Ockham, Summa logicae, pars iI, cap. i, P. Boehner,
ed., Franciscan Institute Publications Text Series No. 2 (St. Bonaventure, N.Y.:
Franciscan Institute, 1962), p. 218. Thus roles (II), (III), and (IV) together might
be broadly characterized as modal from a medieval point of view.
28John Buridan, Pierre d'Ailly, and Paul of Venice are outstanding propo-
nents of this sort of view. Perhaps "Opinio secunda" and especially "Opinio ter-
tia" in Ars Meliduna, pars Iv, represent much earlier attempts at the same sort
of view; see Log. Mod. II(l), p. 358.
29 See Philotheus Boehner, "Ockham's Theory of Signification," Franciscan
Studies, vi (1946): 143-170; reprinted in his Collected Articles on Ockham (St.
Bonaventure, N.Y.: Franciscan Institute, 1958), pp. 201-232.

plicitly distinguishing between the mental and the extra-mental prop-

osition, as the device that fills roles (II), (III), and (IV), assigned by
many other logicians to the significatum of the proposition.
There are well-recognized, serious difficulties connected with the
assignment of roles (II) and (III) to the proposition itself. But the
difficulties in Ockham's position become even more obvious when we
turn to his attempt to treat the proposition itself as what is known,
believed, thought, or doubted. His assignment of role (IV) to the
proposition itself concentrated on the proposition as the object of
Knowledgeof any sort, whether real or rational, is solely of proposi-
tions as the things that are known, for only propositions are known
(Ordinatio,d. 2, q. 4 M).
This extreme view, which Ockham himself seems to have found em-
barrassing occasionally,30 follows easily once a statement such as (11)
or (11') has been accepted as theoretically correct, for in Ockham's
strict sense of 'known' whatever is known is what is true.81
Robert Holcot (d. 1349), who followed Ockham on many points,
was willing to say that it is the complexum which is what is known,
believed, thought, or doubted-at any rate as distinct from any sig-
nified thing.32 But his view differed from Ockham's in that he main-
tained that it was not strictly correct to say that one knows, or doubts,
this proposition. One ought instead to say 'I know that it is in fact
as is denoted by this proposition', or 'I doubt whether it is in fact
as this proposition denotes'.33Much of Holcot's criticism of Ockham
is founded on the assumption that Ockham was attempting to use the
token-proposition as the object of knowledge. That is an unfounded
80 See Marilyn McCord Adams and Norman Kretzmann, William Ockham:
Predestination, God's Foreknowledge, and Future Contingents (New York: Apple-
ton-Century-Crofts, 1969), p. 63. Except where the first-person pronoun is in-
volved Ockham seems not to shrink from applying his theory strictly. Conse-
quently our note 76 on p. 59 of Ockham: Predestination constitutes a misguided
application of common sense.
31 See, e.g., Ockham: Predestination, pp. 51-52.
32 See E. A. Moody, "A Quodlibetal Question of Robert Holkot, O.P., on the
Problem of the Objects of Knowledge and of Belief," Speculum, XXXIX (1964): 53-
74; esp. p. 60.57-61. See also Mario dal Pra, "Linguaggio e conoscenza assertiva
nel pensiero di Roberto Holkot," Rivista critica di storia della filosofia, xi (1956):
15-40. The res significata view, one version of which appears as 3.1 on p. 778
above, was held by Walter of Chatton, who lectured in Oxford in 1322-23
(Moody, "Holkot," p. 66).
33 See Moody, "Holkot," p. 62.163-171 and p. 64.273-279. My interpretation of
Holcot's position differs from the one Moody presents on pp. 67-68.

