Everything is intentional. It’s just filling in the dots.
1Between the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, authors such as Franz Brentano, Anton Marty, Edmund Husserl, and many of their students—all belonging to a tradition sometimes labelled “Austrian philosophy”—carry out an investigation of language characterized, among other things, by the following two features: (1) Problems of language are considered within the broader framework of an intentionality-based philosophy of mind; or, to put it differently, questions of meaning are considered as involving a full-fledged and quite articulated theory of nested practical and theoretical intentions; (2) several aspects of such an intimate connection between meaning and intentions are often explicitly presented as inspired by or somehow already at work in the Medieval Scholastic tradition.
- 1 On this notion, see below §2.1, §4 and passim.
2In this study we will follow the track pointed out by these two features. More precisely, we will use some “Austrian” reflections on the relation between meanings and intentions to build what will later be called a “heuristic filter”1, namely an interpretative model meant to shed new light on some Medieval debates about the cluster significare/intendere. The paper is divided into three parts. In section I, we single out some distinctive tenets of the “Austrian” strategy to describe the relationship between meaning and intentions. In section II, we turn to a selection of texts from the 13th and 14th century dealing with the two related notions of significatio and intentio. The purpose is to show how, for both “Austrian” and Medieval philosophers of language (despite their differences), a proper understanding of linguistic meaning—in the twofold sense of words or sentences having a lexical content and utterances having a determinate pragmatic function—rests on what might be called a theory of “agentive intentionality”, i.e. an intentional account of practical goal-oriented human behaviours. In section III, some remarks about the outcomes, meaning, scope, and perspectives opened by our method will conclude the study.
31.1 In his book Sprachtheorie. Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache (1934), Karl Bühler writes the following:
- 2 Karl Bühler (2011), Theory of Language. The Representational function of language, Amsterdam, John (...)
“Where the concrete things that fulfil sign functions are produced or arranged by active beings, where the relation of these concrete things to these beings is that of the work to its maker or (if seen somewhat differently) of the act to its agent, these beings can also be called the sign givers (…). The fact that this is enough to reckon human language to the “instruments” or, in Platonic terms, that it is an organon, means nothing other than that it is regarded in relation to those who handle it and are its agents. Hence in the axiom of the semiotic nature of language, the theory of language has to do with the paradigm of homo faber, a maker and user of instruments”2.
4Three aspects of this text need to be emphasized.
5First, it summarizes one of the core principles of the “Austrian” approach to language, namely that human language is not regarded as a spontaneous activity of human mind but as an artefact: a “tool” (Werkzeug) or an “instrument” (Gerät) made for a certain purpose and handled by a certain agent (Täter) to serve some practical purposes. As a consequence, the study of language has to be understood within the broader framework of a theory of practical human agency.
- 3 See also Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, iii (LXXXIX Eng.). Bühler had already introduced the st (...)
6Second, if the homo loquens is ultimately a homo faber, the homo faber has, in turn, the twofold facet of being both maker and user of instruments (ein Macher und Benützer von Geräten): humans make instruments and make things with instruments3. Accordingly, language is not only a tool by means of which things are made, but also a tool made to make things. A comprehensive study of linguistic phenomena should therefore account for both the “fabrication” of the linguistic tool, and its actual or possible uses.
7Third the backward reference to a supposedly Platonic understanding of language as an organon should not be underestimated. While Plato never univocally endorsed an instrumental view of language, the following passage from the Cratylus suggests an idea extremely close to Bühler’s indications:
- 4 Plato, Cratylus, 389d-386a: “ἆρ᾽ οὖν, ὦ βέλτιστε, καὶ τὸ ἑκάστῳ φύσει πεφυκὸς ὄνομα τὸν νομοθέτην ἐ (...)
[Socrates:] “Then, my dear friend, must not the law-giver also know how to transfer in the sounds and syllables that name which is fitted by nature for each object? Must he not make and give all his names with his eye fixed upon the absolute or ideal name, if he is to be an authoritative giver of names? And if different lawgivers do not embody it in the same syllables, we must not forget this ideal name on that account; for different smiths do not embody the form in the same iron, [389e] though making the same instrument for the same purpose, but so long as they reproduce the same ideal, [390a] though it be in different iron, still the instrument is as it should be, whether it be made here or in foreign lands, is it not?”4
- 5 The former giving meaning to sounds or, in Plato’s terms, bestowing the form of the name to differe (...)
- 6 To denote the identical “purpose” of the instrument, Plato uses here the term ἕνεκα. The same term (...)
8What for Plato appears to be an analogy between the activity of the law-giver (νομοθέtης) and that of the smith5 becomes for Bühler a full-fledged account of language as a produced and productive instrument (ὄργανον). In that sense, a word and, say, a shuttle, a saw, or a hammer, belong to the same genus and are said to be instruments exactly in the same sense. Accordingly, when it comes to words or sentences, the relationship between the meaning and spoken sound is not merely analogous, but univocally identical with the relationship between the function and the matter (iron, wood) of a shuttle, a saw, or a hammer. As a result, the “fabrication” of a tool, conceived as the “embodiment” (τίθημι) of the form (ιδέα)—“making the same instrument for the same purpose” (τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἕνεκα ποιῶν τὸ αὐτὸ ὄργανον)—becomes for Bühler a suitable heuristic model to conceive or illustrate the teleological production of a linguistic item6.
9Now, Bühler not only insists on this point repeatedly. He also claims that both Husserl’s late “expanded hypothetical model of language”, developed in the Cartesian Meditations in contrast with the positions previously sketched in the Logical Investigations, has to be considered as a variety of Plato’s instrumental account. An account which, in turn, was fostered by the “things themselves”:
- 7 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 24 (30 Eng.): “Ich denke, es war ein guter Griff Platons, wen (...)
“I think it was a good idea of Plato when he claims in Cratylus that language is an organum for the one to inform the other of something about the things”7.
- 8 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 1 (2 Eng.). “[Seit seinen Logischen Untersuchungen aus den Ja (...)
“[Since his “Logical Investigations, which appeared in 1900 and 1901”] Husserl has not remained static; recently, in 1931, he wrote the Méditations cartésiennes, in which he developed an expanded hypothetical model for the object “language”. As I see it, Husserl took this step in response to the demands of the things themselves; the pattern Husserl sets forth in the second of the two aforementioned works does not completely match our organon model of language, but it is compatible with the organon model and leads to it; this organon model can also be detected in Plato’s Cratylus. It was atrophied in the nineteenth century, and must be restored to recognition; for my part, I did not draw it from Plato in 1918, but inferred it afresh by directly examining the things themselves and advanced it in rebuttal to Husserl’s Logical Investigations”8.
- 9 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 11 (13 Eng.): “Das neue Modell der Menschensprache dagegen, w (...)
“The new model of human language, which would have to be consistently laid out in keeping with the concessions made in the Cartesian Meditations, is quite as rich as that needed by the theory of language and practically applied by it since Plato; it is the organon model of language. We shall begin our presentation of the principles of the science of language with it”9.
- 10 Namely that (1) language is an artefact; (2) it is fabricated and used by human agents (homo faber) (...)
101.2. As we have seen, Bühler’s account rests on and spells out three preliminary claims10. Such claims define the first set of key tenets belonging to what might be called the “artefactual paradigm” (henceforth: AP): an approach to language accounting for linguistic meaningfulness in terms of instrumentality and treating instrumentality within the broader framework of a theory of human agency. Thus, according to the AP, not only linguistic items such as words, syntagms, sentences, etc., are seen as artefacts made to make things, but also speakers are taken to be exactly (again: univocally, not analogically) like users of pragmatic devices, fabricated in view of certain practical goals—in a nutshell: as instrumental agents. But there is more to say. In fact, an instrumental agent is not merely, as Bühler puts it, an “active being” but also, and more fundamentally, a “conscious being”—an “intentional being” in the following twofold sense: (i) she is the bearer of mental states and the subject of object-directed experiences; (ii) such mental states and object-directed experiences are not merely subjective events, but “map onto” a transcendent world of things, events, states of affairs, etc. As Bühler puts it in his Die Krise der Psychologie (1927):
- 11 See Karl Bühler (1927), Die Krise der Psychologie, Jena, Fischer, p. 67: “Die punktmässige, sozusag (...)
“A punctual, as it were static intentionality of every single experience viewed for itself would be a curiosity: but if we regard intentionality as being more than this, as a dynamic, sequential order, the intention gains the natural function of a control-lever by means of which experiences can be made concordant with the structural and existential laws of objects”11.
- 12 As an example, see Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 164 (185 Eng.): “The object named by a nam (...)
11Now, if all human activity is intentional in this very specific sense, it goes without saying that practical goal-oriented human activities, including the twofold activity of the homo faber—maker and user of instruments—must involve a certain form of intentionality too. And this holds also for the particular instrumental activity of the homo loquens, whose “speech experiences” (naming, stating, etc.) structurally bear the traces of their mental, intentional background12. Hence the following fourth key tenet of the AP:
12Fourth, language makers and users are intentional beings, having object-directed “mental experiences” (Erlebnisse).
13Questions concerning the lexical meaning of a word can thus be reframed, to use this time Husserl’s words—echoing the activity of Plato’s law-giver—in terms of the intentional bestowing (Verleihung) of a certain “form” to a spoken sound (although, as we will see, the ways in which such a “form” must be understood may vary significantly from author to author). Correlatively, issues related to the actual use and comprehension of a linguistic instrument carrying a determinate “form” can be fully explained as examples of intentional and goal-oriented practical behaviours performed by conscious beings.
141.3. Beyond Bühler’s and Husserl’s alleged revival of Plato’s instrumental model, varieties of the AP can also be found—although in different forms and various degrees—in Marty and Brentano.
15Anton Marty’s Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der allgemeinen Grammatik und Sprachphilosophie (1908) is probably the other text belonging to the “Austrian” tradition where the characterization of (i) language as an instrument (Organ, Werkzeug), (ii) speakers as agents performing a very specific kind of action (Handeln), and (iii) linguistic agents as mental beings (psychische Wesen) having a mental life (Seelenleben) made up of object-directed presentations, judgments, and acts of interest, is unambiguously and repeatedly put forward:
- 13 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen zur Grundlegung der allgemeinen Grammatik und Sprachphilosophie, (...)
“Language is an instrument that—like every tool—must be understood by virtue of the goal or the task it must fulfil; and since semasiology addresses language as a means of expressing the internal mental processes of the speaker and, correspondingly, [a means of] guiding the mental life of the other, it must—in order to rise to the level of a general approach—account first and foremost for the demand which, absolutely speaking, this goal of understanding makes on language”13.
- 14 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, Bd. I, p. 284: “Doch diese Weise des Zeichenseins, die Kundgabe (...)
“However, this mode of being a sign, the manifestation of one’s own mental life is neither the unique nor the principal target intended by deliberate speech. What is principally envisaged is rather a certain influence or guidance of the hearer’s mental life. Deliberate speech is a kind of action whose proper final goal is to evoke in other beings certain mental phenomena”14.
- 15 See, for instance Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 22: “Wir sagten, unter Sprache verstehe ma (...)
“We said that in linguistics and philosophy of language one understands by language mainly the deliberate manifestation of the internal life. The primary intention of this manifestation, however, is the corresponding influence exerted on the other’s mental life. Usually, one expresses one’s own presentations, judgments, feelings, etc., in order to evoke in other mental beings presentations, judgments and feelings which are analogous to the own ones or correspond to them in a different way. This influence exerted on the other’s mental life is the primary purpose of speaking”15.
- 16 See Otto Funke (1924). Innere Sprachform. Eine Einführung in A. Martys Sprachphilosophie. Hildeshei (...)
- 17 This point is well taken into account in Ludwig Landgrebe’s study (1934), Nennfunktion und Wortbede (...)
- 18 For a more detailed treatment of Marty’s quite complex account of signs, especially in contrast to (...)
16Although Marty follows a model of intentionality closer to Brentano than Husserl, he nevertheless openly subscribes to Bühler’s idea that language is an artefact (Kunstmittel) and the study of language must revolve around the claim that “speaking is acting” (Handeln)—or, more precisely, “speaking is acting instrumentally”, i.e., using deliberately (absichtlich) a means (Mittel) made to accomplish a certain task (Aufgabe) for a specific end (Zweck). Additionally, even though he shares Brentano’s worries about the notion of form (ιδέα, εἶδος)—both in its Platonic and Aristotelian sense—and develops a quite complex account of what he calls the “linguistic form” (Sprachform)16, Marty ends up defining the teleological “form” of a spoken sound as its “function” (Funktion)17 and describes it precisely as that which confers a meaning to a spoken sound. The function or the end of an act of speech is in fact that of “influencing”—namely, modifying in a certain way and according to a specific set of desires and practical needs—the mental life of other conscious beings by manifesting at the same time one’s own intentions and volitions. As for the means, the instrument used by the speaker in order to perform such an action is nothing but a “deliberate sign” (absichtliches Zeichen): a sign established specifically in order to produce certain effects in the human soul. A linguistic sign is therefore a very specific kind of tool handled by a conscious being in order to perform in the most effective way the very specific action of changing someone else’s mind by manifesting one’s own18.
17Marty’s variety of the AP is thus built on the following twofold sequence:
- 19 As it is well known, the text edited by Franziska Meyer-Hillebrandt under the title Die Lehre vom r (...)
18The diagram on the left shows to which extent speaking for Marty is quite literally a kind of acting (Art des Handelns), where “kind” has to be taken in the strict sense of species as opposed to genus (Gattung). Speaking appears therefore as a species of deliberate instrumental action, whose differentia lies in the fact that it is performed by virtue of using certain signs as tools. As for the diagram on the right, it illustrates how linguistic signs are in turn nothing but very specific kinds of artefacts, humanly made to perform certain teleological actions—actions whose proper goal is to modify the presentations, beliefs, and interests of other conscious beings by manifesting one’s own presentations, beliefs, and interests.1.4. Marty’s highly developed version of AP also has some explicit parallels in Brentano’s own account of language. In his Vienna lectures on logic19, Brentano maintains explicitly—against Humboldt, Wundt, Steinthal, and various authors also targeted by Marty—that language is not a necessary and quite spontaneous product of thought:
- 20 Franz Brentano (1956), Die Lehre vom richtigen Urteil, hg. v. F. Mayer-Hillebrand, Bern, A. Franke, (...)
“Language is a deliberate although not methodically developed instrument of communication; there is no internal kinship between speaking and thinking”20
- 21 Franz Brentano (1956), Die Lehre vom richtigen Urteil, p. 24-5: “Die Sprache hat zunächst den Zweck (...)
“Language has first and foremost the purpose of communicating thoughts (…). However, because of the association of ideas, the linguistic expression is tightly concatenated with our thoughts and it thereby gains great influence on our thinking itself—an influence which on the whole is probably helpful, so that certain [authors] like John St. Mill consider language as virtually the principal instrument and auxiliary of thinking”21.
- 22 Marty presents a series of quite developed arguments to support Brentano’s critique against Wundt a (...)
19Since the influence of Brentano on Marty is uncontroversial, the fact that in his Vienna lectures language appears as a deliberately crafted instrument (beabsichtigtes ausgebildetes Instrument) whose main purpose (Zweck) is to foster communication between conscious beings, cannot come as a surprise22. However, while the idea that language is a tool (Werkzeug) and an auxiliary (Hilfsmittel) is certainly present—although indirectly, through a quote of John St. Mill—upon closer consideration, Brentano’s version of AP turns out to be different from both Marty’s and Bühler’s. In fact, Brentano’s claim that language is an instrument whose original task is to communicate thoughts (Gedankenmitteilung), and Marty’s idea that language is a set of pragmatic means to do something to the other’s soul by manifesting one’s own intentions, are not exactly identical. In Marty’s view, communication of thoughts, even though extremely important, cannot be considered as the main task (Aufgabe) of every action involving linguistic tools. Communication is rather the distinguishing feature of a specific action: the action of using linguistic signs in order to share knowledge and thoughts. Thus, according to Marty, the term “communication” (Mitteilung) has two meanings, a narrower and a broader one, none of them being identical with the original function of a linguistic action:
- 23 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 23: “Aber auch als Vermittlerin der Wahrheit und Erkenntnis (...)
“But also as a mediator of truth and knowledge language has an important task, both insofar as their communication—taken in the trivial narrow sense of the word—is concerned, i.e., [communication] taking place between different individuals; and [insofar as] what can also be called communication in a broader sense is at stake, I mean, the communication of thoughts and their contents, occurring step by step in the progress of solitary thinking, from a single individual to herself and from the present thinker to the future [thinker]”23.
- 24 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 23: “So ist es der Sprache bekanntlich gegeben Kunstmittel z (...)
20As an artefact, language can be used to modify the other’s mind in different ways. For example, it can deliberately be used to serve aesthetical purposes, producing in another conscious being (psychisches Wesen) “aesthetic pleasure by virtue of beautiful presentations”24; likewise, it can play a crucial role in connection with the communication (Mitteilen) of information and, more generally, in order to share knowledge and evoke in the other’s mind certain judgments that one holds to be true. In both cases (for instance, poetry and communication) particular human products (words, sentences, etc.) are instrumentally employed with the aim of producing certain effects in the mental life of another conscious being (like arousing certain beautiful presentations or true judgments). However, it is readily apparent that the first usage is as linguistic as the second. Hence, communication—intended precisely as the performance of a linguistic action having the function of mediating, i.e., evoking certain (allegedly) true judgments in another conscious being—cannot be conflated with the original and more general task of language itself. For, according to Marty, as we have seen, every deliberate attempt to modify someone else’s life (influencing her mind and/or guiding her behaviours) by employing certain signs and manifesting our own intentions is a full-fledged act of speech. Using linguistic signs in order to communicate thoughts is therefore only one way to modify someone’s intentional life (while speaking to someone in order to conjure beautiful presentations is another). And since communication does not cover the whole range of what can be done to the other’s soul by means of linguistic signs, the commonsensical claim that “language is fundamentally an instrument of communication” is either ill-formulated or unwarranted.
21It is true, however, that while criticizing Wundt’s nativism, Marty also employs expressions which may sound closer to Brentano’s, as when he concedes:
- 25 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 732: “Daß die Sprache Werkzeug der Mitteilung ist, sei ohne (...)
“The fact that language is an instrument of communication, may be granted without further ado”25.
22Yet, the claim that language can also function as an instrument of communication does not entail that communication is the original or the fundamental function of speech acts. At least, not as long as communication is taken in the limited sense of “mediation of knowledge” (Vermittlung der Erkenntnis), as the activity of transmitting information or, more precisely, true judgments from one conscious being to another or from one conscious being to herself.
231.5. Before we turn back to Bühler’s Sprachtheorie and move to its heuristic model, one point needs to be underscored. On several occasion, we have drawn attention to two fundamental assumptions behind the AP, namely, that
24a) questions of meaning cannot be treated independently from the instrumental nature of language, i.e., its original “form” or “function”;
25b) the instrumental nature of language, its “form” or “function”, cannot be properly understood without an account of the intentional life of homo faber: the maker, user, and addressee of linguistic signs.
26Now, if in the previous sections we decided to spell out the details of some versions of AP and emphasize their distinctions, it is to better identify the places where internal differences might arise within the AP itself. In fact, although Bühler, Husserl, Marty, and Brentano share in different ways the four key tenets of the Organon view, the distinctions between them became particularly obvious when it came to
27(i) the identification of the most general télos of the instrument itself, namely, the oiginal “form” of language responsible for its meaningfulness;
28(ii) the contribution or the role played by intentionality in the determination of such a “form”.
29With regard to these two issues (the télos of the speech practice or the form of the linguistic tool, and its relation with intentionality) we are now in a position to single out at least three different positions.
- 26 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 24 (31 Eng.): “Die Sprache ist ein organum, um einer dem ande (...)
301.5.1. According to Bühler, Plato’s original claim was that language “is an instrument to inform the other of something about the things”26, a claim echoed in the second part of the title Bühler gave his book (Die Darstellungsfunktion der Sprache). Accordingly, the capacity of representing (darstellen) objects and states of affairs is seen as the defining function of human linguistic signs. Now, this premise entails the following: what makes a spoken word out of a spoken sound—its “form” in the Platonic sense—is somehow related to the sound’s aptitude and the speaker’s will to make it “stand for” something for someone or, differently put, to inform someone about something.
31An additional version of this very same idea appears in §7 of Husserl’s first Logical Investigation, whose title is “Expressions as they function in communication”:
- 27 Edmund Husserl (ed. 1984), Logische Untersuchungen, Zweiter Teil. Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie (...)
