The Medieval Review 17.12.19

Panaccio, Claude. Mental Language: From Plato to William of Ockham. Medieval Philosophy: Texts and Studies . Eds. Translated by Joshua P. Hochschield and Meredith K. Ziebart. New York: Fordham University Press, 2017. pp. xiii, 283.

Reviewed by:

Matteo Scozia
Università della Calabria

Mental Language: From Plato to William of Ockham is an English translation by Joshua P. Hochschild and Meredith K. Ziebart of Claude Panaccio's Le discours intérieur: De Platon à Guillaume d'Ockham. There are several reasons for considering the aforementioned monograph an essential one for academic debate. First of all, in recent years, scholars of ancient and medieval philosophy have offered reasons for believing that some philosophers from the classical period to the Middle Ages held theories of mental representation that seem markedly similar to the contemporary Language of Thought hypothesis. This assumption follows Anthony Kenny's general idea for which it is possible to identify more than one element connecting ancient and contemporary theoretical discussions. Second, focusing on the French-English translation, it is important to consider that until now there has been no English-language monograph that attempts to investigate the development of the given topic from Plato and Aristotle to William of Ockham and his contemporaries. In this field, no one has done more in order to understand the meaning of ancient and medieval theories of mental language than Panaccio. He dedicated several books and articles to the investigation of these medieval theories of mental language. He focused on the contribution of William of Ockham. However, this monograph allows scholars to understand in a unitarian way William of Ockham's philosophical sources, i.e. the origins of his theory of mental language that can be found in Plato, Aristotle and later patristic, early medieval and scholastic philosophers.

The volume consists of three parts and includes an all-new postscript from Panaccio, in which he reviews some important developments in scholarship that have appeared since the original publication of the French edition and also responds to a few of his critics. This postscript makes the English translation very useful, because it becomes more than a simple means of extending Panaccio's scholarship into the English-language academic world. It offers scholars a series of new parameters for furthering discussion and the investigation of the given topic.

In Part I, which consists of four chapters, Panaccio offers a discussion of what he defines 'the sources', i.e. the occurrence of expressions relating to 'interior discourse' from Plato and Aristotle to the tenth century. According to Panaccio, "the logos endiathetos of John Damascene, the verbum in corde of Augustine, and the oratio animi of Boethius" (11) represent different developments of the same philosophical sources, which sources can be found in Plato and Aristotle. These two ancient authors represent "the most remote sources of the idea of interior discourse" (26). Plato discusses this notion in four of his works (Sophist, Timaeus, Theaetetus and Cratylus). His main idea is that there is truth and falsity in interior thought as well as in discourse. By contrast, Aristotle discusses the idea of interior discourse in his Posterior Analytics, Categories and Organon and he defines it as the subject of neither hesitation nor justification. This is a very first level of the discussion in which "mental discourse is not yet articulated in a very explicit syntax, nor is the object of a semantic analysis of the compositional sort.... It will, however, take a long time for this theoretical requirement to be fully recognized by Aristotle's successors" (27 passim). One of these successors is John Damascene, a monk and preacher well known in Jerusalem. He wrote in Greek and discussed the problem of interior discourse by assuming the Greek general distinction between logos prophorikos (spoken discourse) and logos endiathetos (interior discourse). This distinction comes from a specific path that begins with the contribution of Stoicism and arrives to John Damascene through Philo of Alexandria and authors from Asia Minor between the second and sixth centuries. According to Panaccio, "what recurs consistently through all this is the idea of a purely intellectual discursivity" (56), that can be interpreted in a linguistic or a purely intellectual way. Actually, "the distinction between logos prophorikos and logos endiathetos in Greek philosophy was nothing other than the development...of some of the main ideas that Plato and Aristotle had advanced much earlier about interior discourse: the first had associated it with dianoia...and the second had made it the locus par excellence of the mental treatment of logical relations" (57 passim). The notion of interior speech played a primary role in the philosophical and theological work of Augustine of Hippo. He speaks about verbum in corde in regard to the Holy Trinity. This notion will influence the following medieval theories of verbum mentale and verbum mentis. Moreover, Augustine's discussion of verbum in corde was very useful in order to transpose the theme of logos endiathetos into the nascent Latin theology. In particular, "Augustine developed more fully than any of his predecessors the theory of the human soul that this comparison requires. With him, Trinitarian theology gave birth to a comprehensive and skillfully crafted spiritualist psychology in which the notion of interior speech occupies a key position" (77). Augustine verbum in corde will inspire the following medieval idea of verbum mentale or verbum mentis, i.e. the idea "of a mental representation linked to desire, conceived by the mind within itself when it thinks of something, and, above all, not in any language; a sense, in other words, that the mind produces within itself by the act of thought" (77). Boethius represents the main source assumed by Ockham for his theory of oratio mentalis. In particular, in his second commentary on the Perihermenias, Boethius reaffirms the idea that in the mind there are structured expressions, sentences, a discourse; in short, all that in the Organon is called logos (becoming oratio, in Boethius). This approach will be reinforced by the Latin translation of two other Neoplatonic commentaries: Ammonius's commentary on Perihermenias and Simplicius's commentary on the Categories.