assumption about Ockham's position generally, which is in trouble

even if it is the type-proposition to which he assigned role (IV), but
Holcot does cite a passage indicating that Ockham may have been
confused on this point (ibid., p. 61.133-138).
I concluded my survey of dictism with an account of Ockham's at-
tempt to treat the proposition itself as the object of knowledge be-
cause of the important effect his attempt seems to have had on the
development of dictism. Now I want to describe that effect and the
interrelations of terminism and dictism before offering some criti-
Dictism is unquestionably older than terminism, even leaving aside
all claims that might be made regarding its continuity with the Stoic
semantic theory, for it can be found in a well-developed state in the
logic of Abelard, whose work antedates the development of termi-
nism. When terminism did emerge, it did so in treatises such as
Dialectica Monacensis, Ars Burana, and Ars Meliduna, which con-
tain theoretical discussions of the dictum or enuntiabile as well.34
For present purposes the most interesting of those anonymous trea-
tises is the Ars Meliduna, which devotes part II of its four parts to the
significata of terms and part iv to enuntiabilia, which are identified
as the significata of propositions. Part II provides an early version of
terminism and part iv a discussion of the elements of dictism. The
presence of theoretical discussions of the two approaches in a single
treatise is rare enough, but even rarer is an attempt (in chapters 12-14
of part Iv) to apply elements of terminism in order to clarify difficul-
ties in dictism. The results are meagre and unsystematic, but the at-
tempt seems to indicate a belief that the two approaches had at least
one goal in common.
If that was the belief of the unknown author of the Ars Meliduna,
he seems to have been very nearly alone in it. There are no signs of
such a belief in most presentations of either dictism or terminism.
The earliest full-fledged treatises of terminist logic, such as the Trac-
tatus de proprietatibus terminorum of the first decades of the thir-
teenth century, often contain evidence in examples and in casual
references that the author was aware of discussions of the significatum
(or dictum, or enuntiabile) of a proposition.35 But I have found no
34Dialectica Monacensis and Ars Burana have been edited by L. M. de Rijk,
Log. Mod. II(2), pp. 453-638 and 175-213. De Rijk provides extensive excerpts
from Ars Meliduna in Log. Mod. ii(1), pp. 292-390.
a5 Log. Mod. iI(2), pp. 703-730; see esp. p. 729.19-26.

evidence that theoretical discussions of elements of dictism continued

among logicians during the period dominated by terminism, from
the late twelfth through the early fourteenth centuries. Terminist
logicians such as William of Sherwood and Peter of Spain (d. 1277)
provide evidence like that to be found in the Tractatus de proprieta-
tibus terminorum indicating that they were aware of the dictist ap-
proach.36Unlike other terminist logicians whose works I have looked
at in this connection, William claimed, at the beginning of each of
his two treatises on branches of terminism, that investigations into
the properties of terms and the functions of syncategorematic words
are essential to the theoretical understanding of propositions.37 Two
generations after William and Peter, in the terminism of Walter
Burleigh (1275-1337), there is even less evidence of any interest in
or knowledge of dictism.
But during the period in which logic was dominated by terminism
some theoretical discussion of the elements of dictism continued
among theologians, particularly regarding the enuntiabile as the
object of knowledge. The discussion of paronymous or denominative
words, in which St. Anselm (1033-1109) had played an important
part,38led the Platonist Bernard of Chartres (d. 1124/30) and others,
called "nominates", to maintain that denominatives and the words
from which they stem-that is, such word-families as 'white', 'white-
ness', 'whitens'-all signify a single form although they consignify
different aspects of it.39Applying this line of thought to propositions,
tensed verb is no part of the enuntiabile. Thus, as St. Thomas reports
them, they maintained that there were not three enuntiabilia for
the three propositions 'Christ is born', 'Christ will be born', and
'Christ was born'; for
. .. that Christis born, that Christwill be born, and that Christwas
born are one and the same enuntiabile,since one and the same thing-
namely, the birth of Christ-is signifiedby those three (Summa theo-
logiae I, q. xiv, a. 15).
36 See, e.g., WSTSW, pp. 96-97, 110, 155 (enuntiabile) and 138 (dictum); also
Peter's Summulae logicales, I. M. BocheAski, ed. (Rome: Marietti, 1947), secs.
11.21 and 11.22 (enuntiabile).
37 WSIL, p. 105; WSTSW, p. 13. Passages vaguely like these are to be found in
the late twelfth-century Logica "Cum sit nostra" [Log. Mod. ii(2), pp. 413-451],
p. 445.23-28, and in Peter of Spain's Tractatus syncategorematum, J. P. Mullally,
tr. (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1964), p. 17.
38 See Desmond Paul Henry, The De Grammatico of St. Anselm: The Theory
of Paronymy (Notre Dame, Ind.: University Press, 1964).
39 See John of Salisbury, Metalogicon m, 2, D. D. McGarry, tr. (Berkeley: Univ.
of California Press, 1962), pp. 150-155. See also Kneale, Development, p. 239.