“Expressions were originally framed to fulfil a communicative function: let us, accordingly, first study expressions in their function, so that we may be able to work out their essential logical distinctions. The articulate sound-complex, the written sign, etc., first becomes a spoken word or a communicative bit of speech, when a speaker produces it with the intention of “expressing himself about something” through its means; he must endow it with a sense in certain acts of mind, a sense he desires to share with his auditors. Such sharing becomes a possibility if the auditor also understands the speaker’s intention. He does this inasmuch as he takes the speaker to be a person, who is not merely uttering sounds but speaking to him, who is accompanying those sounds with certain sense-giving acts, which the sounds reveal to the hearer, or whose sense they seek to communicate to him”27.
- 28 See Edmund Husserl (ed. 1984), Logische Untersuchungen, Bd. II, Einleitung, §1, p. 1 (vol. I, 248 e (...)
32Husserl’s position seems here close to Brentano’s, not only because in the Introduction to the Logical Investigations Husserl, referring to the same passage by John St. Mill which Brentano quoted in his Vienna lectures, endorses the view that language is an “instrument” (Werkzeug) or an “auxiliary device” (Hilfsmittel)28; but also, and more importantly, because of his contention that the original function of a linguistic expression is communication. However, what Husserl means by “communicative function” (kommunicative Funktion) does not entirely overlap with Brentano’s “communication of thoughts” (Gedankenmittheilung) and Marty’s “communication in the narrow usual sense of the word” (Mitteilung im gemeinüblichen engeren Sinne des Wortes). In fact, as in Bühler’s Plato, Husserl’s “communicative function” is rather described as the defining feature of each utterance having a representative function, of every linguistic behaviour by means of which some conscious individual being (eine Person) deliberately expresses herself about something (über etwas). As a result, in what Husserl dubs as “communicative discourse” (mittheilende Rede), what is shared is not a set of mental states or judgments, but a common reference to the latters’ objects or states of affairs. Accordingly, a spoken sound becomes a spoken word only “when the speaker produces it with the intention of ‘expressing himself about something’ through its means” (dadurch, daß der Redende sie in der Absicht erzeugt, „sich” dadurch „über Etwas zu äußern”) and, correspondingly, when “the auditor understands the speaker’s intention” (daß der Hörende nun auch die Intention des Redenden versteht). To be sure, this is not enough to understand the meaning of the spoken sound, but it nevertheless appears to be the essential condition to grasp it as a meaningful word: an utterance deliberately produced by a person to tell something to someone, and not simply a spontaneously generated vocal sound.
33Thus, like in Plato’s alleged organon model and Bühler’s account of the specific role played by the representational function in human language, Husserl insists that language is an instrument—but an instrument made and used to make persons refer to objects, states of affairs, etc. It is precisely the presence of such a referential intentionality, as it were—a form of intentionality related by Husserl to the performance of certain “sense-bestowing acts” (sinnverleihende Akte)—that turns a simple sound into a word. The fundamental télos of a linguistic action is therefore that (i) of doing something in order to (ii) represent (darstellen) or refer to (sich beziehen auf) something, (iii) for someone to whom “the doer” appears as a person (eine Person), i.e., a conscious intentional being manifesting bits of her own object-directed intentional life for a purpose.
341.5.2. If for (Bühler’s) Plato and Husserl alike (and, to some extent, for Brentano too) the defining télos of the linguistic instrument is determined by its representational function, Bühler’s own position appears to be more complex. In fact, on Bühler’s account, the representational teleology proper to human signs-employing activities is always embedded in the broader practical teleology characteristic of all signs-employing activities in general which ultimately enclose the former and unfold the social dimension of all semiotic behaviours. As Bühler puts it:
- 29 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 31 (37 Eng.): “Was nun folgt, ist geeignet und dazu bestimmt, (...)
“Though we do not dispute the dominance of the representational function of language, what now follows is suited and intended to delimit it. The concept “things” or the more adequate conceptual pair “objects and states of affairs” does not capture everything for which the sound is a mediating phenomenon, a mediator between the speaker and the hearer”29.
35Bühler’s homo faber cannot be captured by simple appeal to the notion of conscious being. And it is not even simply a person, in the Husserlian sense of a conscious being provided with and bodily manifesting her own intentional life to another person. It is ultimately and more fundamentally a social being:
- 30 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 48 (56 Eng.): “Die Sprachforschung stößt also im Axiom von de (...)
“Hence, in the axiom of the sign nature of language, linguistics has to do with the paradigm of homo faber, a maker and user of implements. We will keep this paradigm in mind and step by step inscribe new determinations into it from each new axiom. For the time being, however, the significative things used in intersubjective contact can be characterized as an instrument for orientation in community life”30.
- 31 As we have seen, this claim, according to Bühler, is absent in Husserl’s Logical Investigations, bu (...)
- 32 In that sense, against Husserl—or, more precisely, against Husserl’s Logical Investigations and in (...)
36This brings to light a second way of conceiving the télos of a linguistic activity, which is not merely an additional function besides the representational one. As Bühler puts it, it is only insofar as homo faber is ultimately a social being31 that she employs signs in order to act upon minds belonging to other social beings. Moreover, it is precisely because homo faber is a social being having a very specific form of intentional mental life that she employs signs in order to act upon other social beings’ minds to refer to the same “things”. In other words, the télos of a speech-instrument is not simply to represent objects and states of affairs (while manifesting one’s own intentions and volitions), but to represent objects and states of affairs in order to orientate oneself and the others in a shared common life (Gemeinleben)32. The representative function of language is therefore essentially embedded in a practical intersubjective one.
- 33 See above §1.3 and 1.4.
- 34 A position which we will not be able to analyse in detail in this paper is that of Eduard Martinak’ (...)
371.5.3 Since we have already discussed at length Marty’s view33, we can be brief in describing the last manner of conceiving the télos of language and the intertwinement between meanings and intentions34. It should suffice to recall that in Marty’s Untersuchungen the most fundamental function of a practical activity involving linguistic signs as instruments is neither that of sharing thoughts (Brentano), nor that of informing someone about something (Bühler’s Plato), neither expressing oneself about something (Husserl) nor orientating oneself in community life (Bühler), but rather that of satisfying the practical need to change the other’s mind and guide her behaviours.
382.1 It is next worth observing that the introduction of the AP in the “Austrian” context follows two directions.
- 35 See Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 185-186 (210 Eng.).
- 36 When Wundt and Jerusalem disparage Brentano’s psychology for being a “Scholastic method”, Marty rea (...)
- 37 See Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 186-1977, 223, 228-229 (210, 249, 255 Eng.).
39The first is retrospective, and leads historically to a rediscovery of Plato’s instrumental account of language in the Cratylus as well as Aristotle’s distinction between φωναὶ σημαντικαὶ and φωναὶ [manque un mot grec] ] along with its understanding of the “symbolic” nature of language in De Interpretatione35, and their elaborations in the Scholastic tradition, a tradition often explicitly praised—not without some caveat—by Brentano and Marty36 and frequently described by Bühler as dealing with themes and introducing conceptual distinctions later developed by Husserl37.
- 38 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 185-6 (209-10 Eng.): “Wenn Aristoteles die menschliche Sprach (...)
“When Aristotle reckons human language to the symbolical realm (De Interpretatione, chapter 1), he (…) explains that language is a sign of processes going on in the soul and that these psychical processes are likenesses of things, and thus that language is also indirectly a sign of things. (…) The two ways of seeing things, which we have distinguished as the subjectivist and the objectivist analysis, were united in the history of language theory and of logic by Aristotle. Such a unification was made possible by the ancient notion of knowledge as an image or likeness (which, of course, is too simple). If the correspondence I || T [= Idea || Thing] topples with the construction of the species sensibiles and intelligibiles, then Aristotle’s synchytic concept of symbol comes out of joint. Starting with Hobbes, English logic adhered to a view in terms of symptom, and was thus a subjectivist theory of language, until Mill returned to an (equally one-sided) preference for the Platonic, that is, objectivist analysis. The attempt to reunite them must follow the way that the Scholastics initiated and Husserl elaborated: an act theory”38.
- 39 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 1, 50 and passim (2, 59 Eng.).
- 40 Foreword to Franz Brentano (1874), Psychologie vom empirischen Standpunkt, Dunker & Humblot: Leipzi (...)
- 41 See Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 238 and passim. On the basis of such a selective princip (...)
40This historico-retrospective way, however, although undeniably present and often evoked, is usually downplayed by “Austrian” authors, immediately modulated by the principle according to which “description” and “experience” are the only true authorities to be reckoned with. As a matter of fact, almost every “Austrian” reference to the philosophical tradition is restrained to cursory remarks whose chief task is to prove that, in the course of history, other authors have also “seen” what the new descriptive method inaugurated by Brentano and his students has rediscovered. And this holds not only for Husserl’s all too famous appeal to the “things themselves”, repeatedly approved by Bühler39, but also for Brentano’s no less famous claim that “experience alone is my teacher”40, echoed in Marty’s defence of the Scholastic tradition, not because of its authority but the descriptive adequacy of (some of) its insights41. As Brentano puts it in his Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie:
- 42 Franz Brentano (1963), Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie, Bern und München, A. Franke, p. 16: (...)
“The study of the history of philosophy is only justified, if it serves the research of the matter of facts”42.
- 43 See the first chapter (Über den Begriff und die Aufgaben der Sprachphilosophie und allgemeiner Gram (...)
41Thus the second and more important direction indicated by the AP is that of the “research of the matter of facts” (sachliche Forschung), a research breaking the ground for a systematic development of new models of conceiving the actual tasks and methods appropriate for a comprehensive science of language. Marty’s attempt to define the status and boundaries of disciplines such as philosophy of language, science of language, descriptive semasiology and universal grammar, is certainly one of the most prominent examples of such a systematic research agenda43. But the broadest and probably most articulated model for illustrating the tasks of a wide-ranging and all-inclusive study of language based on the assumptions of the AP, is the one summarized by Bühler in a diagram called the “quadrifolium”.
42It is precisely this diagram that will be used in the second part of our study as a “heuristic filter” in order to do, to some extent, what the “Austrians” did not, i.e., bring together in a non-restrictive and non-cursory way the two directions—historico-retrospective and systematic—of the AP, in order to reassess some Medieval key tenets on the cluster meaning/intention.
432.2. Bühler introduces the quadrifolium in the following way:
“Not two, but four factors (or sides), four facets so to speak of the integral object of the science of language must be revealed and elucidated (…): Act, Work, Action and Structure (…); let us elaborate this into a four-celled pattern with the intention of drawing out two intersecting dichotomies:
(…) The final result is that the phenomena of language can be determined as being:
I. Subject-related phenomena;
II. Subject-independent phenomena, i.e. phenomena that have an intersubjective fixation (…).
1. On a lower level of formalization, as being among actions and works;
- 44 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 48-50 (57-8 Eng.): “Es sind nicht zwei, sondern vier Momente (...)
2. On a higher level of formalization, as being among acts and structures”44.
44The univocal “artefactual” claim that language has to be “regarded in relation to those who employ it and are its agents” does not entail that human actions should be methodologically spelled out from a single point of view. On the contrary, according to Bühler, linguistic phenomena qua instruments can and should be tackled from four different perspectives: with regard to their ontological status and autonomy (Selbständigkeit) as being “subject-related” or “subject independent”; and with regard to the formal status of their descriptive more or less formalized concepts (Formalisierung). Those four categories, together with their crossed relations, represent the four leafs of Bühler’s quadrifolium, indicating the coordinates of a science of language consistent with the main assumptions of the AP.
452.2.1. As for the first leaf, it can be described as follows:
- 45 Karl Bühler (1999),Sprachtheorie p. 51-52 (61 eng.): “Es kann jedes geflügelte und nichtgeflügelte (...)
“Everything that is said, whether idiomatically or not, can be regarded under the aspect of being a human action. For all concrete speech is in vital union [im Lebensverbande] with the rest of a person’s meaningful behaviour [sinnvolles Verhalten]; it is among actions and is itself an action. In a certain situation we see that a person goes at things with his hands and handles what is graspable, physical things, he manipulates them. Another time we see that he opens his mouth and speaks. In both cases the event that we can observe proves to be directed towards a goal [auf ein Ziel gesteuert], towards something that is to be attained. This is precisely what a psychologist calls an action. The ordinary German language has provided us a term suitable for scientific use: Handlung. We generalize even in everyday life, we do not only call the manipulations in which the hands actually play a part and are at work “actions”, cases of handling, but also other doings: we call all goal-directed doings [zielgesteuerte Tätigkeit] of the entire person actions (or handlings) (…) <and> speaking is resolutely determined as action (and that is praxis in Aristotle’s full sense)”45.
- 46 This claim corresponds to Husserl’s position, according to which the understanding of a spoken soun (...)
46According to the AP, the claim that language is an action (Handlung) means first and foremost (1) that it is a case of meaningful behaviour (sinnvolles Verhalten) involving the whole person; and (2) that it is a meaningful goal-oriented behaviour (zielgesteuerte Tätigkeit)46. These two elements make explicit the generic feature proper to every human action—be it manual or verbal—, i.e. the fact of being teleologically oriented. Which brings us to the following definition:
Action (Handlung, πρᾶξις)def = a person’s goal-directed doing (zielgesteuerte Tätigkeit)“.
- 47 See above, §1.3.
- 48 See Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 642.
47One should note that Marty’s concept of acting (Handeln) and Bühler’s notion of action (Handlung) are not identical. For, as our above diagram shows47, Marty uses “acting” as a genus-term with “volitional, i.e., deliberate acting” (willkürliches, d. h. absichtliches Handeln) being only one of its species48. Besides, what Marty calls “acting” is something like a class, whose particular performances are sometimes ambiguously called “acts” (Akte):
- 49 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 637: “Eine Absicht kann hier, wie bei anderen Arten menschli (...)
“A purpose can here [scil. in the case of a speech], much as in other species of human acting, introduce and virtually mark as “deliberate” a whole host of acts”49.
- 50 See Anton Marty (1950), Satz und Wort. Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit der üblichen grammatis (...)
48Hence, Bühler’s “action” (Handlung) qua goal-oriented practice of a person, is what Marty rather calls “deliberate acting” (absichtliches Handeln), while its concrete occurrences can be called “deliberate acts” (absichtliche Akte). Accordingly, what Bühler dubs a “linguistic phenomenon considered as the meaningful goal-oriented doing of a person” corresponds to what Marty calls a “proposition” (Satz), Husserl a discourse (Rede)50, and contemporary philosophy of language usually an “utterance”. In what follows, and in order to avoid confusion, we will stick to Bühler’s terminology.
49Two ideas need to be emphasized at this point.
50First, an utterance is inseparable from its utterer, just as an action is inseparable from its agent. As Bühler frames it, it is in “vital union” (im Lebensverbande) with the meaningfully behaving person. Now, since for an agent acting is responding appropriately to a practical problem in a practical context, the meaning of an utterance, intended as an instrument to deal with a practical issue, ultimately depends on the practical context of its employment. It follows that the very raison d’être of an uttered word is to solve what appears to be a practical concern of the utterer in a determinate situation, in short, what Bühler calls its “subject-relatedness” (Subjektbezogenheit):
- 51 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 53 (63 Eng.): “Dies ist also das Merkmal, welches im Begriff (...)
“Thus, the feature that must be highlighted in the concept “speech action”, the feature without which it is inconceivable, is that speaking is completed (or fulfilled) to the extent that it performs the task of solving the practical problem in situation. Accordingly, the speech action cannot be imagined without its provenience (in the vineyard of practical life), its origin is part of it. It is different in the case of the speech work”51.
51But there is also a second idea. For this also suggests that the meaningfulness of an utterance qua action, precisely because of its practical subject-relatedness, is in principle independent from its grammatical completeness. As Bühler explains:
- 52 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 157 (178 Eng.): “Wenn der wortkarge Kaffeehausgast ‘einen Sch (...)
“When the taciturn café customer says “black”, he is reproducing a handy chunk from among the linguistic dispositions in his memory, and thus behaves more or less like a practical person who wants to hammer a nail and grasps the next best object that he can get his hands on. It does not have to be a proper hammer, it can be a climbing boot, a pair of pliers, or a brick”52.
52If an utterance’s function is to solve a practical problem, it may well fulfil its task in spite of its completeness, by means of a wide range of contextual elements:
- 53 Karl Bühler (1999), Bühler, Sprachtheorie, p. 52 (62 Eng.): “Im Vorblick auf Späteres sei angemerkt (...)
“The integration of speaking into meaningful behaviour deserves a specific term; we shall become acquainted with empractical utterances (empraktischen Reden), i.e. utterances that seem to be incomplete, as a major group of the so-called ellipses, (…) but once one has been made generally aware of the fact that utterances are integrated, it is good form to take a systematic tour of the possible surrounding fields of the language signs, which can be relevant in various ways. (…) Here, however, speaking itself must be regarded as an action.”53
532.2.2. The second leaf of Bühler’s quadrifolium named “speech-work” (Sprachwerk) is explicitly presented in contrast with “speech-actions” (Sprechhandlungen), along the lines of Humboldt’s distinction between Energeia and Ergon but, more importantly for our purpose, on the basis of Aristotle’s opposition of πρᾶξις and ποίησις.
- 54 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 53-54 (63 Eng.): “Das Sprachwerk als solches will entbunden a (...)
“The speech work as such must be capable of being regarded and must be regarded at a remove [entbunden] from its position in the individual life and experience of its author. The product [das Produkt] as the person’s work, must always be removed [enthoben] from its vineyard, it must become independent [verselbständigt]”54.
Bühler’s claim echoes Husserl’s notion of praxis:
- 55 Edmund Husserl (2008), Die Lebenswelt. Auslegungen der vorgegebenen Welt und ihrer Konstitution. Te (...)
“Every praxis (action) has a starting point in the pregiven world and, as a thematic horizon, a practical trajectory toward the endpoint. If the télos is given in the final point, this is called, for instance, “work” 55.
54Although still action-related due to its origin, a “work” is something that can be separated from the action itself and stand on its own as the latter’s “outcome” or as its “product”. The product of the action can now be seen as “subject independent” (subjektentbunden) and, accordingly, freely used and re-used by others. This is of course true for all practical instruments like hammers or saws (fabricated to solve practical problems such as hammering or sawing), but also—because of the univocity of the AP—for every word, syntagm, or sentence being freely quotable, idiomatically fixed, and having specific lexical properties making it suitable to be used in order to “solve” certain interactional issues.
55Now, while in the case of a speech-action the question of meaning takes the form of “what does the utterance mean?” or, more precisely—and due to the transitivity of subject-dependency—“what does the utterer mean by doing what she does?”, when it comes to speech-works, the appropriate question is rather “what does it mean?”, namely: what is the established meaning of that given word, syntagm, or sentence independently (verselbständigt) from any determinate use? This contrast between the established meaning of a speech-work (agent-related in the manner of a poiesis) and the pragmatic meaning of a speech-action (agent-related in the manner of a praxis) will become important in the second part of our study, when it is used to reinterpret the Medieval debates about the nature of meaning and whether or not it must be understood as a substantial form56. But for now, let us underscore that by dint of the concept “speech-work” one only highlights the first facet of homo faber: that of the artisan maker of instruments. On the other hand, as soon as speech-actions are involved, it is rather the second facet, that of the worker user of instruments, which comes to the fore. Both, artisan/maker of instruments and worker/user of instruments are unequivocally “doers” (Täter). But while the former’s doing, in Plato’s words, consists in fabricating tools, embodying forms to craft entities and made in a specific way for certain purposes; the latter’s doing consists in handling tools already at hand, acting with them by means of entities shaped in a particular way, in order to solve certain practical problems. And even though meaning is in both cases related to the goal-oriented doings of human agents, the goals of the maker (producing an instrument suited to solve specific practical problems) and those of the user (using instruments to solve practical problems) can clearly not be confused.
562.2.3. Since this issue cannot be considered in this paper—as its vastity and complexity would require a study on its own—we will be brief on the fourth leaf, i.e., the speech-structure (Sprachgestalt). For our present concerns, let us recall the following two points.
571) “Speech-structure” is, according to Bühler, the object of “the oldest branch of the science of language”, an object whose core features are captured by Saussure’s notion of langue:
- 57 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 57-59 (67 Eng.): “Der logische Charakter der Sprachgebilde is (...)
“No recent linguist has described the logical character of language structures as aptly as Saussure has done directly on the basis of his own successful research work. But it remained at the level of a “description”, and no consistent conceptual understanding emerged from it (…), [however] he clearly worked out the intersubjective character of linguistic structures and in this connection, their independence from the individual speaker (…); when linguists make a simple survey of the structures of lingua latina (…), when they draw up a numbered inventory of sounds or a vocabulary and write a grammar, what they are doing is ultimately a system of linguistic structures”57.
- 58 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 60 (70 Eng.).
- 59 See the thesis defended by Husserl in the fourth Logische Untersuchung (§§10-14) and its critique b (...)
58In the “Austrian” tradition, the issue of the discovery and classification of the grammatical structures of a given idiom (“how one speaks, or spoke, in a given language community”)58 and their relation to the invariable structure of a general grammar is central. This twofold interest is shared especially by Bühler, Husserl, and Marty. As is well known, the same is true for a whole host of Medieval grammatici, up to the most speculative moments of the so-called “speculative grammar” of the Modists59. Hence, the first point to be made is that a comprehensive test of the quadrifolium as a heuristic filter to reinterpret the Medieval account of language still needs to be completed by a full investigation of the “grammatical” leaf.
- 60 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 57 (67 Eng.).
- 61 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 58 (68 Eng.). On Husserl’s notion of ideality, see Zweite Log (...)
592) As for the second point, following Saussure’s insights, Bühler identifies four distinguishing features of the study of a speech-structure: (i) the methodological priority and independence of its object, namely, the fact that speech-structures, with respect to their functional value, are “removed from the details of the concrete situation” in which they are realized (hence their subject-independency)60; (ii) the idea according to which speech-structures are not merely collections but systems of signs; (iii) the distinction between a functional and a natural study of spoken sounds, separating phonetics and phonology; (iv) the above mentioned principle of the “intersubjective character of linguistic structures and, in this connection, their independence from the individual speaker” or, in more Husserlian terms, “the thesis of the ideality of the object ‘language’”61.
60Principle (iv) is particularly important for our purpose, since Bühler—as we will see shortly62—will submit a slightly modified version of Husserl’s notion of “meaning-bestowing” (Bedeutungsverleihung) against Saussure’s “overstatement” of its validity.
- 63 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 58 (68 Eng.): “La langue ‘ist unabhängig vom Einzelnen, welch (...)
“La langue is “external to the individual, who by himself is powerless either to create it or to modify it. It exists only in virtue of a kind of contract agreed between the members of a community” (Saussure 1922:31 [1983:14; 1959:14; 1931:17]). This holds true everywhere only up to certain limits; it no longer holds true for those degrees of freedom where there is a genuine “conferral of meaning” to the language signs. It does not hold true where innovations are proposed by linguistically creative speakers and are accepted by the community. More about this in the part about speech-acts”63.
612.2.4. Let us now turn to what, for our purpose, is probably the most important leaf of the whole quadrifolium: the third one, namely, the subject-related and highly formalized theory of “speech acts” (Sprechakte). A theory that, according to Bühler, represents “the least developed and most controversial part” of the science of language.
- 64 See above §2.2.1.
- 65 See above §2.2.3.
- 66 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 62 (72 Eng.).
62As our previous comparison with Marty’s terminology should have shown64, what Bühler means by “speech-act” is considerably different from what people like Austin or Searle intend with the same expression (which, in turn, is closer to what Bühler calls more appropriately a “speech action”); and, as suggested above, it is not identical with Saussure’s notion of parole either65. In Bühler’s terms “a speech act in the specific sense of the word required by the four-celled pattern [of the quadrifolium], a sense that must be clearly defined”66 is actually not an external endeavour, taking place in the public space of practice, like manipulating or uttering, having a certain illocutionary force or simply actualizing the potentiality of a speech-structure. The word “act” has rather to be taken quite strictly in intentional terms as indicated by Husserl in his reply to Natorp:
- 67 Edmund Husserl, Fünfte Logische Untersuchung, §14, p. 379 (563 Eng.): “Was andererseits die Rede vo (...)
“In talking of “acts” (…) we must steer clear of the word’s original meaning: all thought of activity must be rigidly excluded”67.
- 68 Edmund Husserl, Fünfte Logische Untersuchung, §14, p. 379 footnote (563 Eng.): “Wenn Natorp (a. a. (...)
“We are in complete agreement with Natorp (Einleitung in die Psychologie, ed. i. p. 21) when he objects to fully serious talk about “mental activities”, or “activities of consciousness”, or “activities of the ego”, (…). We too reject the “mythology of activities”: we define “acts” as intentional experiences not as mental activities”68.
63The word act (Akt) is thus a synonym of “intentional experience” (intentionales Erlebnis) and excludes all reference to a form of activity (Tätigkeit). The same holds for what Bühler calls a speech-act (Sprechakt), which is not a form of activity either. However, if certainly no activity is involved in a speech-act, according to the fourth key tenet of the AP69, a speech-act is nevertheless always and necessarily involved in each particular speech activity. In quite general terms, an act is the intentional background of all goal-oriented practical behaviour and problem solving: it is the mind as embedded in the action (Handlung), the intentional life (Erlebnis) tangled in the activity (Tätigkeit). Correspondingly, a speech-act is the intentional act arising along with the production of a speech-action, the mental directedness implied in the particular and always determined employment of a speech-work. As a result, if the speech-work is like a tool in a warehouse, and the speech-action is the behavioural response to a practical problem in an actual situation, the speech-act is for Bühler the intentional achievement of the speaker/worker adapting the general possibilities of the tool to the particular aims of the actual problem to be solved.
- 70 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 63 (73 Eng.): “Ob in einem Texte das Wort ‘Pferd’ ein Individ (...)
“Whether the word “horse” refers to an individual or the zoologist’s species in a given text is certainly not a matter of indifference, but it is morphologically marked neither in Latin, which lacks articles, nor in those Indo-European languages that have articles. Whether the speaker envisages and means [meint] the one or the other must be inferred [entnommen] from the context or the details of the speech situation (…). What follows from that? For us, the receivers of the utterance [Rede], it follows that we are somehow able to look into the sender’s internal planning; and for him, the speaker, it follows that at least to a certain extent he confers a more precise, more determinate sense upon the word-coin (…). Husserl’s act characters are not mentioned in any dictionary”70.
64Bühler’s reference to Husserl’s “meaning-bestowing acts” is here revealing both in descriptive and methodological terms.
6188.8.131.52. Descriptively, it suggests that, in concrete speech situations, one rather understands (or fails to understand) not signs or words in general, but people signifying (and speaking of) something in certain situations, as already indicated in the analysis of the first leaf71. But understanding an utterance (Rede), as Bühler puts it, is not only being confronted with action. It is also seeing someone acting, “seeing” (schauen) what the “internal plan” (innere Konzept) of the speaker is or, in Husserl’s less evocative but probably more precise terms, “perceiving the speaker as a person” (anschaulich als eine Person wahrnehmen):
- 72 Edmund Husserl, Erste Logische Untersuchung, I, p. 34 (277 Eng.): „Das Verständnis der Kundgabe ist (...)
“The hearer intuitively takes the speaker to be a person who is expressing this or that, or as we certainly can say, perceives him as such. When I listen to someone, I perceive him as a speaker, I hear him recounting, demonstrating, doubting, wishing etc. The hearer perceives the intimation in the same sense in which he perceives the intimating person (…)”72.
- 73 See above §§1.2 and 1.5.1.
66Demonstrating, doubting, wishing, but also perceiving, judging, etc., as long as they occur outside a communicative situation are nothing but acts, i.e. intentional experiences accomplished by certain conscious beings; they become “sense-bestowing” acts (sinnverleihende Akte)73 or “meaning-bestowing” acts (bedeutungsverleihende Akte) or, as Husserl also calls it, “meaning-intentions” (Bedeutungsintentionen) as soon as they are “melted” (verschmolzen) with some physical phenomena in a communicational context:
- 74 Edmund Husserl, Erste Logische Untersuchung, I, p. 38 (280-1 Eng.): “Stellen wir uns auf den Boden (...)
“If we seek a foothold in pure description, the concrete phenomenon of the sense-informed expression (sinnbelebter Ausdruck) breaks up, on the one hand, into the physical phenomenon forming the physical side of the expression, and, on the other hand, into the acts which give it meaning (…) in which its relation to an expressed object is constituted (…); <these> are acts essential to the expression if it is to be an expression at all, i.e. a spoken sound infused with sense. These acts we shall call the meaning-conferring acts or the meaning-intentions”.74
- 75 Besides the adjective “belebt”, Husserl also uses “beseelt” (see Erste Logische Untersuchung, §20, (...)
- 76 It must be noted that the term “concrete” used in this context bears a technical meaning. In short, (...)
67This passage shows quite clearly that a sense-bestowing act is, ontologically speaking, the non-independent part of a mereological whole called “sinnbelebter Ausdruck”, an expression literally “animated” or, as Findlay’s translation suggests, “informed” by or “infused” with a sense (a formula on which we will come back later)75. Translated in a less technical jargon, a sense-animated-expression taken as a concrete phenomenon76 is nothing but a “piece of discourse” (Rede), a complete utterance in a communicational context, i.e., something akin to what Bühler calls a speech-action.
68It should be obvious that when Husserl talks of meaning-bestowing acts he is not saying that the speaker single-handedly decides on the meaning of a speech-work—say a word like “horse” or a sentence like “horses are mammals”—by simply accomplishing some mysterious mental acts. For meaning-intentions do not “animate” words or sentences, but actually uttered spoken sounds. They “bestow” or “confer” meaning to certain physical phenomena, in the sense that they make them appear as “meaningful” and not simply spontaneous or mechanical noises produced by an otherwise conscious being. When an underlying act of perception “animates” a spoken sound, the spoken sound reveals (gibt kund) its utterer as a perceiving person. Husserl’s “meaning-bestowing acts” are thus the abstract non-independent parts of intentional life necessarily embedded in every utterance of a word, sentence, or discourse, whenever a person becomes a speaker, is grasped as a speaker by other persons, and, accordingly, is in a position to succeed or fail in establishing a shared reference to something by means of spoken signs. And since a concrete expression is the mereological whole (and not a simple association, as Saussure wrongly thought) of a “physical side”—also called a “mere expression” (bloßer Ausdruck)—and an intention, namely an act, both sides being intimately “melted” (verschmolzen), the sense-bestowing act is nothing but what makes a spoken sound meaningful. It does not establish the lexical meaning of an expression in specie, nor what, literally, posits or determines the pragmatic meaning of its utterance (as if the meaning of a speech-work or a speech-action could somewhat be determined single-handedly and privately by the speaker’s intentions and volitions). It is what unfolds the meaning of a spoken sound, not the meaning of a word. And it is not the mental “precondition” of the spoken sound either, allegedly describing what happens in the speaker’s mind—“in her head”—before she speaks (and “causes” the activity of speaking), but rather what appears necessarily as a structural component of the speaking activity itself. It is the intentional within the practical.
6184.108.40.206. Thus, descriptively, for both Bühler and Husserl, in actual speech, the utterer’s intentions have to be somehow manifested by the utterer and recognized or “inferred” by the receiver in order to turn the production of a spoken sound into a meaningful behaviour of a person having a mental life and trying to express it. And that leads us back to the above mentioned general principle of language as goal-oriented doing of a person:
- 77 Edmund Husserl, Erste Logische Untersuchung, p. 33-34 (276-7 Eng.): “Diese Mitteilung wird aber dad (...)
“Communication becomes possible if the auditor also understands the speaker’s intention. He does this inasmuch as he takes the speaker to be a person who is not merely uttering sounds but speaking to him, who is accompanying those sounds with certain sense-giving acts, which the sounds reveal to the hearer, or what sense they seek to communicate to him. What first makes mental commerce possible, and turns connected speech into discourse, lies in the correlation among the corresponding physical and mental experiences of communicating persons which is effected by the physical side of speech”77.
70The entire idea can ultimately be summarized as follows: a speaking person is a person acting in a certain way so that her actions not only are, but also are understandable as meaningful behaviours, i.e., as behaviours animated (beseelt) by meaning intentions; the latter must therefore be revealed (kundgegeben, kundgethan), in order to make the behaviour itself appear as a purposeful action. Accordingly, when a speaker utters a string of sounds with the purpose of directing the hearer’s attention to something she perceives, thinks, expects, etc., the purposedness of the uttering and the directedness of its underlying acts must be part of the graspable content of the utterance itself. Meaning-acts indicate not that the speaker is using certain tools, but how she is using them.
- 78 See Edmund Husserl, Zweite Logische Untersuchung, §2.
- 79 See Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 67 (77 Eng.).
71However, Bühler’s reference to Husserl is also revealing from the methodological point of view of the science of language, because it strongly suggests that without a clear and complete understanding of the different modes of the speaker’s intentional life, there would be no way to fully account for the concrete employment of linguistic signs. One can look for the difference between an occurrence of the word “horse”, used to refer to an individual or to a species, only if one assumes that the speaker’s mental life has certain act-characters in order to intentionally refer sometimes to individuals, sometimes to species—what Husserl calls “abstractive ideation”78. The always possible shift from the one to the other is a source of freedom which the speaker, whose mind is constituted in such a way, will always and necessarily have. Such act-characters, belonging to what Bühler calls a “subject of the second level of formalization” and equates with Husserl’s “logical or transcendental ego, that is, an antipole to the ‘intended object’”79, are all those intentional acts or, more precisely, act-moments, which can “animate” or bestow meaning to spoken sounds, be revealed by their utterance, and be “seen” as the “internal plan” of the speaker by a competent receiver. The science of language must therefore be supplemented by the analytical description and classification of the speaker’s modes of mental reference, as they can be expressed by the signs she employs to solve practical problems.
72Interestingly, these modes are called by Bühler modi or genera significandi:
- 80 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 68 (79 Eng.): “Der Verfasser dieses Buches zweifelt weder an (...)
“The author of this present book doubts neither the possibility nor the fruitfulness of phenomenological method and is convinced that among other things “pure” sematology can be furthered by it; pure sematology, similarly to pure mathematics, must be built up constructively. A complete and systematic development of act characters or of the modi (genera) significandi (determined in terms of the sign), of the possible manners of constituting signs forms part of this”80.
- 81 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 67 (77-8 Eng.): “Denn alles individuell Zufällige wird ‘einge (...)
“Everything individual and accidental is “put between brackets” when fundamental act characters or genera significandi (as they could be called) are supposed to be developed. We can clearly understand, says Husserl, that it is not merely the case that at a certain moment in the course of speech thought I once intend something individual as such and at another time the species as such (which would not be very interesting), but rather that these and other act characters pertain to the world of meanings. Now if a complete system of these act characters were already established, language theory would be able to work on that basis and describe not only the proper names and species names empirically detected in all known languages and cope with the variety of uses that is made of them; it could also deal with many more phenomena and show them to be predetermined in the realm of general genera significandi”81.
- 82 For a discussion of the different meanings of ‘meaning’ in Austrian philosophy, see Kevin Mulligan (...)
73At this point, we have gathered enough elements to depict the “Austrian” way of relating meanings and intentions within the general framework of the AP. Now, in order to conclude this first section of our study, it is worth singling out at least three meanings of “meaning” which emerged in the course of our reconstruction. Each of them will appear as related with one leaf of Bühler’s quadrifolium, and linked in some way to intentionality82.
74a) As for the speech-action, one can say that an utterance means something insofar as—precisely qua action—it is oriented toward a goal; in that sense, even if grammatically incorrect or incomplete (what Bühler calls “empractical” discourse), the meaning of a speech-action can be measured on the basis of its success/failure, i.e., its aptitude to solve the practical problem motivating its performance. Accordingly, performing a speech-action is the same as performing a hand-action like sawing: an activity that can be called “intentional” in the precise sense that it has a concrete, contingent, and always determinate goal or purpose.
75b) A speech-work, by contrast, means something insofar as it has—this time qua product of an action—a “fixed” meaning, an established standard identified, and a re-identifiable lexical content: something that can be eventually spelled out in a dictionary or a lexicon of given or idiomatic expressions. A speech-work can, in turn—and precisely because of its lexical “properties”—be employed within a speech-action in virtue of the expected effects that its fixed features can produce. Accordingly, a speech-work is more like a saw in a hardware store: it is “intentional” because it has the shape—i.e. it has been intentionally fabricated—to serve certain general purposes.
- 83 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 332-3 (379 Eng.): “Denn man kann Nägel auch mit der Beißzange (...)
“For nails can also be hammered in with pliers and removed with a hammer; but it is still right and important to say that the hammer is for hammering and pliers for pulling out”83.
76c) As for the speech-act, it means something in a twofold sense. On the one hand, as a speech-act it “means” something insofar as it is intentionally directed toward something and it mentally refers to it in a certain way. A speech-act qua act is not an action, it is neither an activity nor a form of doing. In this first sense, “to mean” (meinen) and “to be aimed at” or “intentionally directed to” are synonyms. On the other hand, a speech-act qua speech means something in a quite different way, namely, insofar as it is “melted” with a spoken sound in the unity of an utterance (Rede). A speech-act qua speech is therefore action-related. However it is action-related not because it is an action itself, nor because it is the product of an action, but rather insofar as it institutes the goal-directedness of both actions and products. Accordingly, a speech-action is not only intentional because it has a specific goal, but because it is performed by a conscious being whose mental life, with its complex relations to the world, can and wants to be expressed by means of appropriate meaningful behaviours; and, correspondingly, it can also be understood or “seen” as expressed by such behaviours.
77In other words, it is because (1) the speaker thinks, feels, imagines, perceives something, and (2) wants the intentional correlates of these acts of thought, feeling, imagination, and perception to be expressed, that (3) she handles certain tools (words, syntagms, sentences) and uses them to fulfil her practical needs. It is precisely in this third sense that a speech-act means something as a whole.
78Ultimately, a speech-act is intentional on at least four different levels and, accordingly, harbours something like a nested intentionality, combining cognitive, volitional, practical, and instrumental intentions.
- 84 The choice of a propositional example is somewhat arbitrary. The same would have worked with a non- (...)
79i) It is cognitively intentional because the mental life of the speaking person is object-related and, broadly speaking, has objective mental contents (A thinks that p)84;
80ii) It is volitionally intentional because some mental contents are not only intentionally targeted or given, but also intentionally wanted to be expressed (A wants B to know that p);
81iii) It is practically intentional because the mental contents that one wants to be expressed are a goal to be attained by means of an appropriate behaviour (A does φ, in order to let B know that p);
82iv) It is instrumentally intentional because the appropriate behaviour includes the choice and manipulation of certain given tools, i.e., speech-works (A does φ by purposefully employing z in order to let B know that p).
83It is precisely this nested intentionality, proper to the instrumental agency of language and necessarily implied in its practice—where not only the meanings of the words, not only the meanings of the utterances, but also the meaning-intentions of the utterer with her intentional life must be grasped—that allows for the possibility of conflicts between meanings on different levels. In fact, speech-works with their relatively fixed lexical meaning and speech-actions with their relatively variable pragmatic meaning can conflict with each other, in the same way in which a saw can deliberately be used to play baseball, if the intention is, for instance, to make someone laugh or win a bet. The same holds for speech-works, as A can let B know that it is raining, by gesturing toward the window and simply uttering the word “rain”; by using the ready-made speech-work “It’s raining”, or by exclaiming “What a gorgeous day!”. And the latter action will be successful, if and only if B grasps the meaning-bestowing intentions of A and the modi significandi of her “logical” or, as Bühler puts it, “transcendental ego”.85
84With these distinctions in mind, let us now turn to the 13th and 14th centuries.
85At least at first sight, the way one talks about words and their properties suggests that linguistic expressions are endowed with something like a “semantic power”. Whether a word signifies directly a thing (as in Roger Bacon) or an intelligible species (only by means of which it indirectly signifies a thing, as in Robert Kilwardby or Lambert of Lagny), the fact that it has the power to signify or to stand for something in one way or another is widely accepted in the entire Medieval tradition and no matter of dispute. That being said, one must still determine where such a power comes from and how it can be accounted for. In other words, questions like the following arise: what endows, say, a simple vocal sound with the power of signifying something? How is the relation between the sound itself and its “semantic power” to be understood?
- 86 Impositio nominum is the key notion in Medieval accounts of the conventional character of language. (...)
- 87 For a recent collection of essays on these (and related) questions, see Nicole Bériou, Jean-Patrice (...)
86One traditional way of answering these questions consists in maintaining that words of a given language are vocal sounds provided with signification (voces significativae) in virtue of the so-called “imposition of names” (impositio nominum)86. However, this answer is obviously somewhat terse. For even if one subscribes to the idea of an original imposition of names, what still needs to be explained is how someone who, at some point in the past, decided to “impose” a name on a thing by associating a spoken sound to it, was able to provide the vocal sound itself with the mysterious ability to henceforth stand for or refer to that specific thing. Thus the question still remains: what exactly does it mean that a vocal sound has been “imposed” on something? Does the spoken sound thereby acquire some kind of intrinsic property in virtue of which it receives its semantic power? And if this is not the case, how can the presence of such a semantic power be explained?87
- 88 For an overview of Medieval philosophy of language, see Costantino Marmo (2010), La semiotica del 1 (...)
87The issue is extensively discussed by Medieval “philosophers of language”, i.e. logicians and grammarians88. Two chief approaches can be distinguished:
- 89 There is a relative uniformity within the modist tradition with respect to this point, although som (...)