The nominates, then, may have held that indexically different ora-
tiones infinitivae name a single enuntiabile and signify a single fea-
ture of reality. St. Thomas discusses their position more than once in
his treatments of God's knowledge.40But aside from John of Salisbury
( 115/20-1180), who is scarcely in the mainstream of medieval logic,
I know of no logician who took account of this development in
The revival of the logicians' interest in theoretical discussions of
the significatum of the proposition seems to stem from Ockham's at-
tempt to treat the proposition itself as the object of knowledge. The
interest of the logicians may very well have been stimulated by the
interest of fourteenth-century theologians, for this teaching of Ock-
ham's was one of those presented to the papal commission at Avignon
appointed to examine Ockham's doctrines under a charge of heresy.41
As Alexander Neckham (1157-1217) had observed about one hundred
fifty years earlier, "whether the enuntiabile is something that exists
is a question not only for logic but also for theology." 42 Perhaps the
theologian Gregory of Rimini (d. 1358) adopted his much discussed
doctrine of the complexe significabile in response to the doctrinal
difficulties over Ockham's attempt to dispense altogether with such
an entity. In any case his work formed one of the starting points for
the logicians' renewed discussion of the significatum of the proposi-
tion. As a topic for logical treatises (generally entitled De significato
pro positionis) it seems to have been even more prominent in the
fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries than in the twelfth. John
Buridan, William Heytesbury (d. 1372/3), Richard Ferrybridge (fl.
1370), Johannes Venator (d. ca. 1427?), and Paul of Venice all con-
tributed to this discussion of the elements of dictism.43 Some of
these men, notably Buridan and Paul of Venice, also contributed to
terminism, and Paul made use of terminist apparatus in his treatise
De significato propositionis (treatise xi in part II of his Logica magna).
40 See Quodlibetalia 4 (17). See also Kneale, Development, pp. 239-240.
41 See Moody, "Holkot," pp. 53-54. Ockham does discuss enuntiabilia at least
once in connection with God's knowledge in a passage which may shed some
light on his choice of the proposition itself as the object of knowledge; see Ock-
ham: Predestination, pp. 94-95.
42 De naturis rerum, cap. 173; quoted in Log. Mod. ii(l), p. 291.
48 Not all the important logicians of the period were involved. Albert of Sax-
ony (1316-1390) seems to have been an outstanding exception as far as his logic
proper is concerned. See Philotheus Boehner, Medieval Logic (Manchester: Uni-
versity Press, 1952), pp. 90-91. But see also Albert's Quaestiones super Analytica
Posteriora I, q. 2, fol. 3rb (quoted in Prantl, Geschichte, 4.78.301), where he seems
to be following Gregory of Rimini.

On the other hand, there is virtually no hint of terminism in the dis-

cussions of the significatum by Ferrybridge and Venator, both of
whom occasionally made an intriguing use of notions drawn from
the doctrines of the modi significandi 44 in elucidating their discus-
sion of the significatum of a proposition.
To sum up, terminism was, despite appearances, a theory of propo-
sitional reference; and dictism was, quite explicitly, a theory of
propositional signification. But there is almost no indication that
they were recognized as cooperative or complementary theories.
I want to conclude by pointing out two kinds of confusion in dictism
which I think helped to obscure the fact that it presents a theory of
propositional sense.
In the first place there is the confusion I mentioned earlier (767
above) between signification interpreted broadly as meaning and
signification interpreted technically as sense. The confusion of these
two interpretations may have led to views like those in Category 3
(778 above), which represent the recognition that what a proposition
means (its significatum) is primarily what the proposition is about,
or what it refers to. Even if a full account of propositional meaning
should involve consideration of certain mental entities, those mental
entities themselves would then be described as being about or refer-
ring to those same extra-mental entities which constitute the sig-
nificata of the corresponding propositions. In Abelard's case (view
3.3) this line of thought may be considered an anticipation of the
sort of account terminism was later to provide. In the case of later
logicians (views 3.1 and 3.2) it seems to be an attempt to extend
what might have been a viable theory of propositional sense to cover
an aspect of propositional meaning that was then already treated in
detail in terminism. The views in categories 2 and 4, then, may be
considered to have interpreted signification as sense; those in category
2 identifying the sense of the proposition (its significatum) with the
corresponding mental proposition, those in category 4 taking a more
nearly Fregean line on the ontological status of the sense of a propo-
But even if we confine our attention to those varieties of dictism
which involved the tacit recognition that the significatum of a propo-
sition was only one aspect of its meaning, we are, I think, confronted
44 On the modi significandi see Jan Pinborg, Die Entwicklung der Sprach-
theorie im Mittelalter [Beitrdge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie
des Mittelalters, XLII, 2 (Munster: Aschendorff, 1967)].