- 90 Irène Rosier-Catach, “Modisme, pré-modisme, proto-modisme: vers une définition modulaire”, in Sten (...)
881) A first trend emphasizes the bond between semantic power and imposition and uses the matter/form relation to explain the association between spoken sound and meaning. The claim, then, is that (a) in virtue of its imposition, a given vocal sound becomes a word by acquiring its meaning as an intrinsic property, and (b) the meaning belongs to the vocal sound just as a substantial form belongs to a specific matter. This position is typically advocated by authors belonging to the complex tradition of the so-called “speculative grammar”, a movement endorsing the idea that the grammatica of the trivium is, contrary to the appearances, a full-fledged universal and trans-idiomatic science. Pseudo-Kilwardby, writing around the middle of the 13th century, as well as two unidentified modists (i.e. theoreticians of the so-called modi significandi), active in the last quarter of the century and called by contemporary research “Anonymous of Prague” and “Anonymous C”, are strong examples of this position89. And although, as recently suggested, several “modular approaches” must be distinguished within this general frame of speculative grammar90 (to the effect that pseudo-Kilwardby, even though developing a sophisticated account of grammar as a science, is not a modist), it is safe to maintain that speculative grammarians share the idea that linguistic meanings are explained by the presence of a substantial form in the words themselves, following the model of matter/form relation.
- 91 On Aurifaber and the so-called dispute of Erfurt, see Jan Pinborg (1967), Die Entwicklung; on the s (...)
892) A second line of thought is represented by authors like Roger Bacon, writing in the sixties of the 13th century, Johannes Aurifaber in the virulent critique of Modism he developed around 1330, but also by the anonymous author of the late 12th-century Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum91. Contrary to speculative grammarians, these authors defend that linguistic meanings cannot be explained as substantial forms encapsulated in a vocal sound upon its imposition. Meaning must instead be explained in terms of the actual use of words in concrete situations of communication. Thus, it is not the presence of a form-meaning (significatio) in the matter-spoken sound (vox) that vouchsafes the meaningfulness of a word, but the relation between the spoken sound and the speaker herself.
- 92 Let us simply recall Brentano’s constant critique of the form/matter model, not only its Medieval v (...)
90Now, this well-known dispute between speculative grammarians and their opponents about whether the significatio vocum must/can be explained as a substantial form or not is, at least at first sight, far-removed from the “Austrian” conceptual frame shared by the authors presented in the first part of our study. It mirrors a set of ontological commitments and epistemological assumptions which to some extent are foreign to the “Austrian” tradition examined above92. This does not exclude, however, that some “Austrian” distinctions can nonetheless be consistently used to reframe the terms of the dispute as examples of the more fundamental distinction between what we might call “speech-work oriented” and “speech-action oriented” accounts of meaning. In this sense, we shall further pursue our investigation, while applying the “Austrian” AP as a heuristic filter to the medieval matter.
- 93 See above §2.2 and more precisely §2.2.2.
- 94 This denomination as well as the one of ‘Anonymous C’ (see below) is due to Sten Ebbesen. They are (...)
915.1. Bühler’s characterization of speech-works as “subject-independent and concrete linguistic phenomena”, removed from the individual life of the speaker and provided with a fixed lexical meaning93, neatly describes the point of view from which speculative grammarians try to explain the “semantic power” of words—i.e., vocal sounds provided with meaning by an original act of imposition. In his commentary on Aristotle’s Sophistical Refutations, the author addressed as the “Anonymous of Prague” (although he was active in Paris)94, writes the following:
- 95 Anonymous of Prague, Quaestiones super Elenchos, q. 8, quoted in Costantino Marmo (1994), Semiotica (...)
“[...] one speaks of a vocal sound in two ways: in one way, it is one of the two parts of the composite, that is, of the word composed of a vocal sound and a meaning; in the other way, the vocal sound is the same as the [entire] word. Hence, if one asks whether the meaning is the substantial form of a vocal sound, taken as the other part of the composite, I say that it is not the case; but if one asks whether it is the substantial form of a vocal sound, taken as the [entire] word, I say that it is the case.”95
- 96 It may be worth while recalling that in the framework of the reception of Aristotelian hylomorphism (...)
92A word is a complex entity, consisting of a material part—the vocal sound itself—and a formal part—the meaning. Taken for itself—i.e. apart from its meaning—a vocal sound is neither a word nor a part of speech, for it lacks what is needed to turn a vocal sound into a word, namely, the substantial form96 of meaning. The substantial form is a lasting property of the word itself, taken—just like any compound of matter and form—as an autonomous and independent entity. Thus, according to the “Anonymous of Prague”, the term vox is equivocal: on the one hand it simply denotes the matter of the compound, on the other, the compound itself. And it is only in this second sense, when vox means “word” (dictio)—i.e. the whole “spoken sound+meaning”—and not simply “spoken sound”, that its meaning (significatio) can be explained as a substantial form. For the substantial form, in very general terms, is that which organizes matter and makes turns it into an autonomous and intelligible entity. Therefore, we encounter the following situation:
93An analogous idea is defended by another unnamed speculative grammarian of the 13th century, the so-called Anonymous C, writing a little earlier. This author distinguishes between essential and accidental determinations of a vocal sound (vox) and of a word (dictio):
- 97 Anonymous C (ed. 1977), Quaestiones super Elenchos, ed. by Sten Ebbesen, in Incerti auctores, p. 28 (...)
“[…] the essential form of a name is of a different nature for <a name considered> as a vocal sound or as a part <of speech> or word: for the essential form of a name <considered> as a vocal sound is the mode of uttering […], whereas the essential form of a name insofar as it is a word is the meaning itself, the meaning which is an accidental form of the vocal sound insofar as vocal sound”97
94What is essential for a vox is the modus proferendi, i.e., that in virtue of which it is a spoken sound, the fact of its being uttered (for an un-uttered vox would not be a vox at all). On the other hand, what is essential for a dictio is precisely not the fact of its being uttered, but the ratio significandi, i.e., that in virtue of which it is meaningful (for a non-meaningful dictio would not be a dictio at all). The ratio significandi, however, is accidental with respect to the vox, since what turns a mere vocal sound into a part of speech is an accidental addition to the sound, although an essential part of the resulting complex.
95While the “Anonymous C” shares with the “Anonymous of Prague” the idea that the meaning of a word amounts to its essential form, he goes further on one point: the explicit focus on the subject-independency of the dictio. In fact, unlike the Anonymous of Prague, the “Anonymous C” does not oppose vox and dictio along the lines of the distinction between matter and form, but through the opposition of essential and accidental forms. Thus spoken sounds and words are treated on a par, not according to a part-whole relation, but as full-fledged entities having each its own essential form. Accordingly, while the “Anonymous of Prague” simply states that the dictio is a compound made of matter (vox in a narrow sense) and form (significatio), the “Anonymous C” adds the twofold idea that (a) the fact of being meaningful is accidental in regard to the spoken sound and, more importantly, (b) the fact of being uttered is accidental in regard to the word.
- 98 This claim can certainly be nuanced. As Costantino Marmo has shown, the modists’ focus on words qua (...)
96Now, the “Anonymous of Prague’s” account of meaning as the substantial form of the vox (taken as a whole and equated with dictio) and that of meaning as the essential form (or ratio significandi) of the dictio defended by the “Anonymous C” imply that for a word to have a meaning is nothing but to bear the essential and intrinsic property in virtue of which it is what it is, i.e. a word. And, as the “Anonymous C” has shown, this intrinsic property of the word is only accidentally related with the factual conditions of its utterance (which, by contrast, essentially determine the intrinsic properties of a spoken sound). This provides sufficient evidence to confirm the hypothesis that, in “Austrian” terms, the “modistic” account of meaning holds the position illustrated by the second leaf of Bühler’s quadrifolium: the question of meaning is tackled qua question of the meaning of a speech-work. And, accordingly, it does not essentially imply the study of the speaker’s acts and intentions involved in the action of uttering or the external conditions of this uttering itself.98
- 99 See Aristotle, Physics, II, 3, 195a.
- 100 This conception also applies to the very general level of creation: God (or the Demiurge), the Supr (...)
97This is not to say, however, that meaning conceived qua meaning of a speech-work can be studied without considering the acts and intentions of any agent at all. For, as the Greek origins of the AP reconstructed by Bühler and Marty indicate, the claim that meaning is the substantial form of a word echoes the Aristotelian conception of the formal (or essential) cause exemplified in the artefactual example of Polycleitus’ art99. As a result, although the speaker’s role is suspended and somewhat neutralized (for, as we have seen, the utterance is extrinsic with respect to the substantial form of a word), the fact that the vocal matter is provided with a semantic form intended as an essential feature of the word still presupposes the activity of someone: that of the original institutor(s) of language. Just like the stone, receiving the form of the statue by the artisan, the spoken sound receives the form of the word in the performance of its first imposition. For speculative grammarians, as in Bühler’s second leaf of the quadrifolium, linguistic meaning is a matter of poiesis, not of praxis100.
- 101 Borrowed from Husserl, see above §2.2.
98As a result—and still having in mind the technical sense of Bühler’s terminology101—the approach defended by the two anonymous grammarians leads to the view that meaning is the concrete determination of a word. The significatio is what comes along with a vocal sound and turns it into a part of speech. It can thus be described by virtue of the same terms used to describe what turns a chunk of matter into a statue or a saw. One should not forget, however, that in their effort to explain how and why grammar belongs to the élite club of full-fledged sciences, speculative grammarians developed from the very same basis a theory of highly abstract determinations of words. In fact, as already mentioned, speculative grammar transcends the idiomatic level of language. For it is not a “positive” grammar such as, say, Latin or Greek grammar, but a “universal” grammar whose subject matter is constituted by the structures and laws of language in general and reflects their ontological counterparts. Hence, precisely qua grammar, it is again, in Bühler’s terms, subject-independent (subjektentbunden) and rests on the lower level of the word qua speech-work.
99One of the key tenets of speculative grammar is indeed that besides its lexical meaning, every word of any language also possesses something like a “grammatical meaning” or modus significandi, i.e., what makes it a name rather than a verb, a pronoun rather than a preposition, etc. While the lexical meaning determines the semantic value that turns a vocal sound into a word, its mode of signifying determines its “constructability”, i.e. the ways in which it can (or cannot) be construed with other parts of speech in order to yield a grammatically correct expression. Once again considered in the light of Bühler’s quadrifolium, modes of signifying belong to the subject-independent and abstract features of language, i.e. to the level of speech-structure. As Boethius of Denmark, a modist of the first generation, explains:
- 102 Boethius of Denmark, Modi significandi, q. 9, ed. J. Pinborg and H. Roos, Hauniae: G.E.C. Gad, 1969 (...)
“One has to say […] that just like in other sciences, where the general and specific principles are indemonstrable and the conclusions deriving from them are demonstrable in virtue of them, so it is in the case of grammar. For, because a word possesses such modes of signifying, it follows necessarily that it enters some constructions and not others; and one must think in the same way about many other things taught in grammar, which can be traced back to the essential causes by virtue of which they can be known and demonstrated”102.
100The subject-independent and highly abstract character of the modes of signifying—and thus, their speech-structure character—also comes to light in the following passage, taken from John of Denmark (belonging to the same circle as Boethius):
- 103 John of Denmark (ed. 1955), Summa grammatica, ed. A. Otto, Hauniae, G.E.C. Gad, p. 54-55: “Item gra (...)
“Again, grammar is derived from things, for it is not a fiction of the intellect, because nothing corresponds to a fiction on the side of extra-mental things. But the natures of things are specifically and essentially the same for all, and thus, the same holds of their properties, which are modes of being from which modes of understanding are taken, and, as a consequence, modes of signifying, and further, modes of constructing103.
101In sum, modist speculative grammarians base their understanding of language on the following assumptions: (i) meaning is an intrinsic feature of words; (ii) words are meaningful spoken sounds; (iii) the fact of being uttered is accidental to the essence of a word; (iv) words too have not only semantic but also grammatical intrinsic features, determining the way in which words can be mutually combined; (v) all these grammatical intrinsic features are universal, for they are ultimately grounded in the way in which things are and are mutually related. Put in more “Austrian” terms, speculative grammar rests on the twofold basis of
102(1) a theory of meaning qua meaning of a speech-work, namely a subject-independent and concrete linguistic item (nonetheless subject-related, insofar as it has been instituted by a Demiurge-like figure); and
103(2) a theory of universal grammar qua theory of the compatibility among meanings of speech-works, i.e., of subject-independent and abstract linguistic items.
1045.2. Now, turning back to the question of what bestows a determinate meaning on a determinate vocal sound, it strikes as evident that even if one maintains—like the two anonymous speculative grammarians—that meaning is the substantial form of a word, one still must explain (i) how the unity of vocal sound and its meaning is established in the first place, and (ii) what exactly is the substantial form or ratio significandi of a word.
- 104 On this author and the approach he defends in the general frame of speculative grammar (an approach (...)
- 105 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, ed. by Karin Margareta Fredborg, Neils J. Gr (...)
105This twofold issue is openly addressed by another speculative grammarian known as pseudo-Kilwardby104. In his commentary on Priscian, written around 1250, pseudo-Kilwardby tackles the first question, suggesting that the unity of vocal sound and meaning relies on a complex two-steps process of imposition; as for the second question, the substantial form itself or ratio significandi according to him is determined by the association, realized in mente, of two intentiones or concepts: the “acoustic image”, as it were, of a vocal sound, and the concept to be signified by that vocal sound post impositionem. In fact, after having recalled that the imposition of a vocal sound is apparently impossible because of the different natures of material sounds and immaterial intelligible species105, pseudo-Kilwardby indicates a solution by considering the bestowing of meaning on a vocal sound in analogy to the model of the “information” of the body by the soul:
- 106 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, p. 61: “[…] dicit enim Augustinus in libro D (...)
“Augustine says in the book On the soul that the soul is united with the body and through the body just like the meaning <is> in a word [sensus in littera]—that is: in a vocal word [in voce litterali]—which, for our purpose, must be understood <as meaning> that just like the soul is the act of the whole body and not of a part, and is known through the movement of the whole, thus the concept or signification is like the act of the whole word and is apprehended through the whole and not through a part”106.
106Pseudo-Kilwardby’s argument rests on a chasm. In the first part of the passage he attributes to the authority of Augustine (dicit Augustinus) the thesis that the soul is united with the body in the same way as (sicut) the meaning (sensus, significatio) is united with the spoken sound (vox); in the second part, where he presents his own position (quantum ad hoc), he reverses the order and explains the holistic nature of meaning (significatio est totius dictionis) on the basis of the presence of the soul in the whole body and not in its parts (anima est totius corporis actus). In other words, while in Augustine the more complex case of the relationship between body and soul is illustrated by means of the apparently simpler relation between meaning and spoken sound, pseudo-Kilwardby explains the relation between meaning and spoken sound by virtue of the conceptual distinctions used in the Scholastic tradition to interpret the relation between soul and body. This “argumentative chasm” nourished by Aristotelian themes, allows for a displacement of the philosophical means used to think the relation soul/body to explain the relation vox/significatio.
107This brings to light a two-steps “information”-modelled explanation of the process of imposition, determining the specific meaning of a specific word (dictio) taken as a whole and composed of vox and significatio.
- 107 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, p. 59: “Apud animam igitur statim cum habet (...)
“Therefore, as soon as <the soul> possesses a signifiable intention, a vocal sound is thought of, <a vocal sound> by means of which such an intention or understanding should or must be signified, and the signifiable intention is joined to the intention of the vocal sound, just like the end <is joined> to what is ordered to an end”107.
108According to pseudo-Kilwardby, the first step in the process of imposition is entirely mental and consists of four separate moments:
1091) the soul possesses an intentio to be signified (i.e. the concept of a thing);
1102) it singles out the intentio of a vocal sound (i.e. a concept of a vocal sound)—something akin to what Saussure calls the “acoustic image” and Husserl the “acoustic physical phenomenon”108;
1113) it deliberately associates the concept of the vocal sound with the concept of the thing.
112Now, as it is clear from the end of the quoted passage, the intentio of the vocal sound is not merely associated with the intentio to be signified, it is also, and more importantly, ordered with respect to it and subordinated to it in the frame of a means/goal relationship. Hence, the mental step of the imposition additionally contains a fourth moment:
1134) the soul arranges the concept of the vocal sound and the concept of the thing in a means/goal order.
- 109 As will become clear in the second step described by pseudo-Kilwardby in the process of imposition, (...)
- 110 However, the speech-act involved in the description of the “mental imposition” by pseudo-Kilwardby (...)
- 111 As we saw above (§220.127.116.11), Bühler, commenting on Husserl, talks of modi or genera significandi abo (...)
114In other words, this first entirely mental step provides the acoustic image (or intentio of the vox) with something like a final cause109. The intentio of the vox is the means of which the signifiable intentio is the end, or, leaving the Latin terminology aside, the concept of the vocal sound appears as the means whose end is to signify a certain mental content by being associated with it. This amounts to saying that the first step described by pseudo-Kilwardby in the complex process of imposition reintroduces (and obviously pertains to) the domain of what Bühler calls speech-acts110. In fact, the act of imposing a vocal sound on a thing cannot be conflated with the external action of uttering a sound in the presence of the thing. It rather describes the mental subject-related process of associating and ordering two concepts—one of which must be sensible—in a means/goal relationship111.
115A similar theory, developed from a non-grammatical point of view and already introducing the second, external, and non-metal step of the impositio, can be found in Lambert of Lagny’s Logica:
- 112 Lambert of Lagny (of Auxerre) (ed. 1971), Logica (Summa Lamberti), VII, ed. Francesco Alessio, Fire (...)
“[…] four things are required for an utterance to be significant: a thing, a concept of the thing, an utterance, and the union of the utterance with the concept of the thing. What we call the thing is something existing outside the soul and apprehended by the soul through its species, like a man or a stone. What we call the concept of the thing is the idea or likeness of the thing which exists in the soul […]; the utterance is that which is put forward along with the concept of the thing; in this case a signification is united with the utterance, and the utterance is rendered significant. And although both the concept of the thing and the utterance are natural in the same fashion (since they are formed by natural sources), nevertheless, in virtue of the fact that the union of a concept of a thing with a vocal sound is effectuated by the will—and since it is in that <union> that the imposition of a vocal sound consists—a vocal sound is said to signify with respect to the will of the person who instituted <it>”112.
- 113 See above, §5.2.
- 114 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, p. 59: “Thus, it is clear from those <elements> that t</elements> (...)
116Lambert of Lagny’s reference to the utterance (vox) corresponds to pseudo-Kilwardby’s second step in the process of imposition. After having subordinated in mente two intentiones in a means/goal relationship, the soul proceeds to the actual production of a vocal sound standing in a relation of resemblance with its mental and yet sensible counterpart (i.e., with the intentio of the vocal sound as a non-independent part of the mental form of the word taken as a whole)113. And it is precisely because of this resemblance that the actually uttered word itself appears as a vocal sound, literally “informed” by its signification, just in the manner in which a human body is “informed” by its soul. The first imposition, then, provides something like the internal model for the second, external one114, and appears as endowing the word with its form, vouchsafing its external imposition to the thing. Hence the following dual relation where the twofold resemblance between (c) and (a), and between (a) and (d) vouchsafes the constant reference of the word to the thing:
117It must further be emphasized, as we have already noticed, that pseudo-Kilwardby compares the final product of the imposition to the substantial unity of body and soul. Accordingly, the spoken word is like a human being: the form of the latter being the soul, that of the former the concept on which an acoustic image is imposed, thus yielding the mental word which the actually spoken word resembles, although only partially. Husserl’s distinctive talk of a word’s being “animated” (beseelt) by a speaker’s meaning-conferring acts (or meaning-intentions)115, sounds like a remote and yet strikingly consonant echo of this description.
1185.3. Before we move on and investigate a second account of meaning, defended by some anti-modists, one last point needs to be considered. In his description of the role played by the concept (or intentio significabilis) within the complex process of imposition, pseudo-Kilwardby brings together the two notions of substantial form and final cause. Qua signification, the concept is the form of the word; qua end, it is the final cause of its formation (in mente) and its production (in voce). This fact is particularly important, since it appears to condense in one complex theoretical move the conceptual shift which, under the same technical term (ἕνεκα), leads from Plato’s teleological form to Aristotle’s final cause (and is recognized by Bühler and its “Austrian” fellows as a pillar of the AP) by means of the analogy between soul/body and meaning/spoken sound116. Let us insist on this crucial point: there are two ways of conceiving the “analogy” between anima/corpus and significatio/vox: the first, let us call it the “Augustinian” way, uses the relation significatio/vox to explain the kind of intimate connection anima/corpus; the second, which might be roughly dubbed as “grammatical”, explains the relation significatio/vox by means of the philosophical and ontological concepts used to account for the relation anima/corpus. This inversion allows for pseudo-Kilwardby’s twofold model of imposition, identifying the intentio significabilis not only with the forma substantialis of the dictio (as the Anonymous of Prague and the Anonymous C), but also and more importantly with the causa finalis of the imposition itself (both in its mental and verbal stage).
119But the soul/body model is not the only one summoned to elucidate the process of imposition. As a matter of fact, pseudo-Kilwardby also uses another noteworthy comparison which, after our previous discussion of the “Austrian” Plato-inspired AP, is likely to sound familiar:
- 117 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, p. 62: “[…] sicut visus apprehendit in mater (...)
“[…] just as sight apprehends in the external corporeal matter the species or image which exists first in thought in the mind of the artisan, in the same way, the soul apprehends the affection <of the soul> of the speaker through the hearing of a signifying vocal sound. Thus, the signification (or concept) is united to the vocal sound according to the relational disposition [secundum habitudinem relativam] which holds between an end and what is ordered to an end, or between sign and its significate […]”117.
120By combining Aristotelian elements with Platonic themes, this passage explicitly brings to the fore the artefactual matrix of pseudo-Kilwardby’s account of meaning. Shifting from the point of view of the producer to that of the receiver, pseudo-Kilwardby now suggests the following analogy: in perceiving a spoken sound, the hearer apprehends the concept (affectum) existing in the mind of the speaker (and of which the spoken sound is the image) in the same way in which, in perceiving an artefact, one apprehends the species (species) existing in the mind of the artisan (and of which the produced artefact is the image). Or, to put it differently, the form of the word is in the speaker’s mind just as the form of the artefact is in the artisan’s mind, both being uncognizable per se, but only by means of their perceivable and resembling counterparts.
121Pseudo-Kilwardby’s network of analogies can be visually summarized in the following diagram where three orders of analoga are identified: the first comparing speaker and artisan; the second equating dictio (word) and artefact; the third describing the reception of both, words and artefacts, as the twofold experience of sensibly perceiving the material part of the artefactual compound and mentally apprehending its form:
122But this explicit artefactual analogy is of tantamount importance not only for what it says, but also for what it implies. For it also seems to suggest that in the same way in which the artisan uses her hand in order to shape a chunk of matter while having in mind the species which the final product of the action is supposed to resemble, the speaker uses her organs of phonation to impress into the vocal matter a species similar to the one she has in mind. Similarly, in the same manner in which by seeing the shape of an artefact one apprehends the species which it resembles as it was in the mind of the artisan, the hearer apprehends from the sounds the species the latter are meant to signify. Thus, the impression of a species into a vocal sound appears as the theoretical device suggested by pseudo-Kilwardby to account for the possibility of what Husserl calls the “understanding of the speaker’s intention”118.
1235.4. If we take stock and consider the elements gathered so far, it appears that the account of the complex process of imposition given by pseudo-Kilwardby provides a way of understanding what later authors like our two modist “Anonymi” meant by describing meaning (significatio) as the substantial form of a word. The view, according to which words have their semantic power in virtue of some intrinsic determination comparable to a substantial form, may now be understood as an analogy: the imposition of a name is like the production of an artefact, i.e. the imposition of a form on a matter. The actual production of the speech-artefact is thus preceded by a mental compound of matter and form, that is, by the compound of the intentio of the physical object to be produced (i.e., the vocal sound) and the function of that object (i.e., what it will be made for). Now, upon closer inspection, what pseudo-Kilwardby discusses in terms of imposition corresponds quite precisely to what we have learned to call, with Bühler, the fabrication of a “speech-work”. The imposition of the word, insofar as it is compared with the activity of the artisan, is in fact, to use Bühler’s Aristotelian language, a paradigmatic example of poiesis: the active production of an independent artefact; an artefact which, in turn, has its own immanent teleology, call it substantial form or ratio significandi. As for the nature of this teleological activity, it can only be accounted for in terms of a more primitive form of intentionality: that of the speech-act, occurring entirely on a mental level and subordinating an intentio (that of a vocal sound) to another one (that of a thing).
124In other words, the manner in which the AP is at work and openly exploited by pseudo-Kilwardby is centred on three moments. (1) The artefactual paradigm is summoned to account for the production of a speech-work (vox, dictio), having a fixed lexical content and purported semantic properties (significatio). In fact, after the labour of the artisan, her work stands in front of her, autonomously, as already provided with intrinsic features; in the same vein, after the imposition, the words appear as objective speech-works having intrinsic features as well. (2) The artefactual paradigm appears to explain the relation between each uttered word and its underlying mental presentation—but shouldn’t we say “ideal type”?—of which it is only an imperfect image, for all tokens are imperfect images of their ideal type. In contemplating the external form of different artefacts, one perceives their forms as they were conceived by (and in) the intellect of the artisan. (3) The artefactual paradigm also allows pseudo-Kilwardby to describe the nested intentions at work in the process preceding the utterance itself and thus constituting the inner or mental word, i.e., the appearance of a conceptual intentio (what we have called above cognitive intentionality) and the institution of a means/goal relation between intentiones, i.e. the teleological association of an intentio vocis with an intentio significabilis (a form of internalized practical intentionality).
125One may have noticed that none of the authors studied so far provides a clear account of what we have called volitional and instrumental intentionality. In fact, in the “poiesis” approach the ressources of the artefactual paradigm are only summoned to explain the production of a speech-work, not its use as a tool. The AP as found in pseudo-Kilwardby’s account of the impositio vocum includes artisans and crafted artefacts (and eventually perceivers of crafted artefacts, who apprehend the forms as they existed in mente due to their resemblance with the forms in materia), yet no users of tools nor instrumental agents. In a nutshell, pseudo-Kilwardby’s homo faber is at best a shaper of sounds, not a user of shaped sounds. Accordingly, and in order to examine a different version of the AP, we should move to a different conceptual framework.
- 119 In fact, the episode is a turning point in the history of modism. As Costantino Marmo (1994) puts i (...)
1266.1. Notwithstanding its explanatory value, an account, such as the one given by pseudo-Kilwardby, was far from being unanimously accepted. In fact, one could easily argue, for instance, that a saw, although crafted to perform a certain task, does not saw by itself, but only as long as it is used by an agent in the appropriate way. In the same vein, it is not difficult to object that a word does not signify by itself or in virtue or something like its substantial form, but only as long as it is used by a speaker in the appropriate way. It is on the basis of concerns such as these that Johannes Aurifaber launches a serious attack against the principles of modism, in a text containing the proceedings of a disputation held in Erfurt119 around 1330: the Determinatio de modis significandi. One of its main theses is the folloing:
- 120 Johannes Aurifaber (ed. 1967), Determinatio de modis significandi, ed. by J. Pinborg, in Die Entwic (...)
“[…] ‘to signify’ […] is <said> in two ways. In one way primarily, and in that way our intellect signifies […] and a human being <signifies> for another one, by virtue of the intellect as the main agent. In another way ‘to signify’ […] is taken secondarily as that by means of which <something is signified>, and in that way a vocal sound signifies […]”120.
127In addition to the important idea that “to mean” (significare) can be said in different ways, three points deserve attention in this passage. (1) The distinction between the two meanings of “to mean” singled out by Aurifaber is presented as a case of equivocation pros hen. In fact, the text clearly states that while significare can be said both of a human being (or an intellect) and of a vocal sound, a vocal sound is said “to mean something” only in a secondary and derivative sense. Thus, the fact that certain things are said to be significant in the secondary sense depends on their being somehow related to the things said to be significant in the primary sense. (2) The text maintains that the primary meaning of “to mean” pertains to human beings (or intellects) insofar as they are agents (agentes). As a result, principaliter, “to mean” does not designate something like a property or a disposition, but an action, namely what an intellect or a human being qua agent does or performs. By contrast, a spoken sound signifies not as an activity, but as the property or the disposition of something that is somehow related to an activity (in a fashion which the passage leaves undetermined and still needs to be explored). Again, while an agent (intellect, human being) signifies by performing an activity, a spoken sound signifies only in its being related to the activity of signifying performed by an agent. Hence, the distinction between a principal and a secondary meaning ultimately entails that the meaning of a word depends on the meaning-activity of a speaker qua agent. (3) Our third point concerns the connection between the two agents mentioned in the text, i.e., the human being as a whole and her intellect. Aurifaber writes that when a human being performs the action through which she signifies something in communication with someone else, this performance is actually made by (per) the intellect, which is defined as “the chief agent” (agens principale). Thus, the domain of activity, which lends the term ‘significare’ its primary meaning, seems to consist of two areas: the sphere of the performed action, exemplified by a human being doing something for someone (alicui); and the sphere of the performed mental act, exemplified by the intellect as that by virtue of which the action is actually performed.
128In the “Austrian” context, these three points could be rephrased in terms of Bühler’s distinction between the three main leafs of the quadrifolium. Provided a sentence has the form “x signifies”, according to Aurifaber’s theory the place of “x” can be filled by the following arguments:
129(i) x = a human being (unus homo). A speaker signifies something for (or to) someone (alicui) by acting in a certain way, i.e., speaking. This patently corresponds to the first leaf of Bühler’s quadrifolium, the speech-action;
130(ii) x = someone’s intellect (intellectum noster). Since the speaker’s action is performed by (per) the intellect as its “chief agent”—or, as one could also say here, as the principle (principale) or starting point of the action—‘significare’ also refers to the mental act presupposed by (and involved in) the whole activity of signifying, which is what the quadrifolium calls a speech-act;
131(iii) x = a vocal sound (vox). We now shift to the domain of the derived sense (secundario) where something means not qua agent—principal or not—but qua that by means of which (tamquam quo) the agent does what she does. Significare now is the property or the disposition of a word possessing determinate features in virtue of which it can be used efficiently by a speaker, corresponding to what in Bühler’s folium is called a speech-work. Aurifaber succinctly summarizes this view as follows:
- 121 Johannes Aurifaber (ed. 1967), Determinatio de modis significandi, ed. Pinborg, p. 227: “Vox nihil (...)
“A vocal sound does not to anything, but it is itself that by means of which we do <something> and signify”121.
132This sharp contrast between the primary and the secondary meaning of ‘significare’, traced by Aurifaber via the distinction of doing (facere, agere) and that by means of which something is done (illud quo nos facimus), clearly reveals a second medieval configuration of the AP, alternative to the one defended by the two anonymous grammarians and pseudo-Kilwardby as discussed in the previous section122. For the moment, let us summarize the results of this preliminary survey of Aurifaber’s position in the following diagram:
x = some human being
x = someone’s intellect
x = a vocal sound
(illud quo nos facimus)
133After having offered his own detailed account of the possible subjects (and meanings) of the verb ‘to mean’, Aurifaber turns to the very notion of meaning itself. Surprisingly, however, he discusses it under the label of ‘modus significandi’ which, as we saw123, is the central technical category in modism and cannot be identified with significatio. In fact, as the next text passage will show, what he has in mind is rather the ratio significandi (i.e., that in virtue of which a vocal sound is meaningful) than the modus significandi in its original technical sense (i.e., that in virtue of which a meaningful vocal sound is this or that part of speech and thus can or cannot be construed with other parts of speech in order to yield a correct expression). That being said, Aurifaber defends, against the modists, that what he calls ‘modus significandi’ (read ‘ratio significandi’) is not something which is somehow “left” or “deposited” in the pronounced words by the action of the intellect. According to him, a “mode” is actually nothing in the words themselves:
- 124 Johannes Aurifaber (ed. 1967), Determinatio de modis significandi, ed. Pinborg, p. 227: “[…] ‘modus (...)
“[…] <the expression> ‘mode of signifying’ can be taken in two senses. In one sense for the mode of acting of the intellect, a mode which exists subjectively in the intellect; […] and I say that a mode of signifying has to be considered in that sense, <for> it is nothing but a mode of acting of the intellect of the one who signifies [modus agendi intellectus significantis] […]. In the other sense, ‘mode of signifying’ is taken for something which is left by the intellect in the <linguistic> construction and by means of which a vocal sound signifies and has a <specific> mode of its action of signifying […]. And in that sense, a mode of signifying is denied, for a vocal sound signifies only in virtue of use and practice, and not in virtue of something it acquires formally or subjectively”124.
134Just as ‘significare’ ultimately names the activity of the intellect and not the property of a vocal sound, ‘modus significandi’ (in Aurifaber’s sense) is the designation of a very specific performance of the intellect, a “mode of acting” (modus agendi), not of a property of the words themselves. Thus, contra the poiesis-oriented artefactual model defended by pseudo-Kilwardby, Aurifaber maintains that words have no meaning per se, no intrinsic properties left behind by the poietic performance of the original institutor, no substantial forms and, a fortiori, no immanent “modes of signifying”. Whereas modists had the tendency to consider the significatio as a substantial component of words themselves, Aurifaber adopts a position that might be broadly dubbed as “reductionist”. Just as his opponents, he insists on the connection between the activity of the intellect and the lexical meaning of words. However, he maintains that such an activity is structurally subject-dependent, for it does not leave anything like a form or an intrinsic property in the words themselves. Accordingly, the activity of the intellect responsible for the meaningfulness of spoken sounds is not the original activity of the institutor, accomplished once and for all, and leaving behind as its product an achieved speech-work: it is rather the repeated and constant activity of the speakers persistently bestowing meanings to vocal sounds by use and practice (ex usu et exercitio).
135In other words, Aurifaber’s use of the artefactual model replaces the archetype of the production of an artefact with the alternative model of the use of an instrument. Both have their place within an AP, although the artefactual features mobilized are definitely not the same. Aurifaber’s account in fact focuses more on artefact-users than artefact-makers and is more directed to the activity or the praxis than to the poiesis. And it is precisely for this reason that, in his view, what should be primarily taken into account in the question of the origin of the semantic power of words is the activity of the intellect not insofar as it is involved in the imposition of the form of the word on a vocal sound, but as it is an intellect “constantly in action”, as it were, engaged in the repeated practice of communication, i.e., of using vocal sounds in a meaningful way. Accordingly, Aurifaber is more aware of the role of the intellect (speech-act) as intervening in pragmatically oriented performances of human beings (speech-actions) than of the semantic properties of words as such (speech-works).
136Once read through the heuristic filter of the AP, Aurifaber’s Determinatio de modis significandi appears as a clear-cut example of what might be called a praxis-oriented approach to the problem of the significatio vocum—as opposed to the poiesis-oriented approach of speculative grammarians: (a) spoken sounds do not signify proprie, and the fact that words have a meaning cannot merely be considered as the outcome of the original act of the intellect, imposing the form of the word on the vocal matter, and crafting the word as the artisan crafts an artefact. (b) To pseudo-Kilwardby’s idea of meaningfulness by institution, he responds with a conception of meaningfulness by use and practice. (c) To the poiesis-oriented approach, considering the intellect’s role in the bestowing of meaning as limited to the original imposition of the form on the matter, he replies by underscoring the praxis-oriented claim, according to which the intellect of each speaker is constantly involved in the meaning-bestowing act of using an instrument in a certain way.
1376.2. However, there is yet another reply to speculative grammar with its exclusive focus on meanings qua meanings of speech-works (and its corresponding account of speech-acts in terms of imposition), a reply which does not reduce the theory of meaning to speech-actions alone (and thus leave somewhat undetermined the speech-act of the intellect involved in the practical use of spoken sounds). If, as Aurifaber suggested, a spoken sound signifies only ex usu et exercitio as that by means of which some action is performed (illud quo nos facimus), nothing is said about the “artefactual” nature of the means itself. Hence, while pseudo-Kilwardby’s homo faber is certainly a maker of instruments, the one portrayed by Aurifaber seems to be exclusively a user of instruments whose “crafted” nature is left undecided. With this background, Roger Bacon’s work—especially his Summa de sophismatibus et distinctionibus and De signis—appears as a compelling example of a praxis-oriented approach in which the two leafs of the quadrifolium, speech-actions and speech-works, are brought together—connecting the two facets of the homo faber.
- 125 On this work, see Irène Rosier-Catach (1994), La parole comme acte (specifically on the De signis, (...)
- 126 Bacon’s account contrasts with that of its predecessors (like Richard Fishacre and Bonaventure), ce (...)
1386.2.1. Roger Bacon’s De signis is part of the section in the Opus maius (1267) devoted to the study of grammar and its utility125. Apart from its intriguing definition of the sign (signum) grounded on the relation sign-receiver126, the treatise is famous for containing Bacon’s theory of the renewal of signification by “re-imposition”, summarized in the following passages:
- 127 Roger Bacon (ed. 1978), De signis, ed. Karin Margareta Fredborg, Lauge Nielsen, Jan Pinborg, “An un (...)
“[…] one can ask about the mode of imposition, whether it is twofold […], and one must say that this is the case. Hence, one is the mode of imposition in the form of an imposition vocally expressed and assigned to a thing, just like names are imposed on children and other things. But the other is the mode of imposition which is realized only by the intellect considering a being or a non-being about which it wants to say something […]; and in that manner, <the intellect> imposes a name. And it is obvious that this is possible, because imposition is at our pleasure; therefore, according what pleases a man, he can give a name to a thing in his mind, or express the imposition vocally. And he can do the same for all other things about which he thinks or which he wants.127
- 128 Roger Bacon (ed. 1978), De signis, §155: “Et sic tota die facimus et renovamus significata dictionu (...)
We act this way throughout the day and renew the significates of words without the vocally expressed form of imposing, as <is the case when> a name is given to children”128.
139According to Bacon there are two ways or modes of imposing words on things. The first is a kind of baptism and corresponds to the public performance of assigning, expressis verbis, a certain word to a certain thing. This first mode of imposition provides the words with their “first” meaning, which will become the “standard” meaning once adopted for usage. And although his terminology may sound closer to the one employed by the speculative grammarians, this first imposition is clearly not an event happening in mente, but, so to speak, in mundo, in the public space of things and actions. As for the second way of imposing words on things, Bacon describes it as tacit and occurring only on the level of the intellect. While the first mode of imposition brings about the standard meaning of a word, the second is responsible for all deviations from the norm, understood by Bacon as renewals of signification.
140Before we get into the details of Bacon’s important concept of “renewal” (renovatio), two points need to be highlighted. (1) On the one hand, Bacon’s theory of re-imposition should be neither conflated with the modist’s theory of the double imposition nor with pseudo-Kilwardby’s abovementioned two-stages account of imposition129. Strictly speaking, Bacon does not distinguish two types of imposition, for there is only one type of imposition, i.e., the institution of a certain use. However, he certainly distinguishes between two different ways (or modes) of performing the act of imposition (modi imponendi): the one expressed vocally (vocaliter expressa) and the other one occurring in the mind only (apud intellectum). This distinction contrasts with the theory of the double imposition developed by the modists. Drawing on Porphyry’s and Boethius’ commentaries on Aristotle’s Categories—where a first imposition of names on things (e.g., ‘homo’) is distinguished from a second imposition of names on names (e.g., ‘nomen’)—the modists distinguish a first imposition, conferring lexical meaning, from a second imposition, providing words with their “grammatical meaning” or modus significandi and formally determining their constructability. And, as we have already mentioned, it is still in another sense that pseudo-Kilwardby speaks about a two-stages process of imposition, the first on occurring in mente (imposing both a form/matter relation and a mean/goal order on a pair of intentiones), the second in voce (imposing the form of the word on an actually uttered spoken sound).
- 130 It must also be stressed that the “thing” at stake here can be either a being or a non-being (ens v (...)
- 131 See above §5.2.
141(2) As for the second point, it must be noted that in the above passage, Bacon significantly severs the doctrinal bond between imposition and form, de facto abandoning any poiesis-oriented artefactual account of the institution of meaning. Whereas pseudo-Kilwardby by ‘impositio’ understands the imposition of the form of the word on the vocal matter, Bacon’s notion is meant to define the assignation (assignatio) of a vocal sound to a thing—an idea which manifestly does away with the form/matter model130. Moreover, while pseudo-Kilwardby depicts the intellect as crafting a word “apt” to work concretely as the name of a thing131, Bacon claims that one “crafts” words by actually naming things, and not by mentally informing concepts on sensible presentations. For in the speculative grammarians’ account, the imposition is precisely the production of something (a word as a speech-work) that can be used in a certain way because it possesses certain internal features, while according to Bacon it is the fact (or, more precisely, the action) of using a spoken sound as a name that makes it a name.
142This twofold shift from a concept-bound to a thing-bound understanding of meaning already reveals the crucial difference between Bacon’s account of imposition and that defended by speculative grammarians. But there is yet a further distinction, related this time to the idea of re-imposition.
- 132 See above §2.2 and esp. §2.2.4.