with a second sort of confusion in dictism. This confusion is subtler

and more interesting than the first, but I can only make some sugges-
tions regarding it here.
As I remarked earlier (772/3 and fns 7, 8), dictism most often used
the three designations 'significatum', 'dictum', and 'enuntiabile' for
its central notion, and it used them interchangeably, sometimes stat-
ing explicitly that they were interchangeable. But 'significatum' is
on one side and 'dictum' (or 'enuntiabile') on the other side of a dis-
tinction that was lost sight of, or perhaps was never clearly seen, be-
cause of the Boethian definition. I want to suggest that in following
out the implications of the Boethian definition medieval logicians
in the dictist tradition were led to consider the dictum, what a propo-
sition says, as if it were thereby also the significatum, what a proposi-
tion signifies. As far as I can see, Boethius could have expressed his
definition just as well from his own point of view (and far more satis-
factorily from my point of view) if he had said "A proposition is an
expression that says what is true or what is false" (using 'dicens'
instead of 'significans').45If he had done so, the acceptance of 'dictum'
and 'significatum' as synonymous in their application to propositions
might not have come to characterize a long tradition in medieval
For there does seem to be a clear difference between what a propo-
sition says and what it signifies. The standard dictist formula is rep-
resented in this statement:
(3 ) 'Every man is an animal' signifies that every man is an animal.
Although the verb in the Latin version was always 'significat', never
'dicit', the formula was described indifferently as presenting the
dictum or the significatum of the proposition. But what it presents is
not what the proposition signifies, for if one knows what the propo-
sition signifies one knows the sense of the proposition, and if one
knows the sense of the proposition one can say what the proposition
means. But a child can acquire the capacity to apply that simple
formula correctly to any proposition whatever quite independently
of his ability to say correctly what the proposition means, to under-
stand the proposition. Does the statement:
(11) 'Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny' signifies that ontogeny re-
capitulates phylogeny.
45 Cf. his Introductio ad syllogismos categoricos (PL 64.767C): "Unde etiam
enuntiationis nascitur diffinitio, est enim enuntiatio quae verum falsumve de-

present anyone with the meaning of that proposition? Not unless the
theory of propositional sense reduces to "It means what it says". If
the dictists had not always formed their examples around proposi-
tions that everyone understood perfectly well, they might have seen
that while their formula presents what the proposition says-which
is what is true or false, what is necessary, possible, contingent, or im-
possible-it fails to present the very thing it announces-what the
proposition signifies.
If I am shown a proposition in a foreign language and asked "What
does that say?", I am ordinarily being asked what that proposition
means. But even in that sort of case, where the notion of what a prop-
osition says is most at home, there is the same sort of difference be-
tween what a proposition says and what it means. I think I can show
this in a last example which will illustrate some other points as well.
Suppose we conduct an experiment. Our subject is a cooperative
Turk who knows no English or German or chemistry. We give him
parallel lists of English and German chemical terms and a few other
words, and we teach him that when he is presented with a German
proposition and asked in English "What does that say?" he is to
produce the corresponding English proposition by consulting his
parallel lists. He is presented with the proposition 'Sauerstoff ist
wichtiger als Wasserstoff'-call it 'S'-and asked "What does that
say?", and he produces 'Oxygen is heavier than hydrogen'. His re-
sponse is perfectly appropriate and correct. He knows what S says,
but he has no idea what S means. We also give him a list of true and
false English propositions, containing every proposition he will pro-
duce when he works according to instructions. So he also knows that
what S says is true; but, by the hypothesis, he does not know that
oxygen is heavier than hydrogen.
I shall conclude by summarizing these suggestions in connection
with the four roles I distinguished on page 780 above. The signifi-
catum of the proposition is of course made to order for role (I), what
is signified by the proposition. It is, I think, also what is wanted or at
least an essential part of what is wanted for role (IV), what is known,
believed, thought, or doubted. But roles (II), what is true or false,
and (III), what is necessary, possible, contingent, or impossible, are
adequately filled by the dictum of the proposition.

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