143Unlike, say, baptism, which pertains to the domain of speech-actions, the constant re-imposition of words by speakers by virtue of usage occurs on the level of speech-acts, i.e., mentally, or internally. According to Bacon, a speaker has the power to silently impose new meanings on old words anytime, thereby producing meaning-shifts and ambiguities of all sorts. An example of tacit re-imposition is when, under the burden of grief, someone says “heu, Socrates est mortuus” (“alas, Socrates is dead”), tacitly ascribing the name ‘Socrates’ to a corpse. While a certain living being born in Athens in 470 BC was named ‘Socrates’ by the first mode of imposition, i.e., expressis verbis, those who first called ‘Socrates’ the lifeless body lying in a prison’s bed in 399 BC have silently re-imposed the name to something different. This second imposition is made apud intellectum and has to be considered as belonging to the realm of speech-acts (taken is Bühler’s strict sense)132. However, although wordless and fully mental, the second imposition is not speechless insofar as it is always speech-related. As a matter of fact, the second imposition—precisely qua imposition—is always made in the course of speech: it is while they speak that Socrates’ mourners mentally renew the meaning of the name. Accordingly, while the act of re-imposition is, strictly speaking, internal and “private”, its occurrence is very often bound to the external and “public” use of a spoken sound. Moreover, the peculiarity that such a re-imposition occurs in speech (although not explicitly) is also one of the four reasons enumerated by Bacon to explain why the renewal of signification often remains hidden or unnoticed:
- 133 Roger Bacon (ed. 1978), De signis, §160: “Tertia causa est quod non fiunt multum istae impositiones (...)
“The third reason [of the peculiarity that one does not notice acts of re-imposition] is that these impositions often occur only, if at the same time statements using/consisting of these terms are made in a way such that there is no noticeable time-lag, not even a minimal one, between imposition and the statement […]”133.
- 134 See Roger Bacon (ed. 1978), De signis, §143-144.
144Thus, with its account of (re)imposition, Bacon’s approach to language explicitly includes in its explicative framework elements belonging to the third leaf of the quadrifolium: the speaker’s mental acts constantly involved in the performance of speech-actions. More precisely, (1) like Aurifaber and the adherents of a praxis oriented, speech-action centred approach of linguistic meaning, Bacon does not separate the imposition of names from the “vineyard”, as it were, of their use; (2) he strikes the death blow to the position, still defended by our two anonymous modists and pseudo-Kilwardby, according to which the significatio vocum can be accounted for in terms of something like a substantial form; (3) yet unlike Aurifaber, Bacon does not limit himself to the review of the in-formation-based account of imposition: he unambiguously develops an alternative account based on the pair explicit assignation/implicit renewal of meaning; (4) as a result, since imposing a word is not producing an instrument provided with essential features, but rather instituting an exemplary way of using it, Bacon can insist on the feature that words can lose their signification—a feature inexplicable within the modists’ conceptual framework, where lexical meanings of words belong to the stock of their essential features134.
- 135 This meaning can, in the course of time, become a standard, and this is what explains phenomena suc (...)
145The “theory” of the two modes of imposition is essentially designed to explain (i) the fact that words, even though there is nothing intrinsically meaningful “in” them, are nonetheless employed as “already having a meaning” prior to their use; such a, say, “default meaning” is nothing but the standard signification resulting from the first mode of imposition; (ii) moreover, it accounts for the fact that speech has a certain semantic flexibility and speakers can (and are free to) use words already equipped with a standard meaning in a non-standard and creative way, with the new meaning resulting from a re-imposition of the words135. Put in a nutshell: in Bacon’s integrated speech-actions/speech-acts praxis-oriented account, words do possess relatively stable semantic features, but these are not to be considered as essential features existing “in” the words themselves, but rather as the sediments of repeated and shared uses.
1466.2.2. While Bacon refuses the poiesis-oriented form/matter model to explain the phenomenon of the imposition of names—thereby rejecting the artefactual image of the speaker/original institutor crafting a word as the artisan crafts her work—this does not entail that he completely rules out all Demiurge-like and artisan-like account of linguistic phenomena. Thus, in §§156-7 of De Signis, Bacon surprisingly re-introduces, although in a different context, the idea of a wise man (sapiens), expert in the art of imposition (peritus circa artem imponendi), whose main task consists in literally “fabricating” (fabricare) an “unlimited supply of vocal sounds” (infinita vocum copia) to name things:
- 136 Roger Bacon (ed. 1978), De signis, §156: “Si vero obiciatur quod non est cuiuslibet imponere nomina (...)
“However, if one objects that it is not upon just anyone to impose names, but <only> for the sage, one must reply that the imposition of names occurs for two reasons: sometimes it occurs for the composition of the language of a <specific> idiom, and then it cannot come about by just anyone, but by an expert in the art of imposing. For it is necessary that he first fabricates an unlimited number of non-signifying vocal sounds, paying attention to the number of ways in which two letters can be combined, three <letters>, and so on up to six, because the largest syllable is made up of six letters, e.g., ‘stirps’. This must be observed with respect to all the letters of the alphabet, so that one may discover all the primitive words, all of which must be monosyllables by nature, because principles are of minimal quantity, and these would perhaps suffice. Then he would form derivatives and make them disyllabic, which perhaps would suffice, if they are multiplied as much as possible. Then, having produced an unlimited amount of vocal sounds, the first ones must be imposed on primary things, and the second ones, namely the derivatives, have to be imposed on secondary things, which are attached to the primary ones, and such a language construction does not fall to just anyone, but to the expert. For I indeed concede: few are the languages construed in this way by means of the pure art of orthography, with all the things being observed which are due to a language in its optimal state”136.
- 137 See Roger Bacon (ed. 1978), De signis, §156-157.
147Turning to the question of the different reasons for the imposition of words, Bacon’s answer is twofold: on the one hand, words can be imposed with the aim of merely naming things—an activity that any speaker can freely accomplish; on the other hand, they can also be imposed with the aim of creating an entire language—a task that only experts in linguistic (and metaphysical) matters can achieve.137 It is only in this second case that imposition, fabrication and craftsmanship go hand in hand. As Bacon puts it, in order to develop a “language construction” (compositio linguae) “by means of pure art” (per sinceram artem), one must know, first, the metaphysical difference between primary and secondary things (primis rebus, rebus secundis)—i.e., between the small number of principles (principia) and the huge amount of things derived from them. It is only on this basis that one can construct a stock of vocal sounds reflecting the degree of complexity and priority of the objects of discourse, ascribing the primitive words (primitivae dictiones, primae voces) to the primary things and the derivative ones (derivativae <voces>) to the secondary ones, so that the composition (compositio) of language mirrors the composition of things.
- 138 See Cratylus 388e 15 and passim; see also above §1.1.
148In this modist-like picture, the “fabrication” of sounds is entirely due to the skills of an expert, whose work is strikingly similar to Plato’s νomoθέτης in the Cratylus138. However, as Bacon seems to indicate at the end of the text, this combinatorial “orthographic” manner of word construction works only for certain languages like old Saxon (but not Latin!), “a language in its optimal state” (lingua in potissimo statu). Moreover, if ordinary speakers impose vocal sounds on things in order to name them (according to the analogy between imposition and baptism), skilled experts impose an order to the constituents of articulated vocal sounds themselves in order to make them usable to name things (re-establishing on a different level of the analogy between imposition and in-formation). In fact, unlike pseudo-Kilwardby’s word-maker, Bacon’s artisan does not fabricate words by giving to vocal sounds the substantial form of a word (and thereby a meaning), but by assembling “non-meaningful vocal sounds” (voces non significativae) whose meaningfulness will depend exclusively on the ordinary activity of explicit imposition. Accordingly, Bacon’s variety of Plato’s νomoθέτης is an “impositor” in two quite different senses. According to one sense, she imposes an order to non-meaningful spoken sounds by arranging them in a way suitable for linguistic and communicative purposes and eventually faithful to the order of things; in another sense, she imposes certain arrangement of spoken sounds on the things to be named, according to the first mode of imposition indicated above (the assignation vocaliter expressa). Now, it is only in the first sense that imposition is synonym to fabrication. In fact, according to Bacon, the artisan is nothing but the maker of phonetic items having a certain form in virtue of which they are, for instance, easily pronounceable and harmoniously combinable with each other (and therefore susceptible to be introduced into usage). Still, none of these features is in any way responsible for the meaning which these vocal sounds will acquire, once assigned to things. In short, the speech-works of Bacon’s expert are not meaningful words, but meaningless arrangements of vocal sounds. It is only in the second step of her work, which may be described as the non-artefactual one, that the expert imposes the crafted arrangement of vocal sounds on something, thus instituting their standard meanings.
149By way of conclusion, let us emphasize that, according to Bacon, linguistic meanings are consistently a matter of praxis: the significatio vocum, as Aurifaber maintained is imposed by virtue of use and practice, through the joint venture of speech-actions (explicit baptisms and repeated use of terms according to their “baptismal” meaning) and speech-acts (mental and tacit re-impositions). As for words as speech-works, they are simply vocal sounds which, through public and habitual repetition, have turned out to be useful in certain standard contexts. Moreover, the speech-act account of the two modes of imposition allows Bacon to give a purely praxis-oriented account of both the relative semantic stability of words (their standard meaning) and the relative semantic flexibility characterizing living languages. Finally, in the background of such a two-levelled praxis-oriented approach, where humans are mostly users of linguistic items, Bacon leaves a place for the role of poiesis within the complex process of constitution of language. If words are like speech-works then, against the Demiurge-like account of meaning defended by speculative grammarians, one must maintain that their “artisan” is nothing but the collective subject of a shared praxis in time. However, while speech-works are not (as the speculative grammarians thought) words, but arrangements of spoken sounds meant to be used as words, their existence can nonetheless be properly considered as the result of the poietic activity of a “nomothetes” or, more precisely, of a “logothetes”.
1506.2.3. Returning to imposition, the following question must be addressed. If arrangements of vocal sounds, meant to be used as words, are artefacts in the proper sense, to what extent must words themselves be considered as instruments crafted to be manipulated in practical contexts? In other words, does Bacon somehow explicitly extend the validity of the AP at work in the fabrication of spoken sounds to words as linguistic instruments? Or does he simply consider words as “spoken sounds assigned to certain things”—an explanation that seemingly does not need the conceptuality of the AP? On this issue, De signis unfortunately remains silent and does not allow for anything but speculation. However, the situation is slightly more favourable, if one looks into another work of Bacon’s, namely, the Summa de sophismatibus et distinctionibus, where the action of speaking and the handling of an instrument are explicitly related. The context is that of the study of syncategorematic terms:
- 139 Roger Bacon (ed. 1937), Summa de sophismatibus et distinctionibus, ed. Robert Steele in Opera hacte (...)
“One must say that just like a human being or a soul is the principal agent in the operation of negation and the word ‘not’ the instrument, and the beater is the principal agent of the act of beating and the stick the instrument; just like this, a human being or a soul is the principal agent in the division and distribution of the subject and ‘every’ the instrument”139.
151The parallel suggested in this passage highlights—even more overtly than in Aurifaber—both the instrument-like nature of the word and the agent-dependency (homo vel anima taken as principale agens) of its teleological meaningfulness:
152Just like the stick is used to beat, the word “non” is used to negate. Bacon’s target here is a position that can be found, for instance, in Peter of Spain’s Syncategoremata, where syncategorematic words are said to bear the actual property or power to exert (exercere) the action of distributing, negating, etc. This claim is exemplified by means of another artefactual analogy: that between a word like ‘solus’ and a tool like a saw:
- 140 Peter of Spain (ed. 1992), Syncategoreumata, III.5, éd. Lambertus Maria De Rijk & Joke Spruyt, Leid (...)
“[…] exclusion words are called ‘exclusive’ not because they signify an exclusion, but because they perform it, just like the words ‘only’, ‘alone’ are called ‘exclusive’ by virtue of a performed exclusion and not a signified exclusion. Likewise a saw is said to be sharp in virtue of an actual incision and not a signified incision”140
- 141 As we saw above, pseudo-Kilwardby also draws on the model of the instrument in his account of the i (...)
- 142 See above §1.3.
153Bacon’s position differs from Peter of Spain’s on two respects. (1) Syncategorematic words have no meaning per se, nor do they “do” anything by themselves; and unlike the saw, which is said to be “sharp” because it actually has the property of being sharp, a word such as ‘solus’ is not said to “exclude” in virtue of the actual property of performing an exclusion. According to Bacon, only the soul can actually “do” something or “perform” an action, be it by means of syncategorematic terms or by means of instruments like hammers and saws (although it is clearly not because it is used by the soul that a saw is said to be sharp). (2) Peter of Spain maintains that the relationship between a saw (whose property of being-sharp is actual and not merely signified) and a syncategorematic word is that of a simple analogy, and he uses this analogy to illustrate the difference between signifying and performing an exclusion. Bacon not only casts some doubts on the legitimacy of this kind of analogy between saw and word, but also suggests the right way of bringing together tools and syncategoremata. In fact, in Bacon’s example the word ‘omnis’ is not merely presented in the frame of an illustrative example as something comparable to an instrument, but rather as being actually an instrument in the full sense of the term141. In other words, syncategoremata are not like instruments, they are instruments, i.e. means used by the soul in order to perform certain activities or, more precisely, certain operations (operationes). In both cases the soul is, univocally and unambiguously, the agent (agens), and words, sticks or saws are used as practical devices in the course of certain activities performed by the soul. In Bacon—exactly as in Marty142—the two following genus/species relations hold:
154One should note, however, that in this passage, the claim that words are instruments applies only to a certain class of linguistic expressions, namely the syncategoremata. The text does not provide enough explicit elements to justify a more general claim about the instrumental nature of language and meaning. However, keeping such caveat in mind and limiting ourselves to the case of syncategorematic expressions, Bacon’s view clearly opens the door for a structural—and not simply analogical—account of meaning in general in artefactual/instrumental terms. While Bacon succeeds in bringing together the three leafs of the quadrifolium, thereby showing that an integrated view of linguistic phenomena compatible with the key tenets of the AP can be acknowledged in some major episodes of medieval philosophy, his texts do not go so far as to provide evidence to the “Austrian” claim that language as such is an organon, in all its aspects: speech-works, speech-actions and speech-acts.
1556.3. The presence of this last feature—distinctive of the AP—in Bacon’s works can only be explained either on the basis of conjectures regarding what seems to be implicitly at work in his account (as in the De signis and its theory of the two modes of imposition), or of generalizations inferred from sectorial considerations (as in the Summa de sophismatibus et distinctionibus and its account of the efficacy of syncategoremes). The situation changes significantly, if we turn to an anonymous text written at the end of the 12th century, the Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum (henceforth TPS). In this treatise, a paradigm of language and meaning seems to be at work which integrates (in terms diverging from Bacon’s) praxis and poiesis in a remarkable manner, by virtue of a firm distinction between the lexical fixed meaning of speech-works and the fluctuant subject- and context-related pragmatic meaning of speech-actions within a more explicit variety of the AP.
156In its opening lines, the TPS raises the question—that, as we have seen143, will recur later in Aurifaber’s Determinatio de modis significandi—of whether the verb ‘to mean’ (significare) has the same meaning when predicated of words and of speakers. But unlike Aurifaber, the anonymous author decides not to subscribe to a homonymy pros hen drawing on the distinction between a primary and a secondary meaning (the first occurring when “to mean” refers to the agency of the speaker or to her intellect, the second when it applies to vocal sounds). Rather he chooses to maintain that the verb ‘significare’ predicates a relation when said of a word, and an action when referring to a speaker:
- 144 Anonymus (ed. 1967), Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum, ed. Lambertus Maria De Rijk, Logica mode (...)
“Let us now see how ‘to signify’ is said of a vocal sound and how it is said of a user <of vocal sounds>, since we may say both; for, both a vocal sound signifies and we signify things by means of vocal sounds. However, it seems that “to signify” said of a vocal sound and of a user is not the same […]. ‘To signify’ said of a user predicates an action, whereas ‘to signify’ said of a vocal sound predicates a relation or an agreement of the sign and its significate”144.
157It might be worth recalling that Aurifaber’s distinction between the two meanings of ‘significare’ rests on the opposition between the signifying agent and the signifying instrument, between the one who accomplishes the action of signifying (i.e., the human being/intellect) and “that by means of which” the action is accomplished (i.e., the spoken sound). As a consequence, the spoken sound appears as a function of the agent, its meaningfulness is derived from the meaningfulness of human agency, and the notion of agency itself is the most general source of signification. Although ultimately insisting on the same opposition between action and instrument, the TPS does not identify vocal sounds with agency as such, but replaces the all too general notion of agent (agens) with the very specific notion of user (utens). All users are certainly agents, but agency alone cannot reveal the nature of the speaker as a user-of-spoken-sounds. In fact, if the agent does something, the user, more specifically, does something with something; if an agent is defined solely by her action, a user instead is defined by both the action and that by means of which the action is accomplished. Accordingly, the definition as user includes that of the instrument employed (a user is by definition a user of something). Thus, the spoken sound is no longer a simple function of the intellect’s agency; it is also, and more importantly, that which specifies the kind of agency involved in signification, i.e., instrumental agency.
158To put it quite simply, in the TPS the speaker is not just an agent but a user, and the definition (or the account) of the user necessarily entails the definition (or the account) of the vocal sound used. This shift, form agency to use, should not be underestimated, for it is an alternative to Aurifaber’s unilateral solution, where:
159(i) Aurifaber = vocal sounds signify because human beings/intellects signify
160is replaced by a more complex account. In this new framework, the relationship of dependency between speaker and vocal sound is somewhat reversed or, at least, made reciprocal:
161(ii) TPS = vocal sounds signify because of their agreement (convenientia) with things; users signify because they use spoken sounds.
162A spoken sound is said to signify not because it is used by an agent in her act of signifying, but because it refers in a certain way to things. In other words, its significatio is not a parte subiecti, due to its agent-dependency, but a parte obiecti, due to the nature of the relationship with the thing. Compared with Bacon, the position defended in the TPS stands out even more clearly:
163(iii) Bacon = vocal sounds signify because they are used to name things.
164Although apparently not incompatible, the positions of Bacon and the anonymous author of the TPS diverge in their concepts of the meaningfulness of spoken sounds. Moreover, more vigorously than in Bacon’s Summa and De signis, the TPS brings together the two facets of the “Austrian” homo faber—maker and user of instruments. When predicated of a vocal sound, ‘significare’ refers to the features conferred to the linguistic artefact in virtue of its being produced by a speaker-maker according to the art, in a way that provides the spoken sound with the power to correspond to the thing; when predicated of a speaker, it refers to the action performed by the speaker-user in the actual use of the linguistic artefact. And, as one would expect, the distinction between the two facets is absorbed within the model of the use of an instrument, where Bacon’s example of the stick and Peter of Spain’s analogy with the saw appear jointly within a common explanatory framework:
- 145 Anonymous (ed. 1967), Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum, ed. Lambertus Maria De Rijk, p. 710: “S (...)
“Just as one says in the case of beating, for there is just one percussion of the stick and of the agent, but the one of the stick is accidental, being that of an instrument, and that of the agent using the instrument is proper. It is obvious why “to beat” is said in two different ways, just like “to saw” is said differently of the saw and of the one who uses the saw. The carpenter is not properly said to saw, but only because he is moving the saw in order to saw; but to saw, this act immediately proceeds from the saw. Likewise it seems that ‘to beat’ is said of the agent as of the principle which moves the beating instrument. The stick, however, is what immediately transmits the affection; for it touches immediately the one who is affected. And it seems that something similar must be stated when one says “this <speaker> signifies a thing by means of a vocal sound”, that is: he uses a sign and a mark of a thing with the intention to make a sign of a thing [cum intentione faciendi signum de re]”145.
165The passage compares the action of signifying to the action of beating or sawing, both being examples not of agency in general, but of instrumental agency. In each case, we have a distinction between an agent (the speaker/beater/carpenter) and an instrument (vocal sound/stick/saw), and the agent is described as the user of the instrument (speaker = user of a spoken sound; beater = user of a stick; carpenter = user of a saw). Properly speaking, the carpenter is not said to saw; she is just doing something with the intention of sawing, i.e. handling a certain instrument appropriate for the task—and the same holds for the beater and the speaker. Thus agent and instrument take part in one and the same action (signifying/beating/sawing), but not on the same level. In fact, the action is accidental with respect to the instrument (it is not essential for an instrument to be actually used), and it is proper to the agent (no saw saws, no stick beats just by itself). On the other hand, the intention of sawing is nothing but the intention of producing a certain effect by handling a certain instrument having a relation of “appropriateness” with the thing on which the effect is meant to be produced. The carpenter provides the intention of sawing and the action of handling the instrument in order to saw, but the actual sawing is performed by the saw. Thus, even though no saw saws by itself, what modifies the state of the wood is the saw itself, not the carpenter. The same holds true in the case of vocal sounds: just as a saw possesses some features in virtue of which it is usable as a cutting instrument, but does not cut anything, unless it is used by a carpenter with the intention to cut wood, a word possesses some features in virtue of which it can be used as a signifying instrument, but does not signify anything, unless it is uttered by a speaker with the intention to signify (literally: to make a sign of) something. The saw is sharp, hence it can be used by a carpenter with the intention of sawing this or that log of wood; the stick is, say, handy and heavy, hence it can be used by the teacher to punish his student (sic!); a spoken sound “corresponds” to a certain thing, hence it can be used by the speaker to refer to it. In other words, the speaker does not signify properly speaking, but makes something with a vocal sound. More precisely, she takes the “sign of a thing” (signum rei) with the intention of making it a “sign for a thing” (cum intentione facendi signum de re). What happens is, literally, the making of a sign (signum facere).
166It must be underscored that the pre-disposition of a certain tool, such as a saw and a vocal sound, making it appropriate to attain certain goals, is the necessary condition for the actions of sawing and signifying. In both cases, the production of the intended effect is accidental with respect to the instrument as such (i.e., as a mere artefact), while it is essential with respect to the agent. More precisely, what counts in the first place is the agent’s intention to use a vocal sound in order to make a sign of a thing. Now, when this happens—that is: when a subject actually uses a vocal sound with such an intention—the vocal sound itself, so to speak, “makes a sign of a thing”; of course, not by virtue of its own powers, as for example a picture. The vocal instrument used in order to “make a sign of a thing” has no causal power—it is not itself an agent—but only functions as a sign (and not as an image):
- 146 Anonymous (ed. 1967), Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum, ed. Lambertus Maria De Rijk, p. 710-711 (...)
“For a sign, even though it signifies, does not act on the one who apprehends it, nor does it stimulate him, except by means of the own activity of the one who apprehends <it>. This, however, I maintain because of the likenesses of things, like the painting of a man, <which> is not a sign of man, but a similitude <of him>. For it has a shape similar to a human shape and by itself it somehow acts on the one who apprehends <it>, insofar as it motivates to apprehend something similar to it. This, however, is not the case with a vocal sound, which is only a sign of a thing and not a likeness of it. […] Therefore, it seems that to say that a vocal sound signifies a thing boils down to saying that a vocal sound makes a sign of a thing, which is not to say that to make would mean to act, but to make a sign, that is: to be a mark”146.
- 147 A topic that will play a crucial role in the “Austrian” tradition, see above §2.1.
167We cannot expand here on the difference between marks (notae) and signs (signa), nor explore the relationship between images and signs147. Let us emphasize, however, that according to the TPS, in order for a vocal sound to signify (i.e., to stand in a certain semantic relation to something), it must be used (1) as an instrument, (2) by a speaker, and (3) with the intention “to make it a sign”. And it is the agent’s intentio signum faciendi that brings about the actual signum facere of a word, i.e., of a vocal sound used as an instrument. As in Bacon, the three main leafs of the quadrifolium are jointly mobilized (speech-works, speech-acts, and speech-actions)—except that the TPS explicitly points to the role of intentions in the process of significatio, a fundamental variety of speech acts to which we have now to turn our attention.
- 148 As it is instead the case for the TPS. Thus, among the opponents of speculative grammar, we have th (...)
- 149 Bacon’s continuous insistence on the connection between our free will and the fluctuation of the me (...)
- 150 See above §5 and 6, respectively.
- 151 See above §5.3.
- 152 See above §3.
169By contrast, if we take a step back and consider the entire debate, discussed in the previous sections150, between the speculative grammarians and the modists on the one hand, and their opponents on the other, the situation appears in a different light. The comparison between two ways of conceiving meaning—one illustrated by the paradigm of the production of an instrument (as with pseudo-Kilwardby’s account of imposition), the other one by the complementary model of the use of an instrument (as with Aurifaber and Bacon)—has shown that, despite the differences, both the poiesis-oriented and the praxis-oriented accounts of significatio acknowledge that the mental life of the agent must be a key element in any semantic theory: be it in the form of pseudo-Kilwardby’s account of imposition, or in Aurifaber’s claim that the speaker’s intellect is the main agent in signification, or in Bacon’s theory of re-imposition apud intellectum. Nevertheless, advocates of the poiesis-approach, such as pseudo-Kilwardby, have the advantage of explicitly pointing out, in the theory of imposition, an element that implicitly plays a crucial role in all accounts of the significatio vocum compatible with the AP, i.e., the idea that means/goals relations are constitutive of meaning as such. While explaining meanings qua meanings of speech-works, and understanding the “production” of speech-works according to the artefactual model of the imposition of the form on the matter, pseudo-Kilwardby insists on the following idea: concerning the phenomenon of meaning, imposing a form on a matter is not only a matter of organization, but also and more importantly a question of teleology. In fact, because one wants to signify a conceptual intention (intentio significabilis), the intellect conceives the “form of the word” in mente, subordinating the conceptual intention to a sensible one, just as “a means is ordered to an end” (sicut finis et quod est ad finem)151. Without such a “will to signify” the intellect would have no reason to subordinate two intentiones and devise the form of a word; a form that a later utterance will finally impose on a vocal matter. Thus, to apply the terminology introduced at the end of the first section of this study152, pseudo-Kilwardby’s account of speech-acts nests within the cognitive activity of the mind (i.e., the presence of an entire host of intentiones) the volitional activity of the will (whose constraints push the intellect to arrange some of these intentiones in a teleological, form/matter—i.e., goal/means—relationship). Thus reaching back from artefactual instrumentality of the speech-work to the specific form of agency it presupposes, pseudo-Kilwardby’s poiesis-oriented description of imposition points toward an account of speech-acts in terms of both cognitive and volitional aspects.
170If this is correct, we can now return to the texts of his opponents and ask whether the presence of volitional elements is likewise suggested by the adoption of the second praxis-oriented model. The first thing that comes to mind is Bacon’s De signis, where the role of the will in the bestowing of meaning is strongly suggested and often explicitly evoked. To restrict ourselves to the corpus studied above, let us recall that, according to Bacon, the freedom of re-imposition ultimately rests on the freedom to say whatever one wants to say (de quo vult aliquid enuntiare). In fact, a speaker is not just someone who imposes a name on a thing, but, more importantly, she is someone who wants to say something about a thing by handling its name. The involvement of the will is therefore crucial, for it decisively conditions the possibility of meaning-shifts and meaning-losses related to free tacit re-impositions. Moreover, not even ontological constraints are strong enough to limit such freedom, since, as we have seen, one might wish to say something as well about being as non-being (ens vel non ens)153.
- 154 The notion of intentio is certainly one of the most important and complex ones, not only in the Med (...)
1717.2. Now, granting that (i) both speech-works and speech-actions presuppose speech-acts, and (ii) both poiesis-oriented and praxis-oriented accounts of meaning—the former through the idea of imposition qua fabrication of an artefact, the latter through that of (re)imposition qua use of an instrument—ultimately point at speech-acts involving not only the role of the intellect, but also that of the will, in the last sections of our study we will explore some consequences of this complex account of speech-acts. In other words, and despite the differences, we will examine how both pseudo-Kilwardby’s and Bacon’s discussions of the speech-acts side of the significatio vocum draw on the idea of a voluntas enuntiandi or significandi. This, however, raises the question of how are the different series of mental speech-acts (cognitive, volitional, practical, and instrumental) mutually related? In this connection, the key notion we must focus on is that of intentio in its various and complementary dimensions154.
1727.2.1 Let us begin again with pseudo-Kilwardby’s theory of imposition, where the study of what the author calls the causa vocandi shows quite neatly the way in which nested intentions, volitional and cognitive, are mutually related:
- 155 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, ed. Fredborg et al., p. 58: “In hominibus ve (...)
“In human beings, however, there is a multitude and diversity of distinct affects and thoughts, and since the multitude of affects along with the will to express <something> is the reason of naming—for, as Plato says, speech is <made> in order <for words> to be present indications of mutual will—it is necessary that the diversity of distinct affects and thoughts be the reason of naming <things> distinctively”155.
- 156 See above §1, esp. 1.3.
- 157 Plato, Timaeus, 47b-c: “But the cause and purpose of that best good, as we must maintain, is this: (...)
173In the first sections of this study we have encountered the “Austrian” idea that to utter a word is eo ipso—although not primarily—to indicate the utterer’s will to communicate156. Husserl speaks of “Anzeigen” whose function, like in Marty and Bolzano, is called “Kundgeben” or “Kundthun” (Bühler prefers the term “Symptom” to name the “expressive function” of a sign) and it is certainly not by accident that pseudo-Kilwardby uses the term indicia to denote the relationship between spoken signs and speakers’ mental acts. After having asked why there is a multitude of distinct names for the things, the author answers with the following argument: (i) since in human minds there is a multitude of different affects and thoughts; and (ii) having a multitude of different affects and thoughts (multitudo atque diversitas affectionum et cogitationum) along with the will to express them (voluntas exprimendi) constitutes the reason of the utterance (causa vocandi); then (iii) there will be as many different names as there are affections and thoughts that one might want to express by means of spoken sounds. Now, it is worth noting that this general claim is supported by the implicit reference to Plato’s Timaeus157. This reference is meant to support a very precise claim, namely, that whenever someone actually speaks to someone else, she eo ispo endows the uttered sounds with something like an indication of what happens in her mind, both in the sense of what she wants, and of what she cognitively presents in a multitude of affects and thoughts. Thus, uttered words name different things, signify the concepts of these things (to which the “acoustic images” of the actually uttered sounds are teleologically subordinated, according to the doctrine of the impositio), and indicate the will to communicate them. The reference to the Timaeus moreover shows that the indication of the speaker’s “intentions” is, at the same time, the starting point of the process of imposition and a part of what is expressed in speech. Volitional intentions appear thus as the motivational force at work in imposition, on top of the distinct thoughts or affects that must be communicated.
174As to the way in which such intentions are connected, although maintaining that cognitive and volitional intentions jointly constitute the causa vocandi, and due to another heuristic use of the artefactual imagery, pseudo-Kilwardby ends up ascribing a certain priority to the intellect which actually “impresses” the meaning into the vocal sound:
- 158 Pseudo-Kilwardby (ed. 1975), Super Priscianum maiorem, ed. Fredborg et al., p. 61-62: “Nam sicut in (...)
“For just as the intellect, by means of the hand, which is called its instrument […] makes in corporeal, visible matter something similar to what it has in mind, likewise the intellect, by means of the vocal organs, impresses into the exterior sensible vocal sound a concept similar to the one in itself”158.
175The Platonic flavour of the analogy is patent: much as the hand is the instrument of the intellect when the artisan’s soul wants to impress into the visible matter the form of the thing she has in mind, the voice is the instrument of the intellect when she wants to impress into audible matter some intelligible species. Beside the fact that the use of artefactual images to illustrate the intellect’s meaning-bestowing act cannot come as a surprise anymore, it is worth noting that, in one single blow, pseudo-Kilwardby’s doctrine of the imposition accounts for all the four levels of nested intentionality identified in the “Austrian” version of the AP: (i) cognitive, (ii) volitional, (iii) practical, and (iv) instrumental.
1767.2.2. A similar and complementary line of thought can be found, mutatis mutandis, in the field of theology, and more precisely in theories trying to explain the efficacy of sacraments in terms of instrumental causality.
- 159 Irène Rosier-Catach (2004), La parole efficace, esp. p. 99-172.
- 160 This view is endorsed by authors like Stephan Langton (late 12th, early 13th century), Hugh of Sain (...)
- 161 This view is prominently defended by an author like Richard Fishacre, writing around 1240.
177As I. Rosier-Catach has recently shown159, two main models of causality at work in the sacraments’ power of sanctification (virtus sanctificandi) were discussed by 13th- and 14th-century theologians. The first model is based on the idea of physical causality: there is in the sacrament itself a power which explains its effect, just as some stones or herbs possess certain curative powers160. The second model rests on the idea of divine cooperation: the sanctifying power of sacraments results from a pact made between God and human beings stipulating that He (the main Agent in the process of sanctification) will confer His grace whenever the sacrament (a sine qua non cause in the process) is administrated properly. In this sense, the efficacy of the sacrament is neither physical nor material, but relational161. Now, the position Thomas Aquinas defended in this controversy is of particular significance for the purposes of the present study, since it champions the idea that the power of sacraments must be explained in terms of an instrumental account of causality. Moreover, although the motivations and the context of his doctrine are clearly theological, Aquinas explicitly connects some of his positions to the realm of language and meaning.
178Aquinas’ explanation of the power of sacraments in terms of instrumental causality is both distinct from pact-causality (insofar as it is not merely relational) and, although akin to physical causality (insofar as it posits that there must be some feature existing in the sacrament itself without which it could not be efficient), it also differs from the latter due to its artefactual examples. In fact, as we have seen in Aurifaber, Bacon, and the anonymous author of the TPS, the instrument, according to Aquinas, is a cause insofar as the power of its user operates in it. In his words:
- 162 Thomas Aquinas, Super Sententiarum, IV, d. 1, q. 1, a. 1, qc. 4, co. et ad 1: “Actio autem non attr (...)
“The action is not ascribed to the instrument, but to the principal agent, by virtue of whom instruments are applied to <do> a certain work, insofar as they are moved by him; […] the power of the main agent operates occultly in the <instrument> itself, just like the power or the art or of the artisan in a saw”162.
- 163 The case of the sacraments is highly complex because, contrary to the use of a saw by a carpenter, (...)
179The instrumental relationship between the artisan and her saw, which the TPS used to explain the relationship between speakers and spoken sounds, now crops up to illustrate the relationship between God and the sacraments—bridging the gap between the account of instrumental causality explicitly endorsed by Aquinas and the one presupposed (although not explicitly formulated) by the author of the TPS. Just as the artisan is the principal agent and the saw possesses its efficacy due to the artisan’s power, God is the principal agent, and a sacrament possesses its efficacy due to the divine power (virtus divina), i.e., it works only insofar as it is used as an instrument (i.e., as something by means of which one does something)163. It is noteworthy that just like Bacon in the case of the power of syncategorematic terms, Aquinas does not draw on the instrumental model for the sake of an analogy, but because the sacrament in the “hands” of the minister is an instrument in the same fashion as a saw is an instrument in the hands of the carpenter—and, we may already add, as spoken sounds are instruments in the mouth of the speaker.
180This latter step—from sacraments to speech—is far from being implicit. With this theological background in mind, we can now turn to two passages in which Aquinas explicitly connects sacramental efficacy with linguistic meaning:
- 164 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, III, q. 62, a. 4, ad 1: “Nihil […] prohibet in corpore esse virtu (...)
“[…] nothing prohibits that an instrumental spiritual power exists in a body, namely insofar as a body can be moved by some spiritual substance to produce a spiritual effect; likewise a certain spiritual power is in the audible vocal sound itself, aimed at stimulating the intellect of a human being, insofar as it advances from a conception of the mind. And in this way, a spiritual power exists in the sacraments […].164
- 165 Thomas Aquinas, Super IV Sententiarum, d. 1, q. 1, a. 4, qc. 2, ad 4: “[…] in re corporali non pote (...)
[…] no spiritual power can be in a corporeal thing according to its complete being; but it can exist <in it> in the manner of an intention, just as the power of the art is in the instruments moved by the artisan, and an audible word […] somehow contains intentions of the soul”165.
- 166 See also the following two passages from Aquinas which turn out to be particularly explicit on the (...)
181Uttered words are thus instruments used by speakers in the same manner in which a saw is used by a carpenter. This is to say: by being uttered, a word contains a power existing in it, a power Aquinas describes as being of a spiritual nature and which he calls, without any further specification, an intention of the soul (intentio animae)166. In order to understand what Aquinas means by the term ‘intentio’ (and keeping in mind that the general frame in which his reflections on linguistic meaning are developed is none other than the AP), it is appropriate to briefly recall some key tenets of Aquinas’ theory of human action.
- 167 See §7.2.
- 168 One should also mention intentio as species or mental content in general. On that topic, see for ex (...)
182As we already mentioned167, the term ‘intentio’ is polysemic. The two main senses traditionally distinguished by the medievals are: (i) intention as an act of the intellect (a non-volitional or theoretical intention), and (ii) intention as an act of the will (a volitional or practical intention)168. In the context of the theory of human action, however, the focus is on the latter. As Aquinas intimates in the Summa theologiae, an intentio, properly speaking, is nothing but an act of the will:
- 169 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II, q. 12, a. 1: “[…] intentio, sicut ipsum nomen sonat, signifi (...)
“[…] an intention, as the name itself says, signifies to tend toward something. But what tends towards something is the action of the mover as well as the movement of the mobile. But that which directs the movement of the mobile toward something comes from the action of the mover. Therefore, an intention first and foremost pertains to what moves towards an end. […] But the will moves all the other powers of the soul towards an end […]. Therefore, it is clear that an intention properly speaking is an act of the will”169.
183In this passage, Aquinas makes clear that insofar as ‘intentio’ means “to tend towards something” (in aliquid tendere), an intention is characterized by a structural dynamism spelled out in terms of action and movement. Aquinas’ idea here is that whenever one speaks of an intention, one implicitly refers to the action of a mover and the movement and a mobile, for example, the action of a carpenter and the movement of the saw she manipulates. Thus the action of the carpenter is intentional precisely in this sense, and so is the movement of the saw; both tend towards the same end (cutting a log of wood), and they do so according to a precise order: the intention of the mover proceeds the intention of the movement. As a consequence, an intention is first and foremost that of “what moves” (rather than that of “what is moved”); but what moves, i.e., the mover’s action, has itself the will as its principle (every action originates in an act of the will); therefore, an intention in the most fundamental sense of the word is an act of the will and not of the intellect.
184However, a volitional intention harbours a quite complex structure. In fact, by performing such an act of the will, the agent does not merely want an end; she wants it, so to speak, sub ratione medii, i.e., insofar as it must be reached by certain means:
- 170 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae I-II, q. 12, a. 1: “[…] intentio est actus voluntatis respectu fin (...)
“[…] an intention is an act of the will with respect to an end. […] the end is considered <by the will> as the term of something which is ordered to it: and in that way, an intention regards an end. We do not only say that we intend health, because we want it, but because we want to acquire it by means of something else”170.
185An action presupposes that the agent has ordered something to an end—for example the practice of physical exercise in order to become healthier. And such ordering does not pertain to the will, but to reason (or the intellect):
- 171 Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 12, a. 1, ad 3: “[…] hoc nomen intentio nominat actum vo (...)
“[…] the name ‘intention’ refers to an act of the will under the presupposition that the reason of the one who orders ordered something to an end […]171.
186As we have seen, in the above passage172 Aquinas defends that (i) a spiritual power can exist intentionally (per modum intentionis) in an instrument only as long as the latter is used, and that (ii) it is precisely in this sense that an uttered word somehow (quodammodo) contains intentions of the soul. With this background, we can now suggest an interpretation of Aquinas’ notion that instruments and words alike contain intentiones animae. Aquinas’ idea is based on the purported correspondence between the structural patterns of two species—for instance, sawing and speaking—belonging to the same genus of instrumental action. This entails a structural identity (and not just an analogy) between the causal activity of the artisan and that of the speaker:
187(1) the artisan, by performing an instrumental action—the action of sawing—transmits her own power (virtus) to the saw (i.e., the instrument); the power now exists in the saw itself per modum intentionis and can cause, as long as the instrument is properly used, a modification in the state of the matter (i.e., cut the log of wood);
188(2) the speaker, by performing the instrumental action of speaking, transmits her own power (virtus) to the uttered word (i.e., the instrument); this power now exists in the word itself, although only as intentiones animae (i.e., as the result of the ordered combination of the volitional and non-volitional intentions proper to action) and can cause, as long as the word is uttered, a modification in the state of the soul of the hearer (e.g., yield knowledge).
- 173 This holds for saws, sacraments, and words alike. Scotus argues as follows: If a linguistic instrum (...)
1897.2.3. Aquinas’ instrumental account of causality has been openly rejected by several authors. Duns Scotus, for instance, denies that the actual use of an instrument yields or produces any additional form in the instrument itself—a form that would additionally possess an alleged causal power173. As it turns out, Scotus’ critique is heavily dependent on the argumentation of another Franciscan, Peter John Olivi, writing in the 1280s.
190Olivi rejects Aquinas’ concept according to which something is actually added to the instrument by virtue of its being used, owing to his take on the meaning of “addition” (addere). In fact, whereas Aquinas maintains that the power of the mover intentionally exists in the instrument “per modum intentionis”, Olivi insists that what is added to the instrument in the course of its use is nothing existing in it, neither really, nor intentionally:
- 174 Peter John Olivi (ed. 1945), Quid ponat ius vel dominium, ed. Ferdinand Delorme, “Question de P. J. (...)
“It remains to consider, in the case of voluntary signs, what is posited by their signification taken in the active sense. And for sure, the more subtly and perspicuously you will consider this <signification>, the more you will find out that the signification itself does not add anything to the real essence of the thing which is taken as a sign, <i.e., nothing> but the mental intention of those who institute and understand <the sign>, and <the intention> of the one who actually takes that thing in order to signify, and <the intention> of the one who hears it or takes it as possessing such a signification or <as being> such a sign. And in those <signs> which are produced by the command of such an intention, like a vocal sound or a movement of the head, the signification itself, beyond the intention of the one who signifies and beyond the essence of the thing called a sign, adds the relation of the commanded effect and the command of what is produced by the intention of the one who signifies; but insofar as the relation of a sign to its significate is properly designated by the ‘signification’, in merely voluntary signs such a relation does not actually posit anything real beyond the intention of the one who signifies and the others who take that thing as designating such a significate”174.
- 175 In the present case, the res is a vocal sound already provided with a fixed lexical meaning (this i (...)
191What Olivi calls the signification in the active sense (significatio active sumpta), is precisely what we have already encountered in Aurifaber and the TPS as the “activity of signifying”, the significatio as attributed not to spoken sounds themselves, but to speakers and users of spoken sounds. Now, according to Olivi, the utterance of the spoken sound does not modify its essence, turning it into a being of a different kind (a “word” as opposed to a “mere spoken sound”, a “sign” instead of a simple nod of the head, etc.) with brand new essential properties. However, it cannot be denied that the fact of being used somehow modifies the spoken sound, although not ontologically, “adding” (addere) something to it, something that otherwise it would not have had. Thus, in Olivi’s view, the actual use of a thing (res) as a sign175 “adds” to it two kinds of elements:
(1) three mental intentions,
192(a) the intention of those who institute the sign and understand it;
193(b) the intention of the actual utterer (who actually takes the sign in order to signify);
194(c) the intention of the hearer (who actually takes the sign as having a certain signification);
(2) and one relation:
195(d) the relation of the sign to its significate.
196These additions are not essential—they do not modify in any way the essence or nature of the vocal sound—but intentional in the very sense that they follow from the goal-directed behaviour of language makers (instituentes, acceptantes) and users, i.e., speakers (significantes) and hearers (accipientes). The three added mental intentions also belong to two different levels. On a more general level, we have (a) the intention of those who first introduced a certain term and thereby fixed its lexical meaning. This first level can be dubbed “abstract”, since the intentions added to the vocal sound are independent of the concrete utterance situation. What is added to the spoken sound does not depend on the actual utterance situation, although the fact that something is added certainly depends on the act of utterance itself, just like a saw would be sharp, if fabricated according to the state of the art, but no saw will be able to cut anything, unless actually fabricated. On a more specific and “concrete” level, Olivi mentions the intentions (b) of the actual speaker (ipse qui actu illam rem assumit ad significandum) and (c) of the actual hearer (is qui eam audit). The spoken sound instituted as a sign to be used in a certain way is then actually used in a certain way (that can or cannot be consistent with the one instituted) and actually recognized as a certain sign used in a certain way (which can or cannot be consistent with the one intended by the speaker).
197As for the added relation (d), the “signification in the active sense”, it is definitely not a causal relation, for it does not produce any actual knowledge in the mind of the hearer, although it undeniably possesses a normative character—what Olivi calls an imperatio (command).
198The idea behind this very difficult text is probably the following: the institution of a word (its imposition) establishes, as an effect of the intentions of those who impose it, a passive (or default) relation of signification between a sign and its significate. When a speaker actually utters a word in order to signify something (ad significandum), her action adds an intentional layer to the passive (or default) one. Now, just as the intention of the institutors of language in effect linked a word to its significate, the intention of the speaker urges the hearer to take the word as a sign of its significate. Thus, the relation of signification in the active sense possesses a normative character (an imperatio) whose realisation additionally involves the intention of the hearer. In order for the signification (taken actively) to be successful, the word must possess something like a given default meaning, the speaker must intend to signify something by the uttered word, and the hearer should have the intention to take the uttered word as a sign.
199Thus, according to Olivi, there is no need to postulate something like an instrumental causality in order to account for the semantic efficacy of linguistic instruments (i.e., words). Given that the original institution of the word and its actual use in communication are deliberate (Olivi talks about signa mere voluntaria), it is unnecessary to posit the existence of some causal power in the used instrument: the intentions involved in its institution (the speech-acts), in its production (the speech-works), and in its use (the speech-actions) are not only necessary but also sufficient to account for the phenomenon of linguistic meaning.
200The position advocated by Olivi against the alternative conception of instrumental causality defended by Aquinas seems finally to suggest that the case of the anonymous author of the TPS was far from being isolated. Other Medieval authors have in fact clearly and insightfully identified and combined all three main leafs of the quadrifolium, completing the study of words and utterances with an account of the complex nest of intentions (cognitive, volitional, teleological, instrumental ) involved in speech-acts.
201At this point, it is probably useful to resume the methodological assumptions of this study and restate its more general tenets. For, while overall, the idea defended so far—namely that the explicit formulation of an artefactual paradigm in “Austrian” authors such as Brentano, Marty, Husserl, and Bühler, can be used to shape a heuristic framework within which the Medieval debate on the significatio vocum may consistently be reframed—should have shown its legitimacy (or, at least, its historical and conceptual plausibility), its actual outcomes still need to be assessed. And since this can be done only by measuring the cogency of the evidence collected so far and the effects and consequences of the proposal put forward, in this final part we will (1) review the track of argument and (2) recall the textual evidence examined. With this “bird’s eye view” on the topic we will be in the position to gesture towards some of the major implications of both our reconstruction and the method behind it.
2028.1. When accused by Wundt and Jerusalem of being an advocate of the “scholastic method”—and the term here clearly bears a disparaging sense—Marty first replies by denying its existence:
- 176 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 238: “Es wird —wenn man gerecht sein will — zu beachten sein (...)
“If one wants to be fair, it must be considered whether and how well the methods of the various “scholastics” have actually something in common with each other that makes them all blameworthy. For they also have far-reaching differences, and this is something that no knower of the history will deny; for example, the method of Nicolaus of Cusa differs from that of D. Scotus; and, in turn, they both differ from that of W. Occam; and again they all differ from the method of Aquinas, which, again, differs with regard to the one of Anselm of Canterbury, the inventor of the ontological argument”176.
And after having vindicated the richness of the Medieval scholastic tradition, he adds:
- 177 Anton Marty (1908), Untersuchungen, p. 238: “Soweit aber allen diesen im einzelnen weit abweichende (...)
“However, inasmuch as these modes of research and thinking, which in detail are widely divergent, have something questionable in common, one must ask oneself seriously whether Brentano’s direction is characterized thereby in the same way as the scholastics”177.
203Marty’s lucid verdict must be taken as a caveat. The vast and complex landscape of medieval philosophy can hardly be reduced to a single method, let alone to the hidden efficiency of an alleged “paradigm”. Moreover, even if this were the case, it would still beg the question of whether the so-called “Austrian” tradition actually shares this method or “paradigm” with the scholastics. Marty’s awareness of both the complexity of the scholastic tradition and its differences with respect to his own philosophy—an awareness he shares with his “Austrian” comrades—indicates how our present attempt cannot be understood. (1) It is not a thesis about the “scholastic” long-term origin of Brentano’s instrumental understanding of language, Marty’s characterization of speech as a mode of action, Husserl’s account of meaning-bestowing intentional acts “animating” the vocal matter of uttered sounds, or Bühler’s quite elaborated quadrifolium. (2) It is not an attempt to “discover”—although in a hidden, imperfect, and still not fully conscious way—the new “Austrian” paradigm already flowing in old scholastic casks. And it is precisely with Marty’s caveat in mind that we approached some texts of 13th- and 14th-century speculative grammarians and their opponents: neither in search of “Austrian” anticipations, nor assuming that “Austrian” and Medieval philosophers of language defend the same theories or show some vague analogies.
- 178 A few words about the scare quotes with which we have wrapped the term “Austrian” so far are in ord (...)
2048.1.1. As a starting point, we attempted to highlight the intimate connection of meaning and intentions fleshed out in the “Austrian” account of linguistic phenomena, and showed how its most powerful expression can be found in the explicit formulation of what we call the “artefactual paradigm” (§1.1). According to the AP, (i) language is an artefact (and not simply like an artefact), the product of a homo faber sermocinalis; (ii) the homo faber at stake is at the same time an artisan (i.e., a maker of linguistic artefacts) and a speaker (i.e., a user of linguistic artefacts); (iii) the produced linguistic artefacts are instruments in the proper sense of the word (and not just like instruments); and (iv) speakers/users are intentional beings (i.e., what they do must be explained in terms of intentional mental acts). The resulting picture—shared, although in different forms and degrees of explicitness, by Brentano, Marty, Husserl, and Bühler—is that speakers are best understood as users of linguistic artefacts, words must be regarded as instruments in the “hands” of language users, and speaking amounts to making use of an instrument—a position also maintained by other authors outside or at the borders of the “Austrian” network178 (see §1.1. and §1.2).
2058.1.2. Behind this common assumption, different positions can be singled out, each indicating various ways in which the general principles of the AP can be elaborated. While both Marty and Brentano maintain that speaking is an instrumental form of action (see §1.3), Brentano considers language, quite broadly, as an instrument for the communication of thoughts, focusing on the mental acts and the contents that one wishes to communicate; by contrast, Marty insists more specifically on language’s power to influence the inner life of other conscious beings, satisfying the practical need to change the others’ minds and guide their behaviour—thus highlighting the pragmatic dimension of speech activities (see §1.4 and 1.5.3). As for Husserl, just like Brentano, he insists on the communicative nature of speech, but focuses on the “representative function” of language (to express something about something) and on the intentionality proper to what he calls “meaning-bestowing acts” and animating the sensible contents of the spoken sounds (see §1.5.1). The same holds for Bühler, who constantly refers to Husserl’s legacy, although sometimes in quite critical terms. Not unlike Husserl, Bühler maintains that human language qua instrument has mainly a “representative function”, although he also emphasizes its more general practical function as a device to orientate oneself in community life (§1.5.2). Yet notwithstanding all these differences of focus and emphasis, one important question necessarily arises in light of the AP: how are linguistic meanings related to the instrumental activities of the speakers?—a question whose answer requires an account of both the intentionality involved in the instrumental agency of speakers and the functional aptitude of the instrument itself. More precisely, the defence of the AP strongly implies the need for a fine-grained analysis of the different mental acts involved in the production of linguistic artefacts and their uses.
206This need calls for an integrated model in which the actions and instruments characterizing the concrete activity of speaking, on the one hand, and the complex set of mental acts—cognitive, volitional, practical, and instrumental—involved in the abstract description of instrumental agency of the speakers, on the other, are joint in an all-encompassing framework (see §3). Although only Marty seems to be up to the task, insofar as in the Untersuchungen he tries to give a systematic account of all linguistic phenomena consistent with the key tenets of the AP, the most sophisticated attempt to conceive such an integrated model is found in Bühler’s Sprachtheorie under the name and in the shape of a quadrifolium (see §2.2). The generic phenomenon of speech is now diffracted into the four interrelated aspects of being an action (what one actually does in speaking), determined by an act (the mental acts involved in a linguistic action), handling a work (the linguistic ready-made tools a speaker has at her disposal), according to a certain structure (the abstract formation rules and correctness conditions valid for a given language).
207Again, while these themes have also been approached separately by Marty and Husserl, Bühler’s quadrifolium is certainly the most consistent and complete explanatory framework emerging from the explicit assumption of the AP. For, it not only accounts for the relation between linguistic meaning and instrumental activity of the speakers in general, but, more specifically, it also provides a means to understand how the existence of linguistic artefacts (i.e., speech works) relies on the mental life of the speakers (i.e., their speech-acts) and, both is determined by and determines the conditions for its actual use (i.e., speech-actions). To some extent, one could say that Bühler claims out loud and brings to its extreme systematic consequences an artefactual set of assumption common to the whole “Austrian” tradition.
2088.1.3. Yet Bühler not only draws some important epistemological conclusions from the assumption of the AP, culminating in the conception of the quadrifolium. He also suggests an historical hypothesis about its origin in Plato’s Cratylus and in the Platonic-Aristotelian tradition advocating an organon account of language (see §1.1 and §2.1). The scholastic philosophy belongs to this tradition. As Bühler puts it:
- 179 Karl Bühler (1999), Sprachtheorie, p. 223 (Eng. 249): “Die Scholastiker philosophierten im Geleise (...)
“The Scholastics often philosophized on the basis of language in the train of Platonic-Aristotelian thought, asking of the nouns, for example, whether their worldly being was something more than and different from mere flatus vocis and what knowledge content they provide for the user”179.
209As already pointed out, what for Plato and many others was quite probably only an analogy between a simple heap of matter turning into a tool because of the form impressed into it by an artisan, and a mere flatus vocis turning into a word, becomes for Bühler the mark of a full-fledged identity—once again: words are not like instruments, they are instruments. This shift, however, from the analogical likeness to the univocal subordination of saws and words to the same genus “artefacts”, although relevant, does not narrow the scope of Bühler’s historical suggestion—it only recommends some methodological adjustments. And in view of the facts, we can safely maintain that (a) in the course of the history of philosophy—from Plato to Bühler, through Aristotle and the entire Medieval tradition—a whole host of authors succumbed to the temptation of “equating” words with instruments; (b) the ways in which this “equation” were spelled out were quite different, ranging from mere analogies to strong genus identities; however, (c) at least one way of considering the “equation”—i.e., the strongly univocal “Austrian” account—lead to the conception of a robust model integrating speech-actions, speech-works, and speech-acts (and, among the latter, cognitive, volitional, practical, and instrumental acts); as a consequence, (d) one might legitimately ask whether and to what extent this constellation is peculiar to the “Austrian” strong version of the AP; and, (e) if appropriate, whether other weaker—or differently strong—ways of bringing together words and instruments already pointed at or explicitly thematized the one or the other of the folia singled out in Bühler’s model and differently exemplified in Brentano, Marty, and Husserl. In a nutshell, the “Austrians’” full-fledged paradigm is now turned into a heuristic filter to question, identify, organize, and contrast different ways in which the issue of the significatio vocum is tackled by some Medieval authors whose texts join, in a Platonic-Aristotelian wake, meaningfulness and instrumentality—and, consequently, instrumentality and intentionality (see §4).
2108.1.4. The first selection of Medieval authors analysed—the speculative grammarian pseudo-Kilwardby (see §5.2 and §5.3) and the later modists: the Anonymous of Prague and the Anonymous C (see §5.1)—identifies a number of claims in which the “equation” between words and instruments follows the lines of the analogy of the production of an artefact—what we call the “poiesis approach” (see §5, especially §5.4). On this view—whose driving force is the doctrine of the imposition of the form on the matter—the bearer of the semantic power is the artefact itself (i.e., the linguistic expression or speech-work) and its power derives from a complex set of (cognitive and volitional) mental acts (which Bühler would have dubbed “speech-acts”) involved in the work of the artisan and providing the artefact with something like a teleological form existing in it.
211The “poiesis approach” of the speculative grammarians—focused on speech-works and, more precisely, on the analogy between the fabrication of an artefact and the first utterance of a word—can be contrasted with what we call the “praxis approach”, advocated by later “anti-modistic” authors such as Johannes Aurifaber, but also by a contemporary of pseudo-Kilwardby, Roger Bacon, and even by a very early thinker such as the anonymous author of the Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum (see §6). In denying the analogies of artisan/utterer and meaning/substantial form, these authors do not renounce eo ipso the possibility of equating words and instruments—they simply shift the focus from the production of the instrument to its use. This is certainly patent in Aurifaber, for whom the relation between words and instruments is no longer analogical and speech-work oriented (the first utterance of a word is like the fabrication of a work) but univocal and speech-action oriented (the word is an instrument and it signifies insofar as it is used). Thus, linguistic meanings are not built-in properties of words, for words, not unlike all other instruments, are “inert” with regard to their meanings (see §6.1).
- 180 For detailed presentations of Bacon’s approach to language and meaning, and besides the studies quo (...)
212Along the same lines, Bacon’s doctrine of the re-imposition of names rejects the in-formation account of imposition based on the analogy of words/works, and suggests an alternative solution: to make a spoken sound meaningful is nothing but to institute or to follow a standard exemplary way of using it (see §6.2.1). Whether Bacon actually holds, as Aurifaber, that speaking is, univocally, a form of instrumental agency, just as sawing or hammering, or merely something strongly akin to or usefully comparable with it, is a question we must leave unsettled here.180 What seems to be undisputed is that (1) he openly rejects the poiesis-approach and sides with Aurifaber in a praxis-oriented approach, as his doctrine of the re-imposition indicates; (2) he rejects the idea of “fabrication” of words in terms of in-formation of spoken sounds, although he maintains that certain languages have been constituted on the basis of a stock of spoken sounds, quite literally “fabricated” in order to be used meaningfully (see §6.2.2); (3) there is at least one context in which Bacon explicitly and univocally identifies words and artefacts, i.e. his analysis of syncategorematic terms. Syncategoremata are quite literally instruments whose mode of functioning can be explained according to the general principles of instrumental agency (see §6.2.3). A notion of which we found an anticipation, a generalization to all linguistic terms, and a consistent defence within a univocal framework in the anonymous Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum (see §6.3). The chart below provides a synoptic overview of the situation. Contrasting the “conceptual” order followed in section II, the authors and texts appear now in chronological order; the check-marks in columns 2 to 4 indicate that the account of linguistic meaning of the respective author or text focuses on the corresponding leaf (or leaves) of the quadrifolium. The question marks appearing in column 1 indicate that the textual evidence provided so far does not suffice to univocally determine whether and to what extent the issue is actually addressed (and, as a consequence, at least in the frame of the present study and to our actual knowledge, the question remains open). Let us finally recall that, according to a strategic and argumentative choice made and justified above (see §2.2.3), the folium corresponding to Bühler’s speech-structure is deliberately left aside:
Tractatus de proprietatibus sermonum
“to mean” predicated of a speaker is an action
“to mean” predicated of a sign is a relation
something signifies in virtue of the speaker’s intention “to make a sign” of it
(produc-tion of an artefact)
the produced artefact
(the external word)
(mental “impression” of a teleological form into the internal word)
(restricted: the profess-sional logothete construes a language according to the art)
(restricted to the domain of synca-tegoremes)
what is imposed is a certain use of word
standard / usual meaning of words
re-imposition of words apud intellectum
Anonymous (of Prague, and C)
meaning as the substantial form of the word
meaning is use only
the intellect is the main agent
- 181 However, as some recent studies already pointed out (e.g., Costantino Marmo (1995), “A pragmatic ap (...)
213The chronological reorganization of the matter considered here does not reveal any spectacular line of linear development. On the basis of the chart we can infer, however, that speculative grammarians and modists tend to ignore, or play down, the pragmatic or speech-action aspect in their analyses of linguistic meaning. And in this respect modists such as the Anonymous of Prague and the Anonymous C defend a much more radical position than a non-modist author such as pseudo-Kilwardby181.
2158.2. Due to the transformation of the “Austrian” AP into a heuristic filter, we are now in a better position to identify in the 13th- and 14th-century debates on the significatio vocum three thematic points structuring—sometimes explicitly, sometimes implicitly—the investigation, namely, the production of an artefact, the issue of its instrumental use, and the “external” or “concrete” effects of intentions.
- 182 It must also be pointed out that once opened, the heuristic door connecting the “Austrian” AP and 1 (...)
- 183 For two different perspectives on the topic, see for instance Ernst Topitsch (1958), Vom Ursprung u (...)
- 184 Another line of possible—and, we might add, desirable—further research gestures towards a speech-ac (...)
216Although there is no such a thing as a full-fledged AP at work in medieval philosophy of language, but rather a tangle of analogies, partial identities, experimental comparisons and sometimes extremely unequivocal claims, looking for an AP while perfectly knowing that there is none appears to be a promising way to fill in the blanks and discover connections hitherto unnoticed. In the same vein, there is nothing like Bühler’s quadrifolium in the 13th or 14th century. Yet the fact of deliberately dismantling it and looking for its dispersed pieces is another way to provide a “controlled alteration” of the traditional terms in which the debate about the cluster significatio/intentio was usually framed182. But none of these aspects of our “heuristic filter” can be labelled arbitrary. For the shadow of the Platonic-Aristotelian “artefactualism”, as it were183, can legitimately be seen casted on both, the Medieval and part of the Modern philosophical traditions, up to the “Austrians”. To be sure, to support such a claim would be the task for a study on its own184. For now, let us underscore the heuristic nature of our attempt, meant to provide historians of philosophy with a comparative frame which, in its very application, may help to reveal the way in which “Austrians” and Medieval authors alike tried to make sense of the cluster meaning/intention, literally, in terms of its making sense.