The analysis of the aforementioned sources directs the discussion to the second part of the book, concerning the controversies between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. In particular, Panaccio focuses on debates concerning mental representation in the period from Anselm of Canterbury to John Duns Scotus. The main arguments of this period were "the ontological status of the mental word--ardently discussed at the end of the thirteenth century and beginning of fourteenth--the relation between the sign and the interior concept--a magna altercation, according to Duns Scotus--and, crucial for our study, the very object of logic as a scientific discipline" (103). All of these topics imply a theoretical approach to the status of mental language, which approach had not yet been perceived as a problem during the previous centuries. In particular, a crucial point can be individuated on Anselm of Canterbury's Monologion and other related texts that introduce various classifications of different senses of the word verbum. Yet, there is the introduction "of a new notion of mental discourse (sermo in mente or sermo internus), this time corresponding to the representation of spoken words in the intellect and no longer only in the imagination" (104). The Anselmian heritage brings at least three different notion of interior speech into the academic debate of the thirteenth century. "First, the mental word of Augustinian stock...was not at all linguistic, and Anselm, like a number of his successors, did not hesitate to identify it with the order or 'similitudes' the mind forges of exterior things.... Second, there is the imaginatio vocis, which is to say, the representation of the sensible word in the imagination as an active power.... Finally, there is the quite specialized notion of sermo order to explain how something like signification could be attributed to a mere noise uttered by the voice" (119-120 passim). This background implied, "in the last decades of the thirteenth century and the beginning of the fourteenth, the question of the mental word and the necessity of conjoing Augustine and Aristotle in a theory of cognition" (137); thus, this necessity "provided an occasion for rich philosophical debate regarding the nature and import of conceptual representation" (137-138). In this regard, Panaccio discusses Aquinas's attempt to locate mental words posited by Augustine within the psychological faculties of Aristotle's De Anima and then gives a detailed review of criticisms and defenses of Aquinas's teaching in the succeeding decades by several authors (such as Henry of Ghent, Peter John Olivi, Thomas Sutton, John Duns Scotus, etc.). Moreover, in the same period analyzed in chapter 6, we can find debates concerning how words and concepts signify their significates and whether the things thus signified are external to the mind or not. This is the topic of chapter 7, while in chapter 8--by examining "a selection of texts taken from logic treatises by important authors (Roger Bacon, John Duns Scotus, and Walter Burnley, among others)" (159)--Panaccio tries to answer questions such as "what precisely, was logic about? Where can we locate whatever repeatable unity logic requires in order to be a theory of something? Is it words, concepts, or some other entities of a special nature? What sort of thing, after all, could be predicated of another? What are the ultimate bearers of truth-value? And what, in the last analysis, are syllogisms composed of?" (159). According to the author, "these questions about philosophy of logic...were occasion for sophisticated deployment of the theme of interior discourse" (159 passim).

Lastly, chapters 9 and 10 constitute the third part of the book in which Panaccio discusses the role of Ockham and his contemporaries. In particular, after an overview of Ockham's theory of mental language, the author discusses the development of mental language theories after Ockham. One of the main merit of the venerabilis inceptor was "to have systematically transposed to the analysis of nonlinguistic discursive thought the grammatical and semantic categories that the science of his time employed in the study of spoken or written language" (196). In regard to the problem on the nature of the units, Ockham identifies "these units with acts of intellect. But the important thing...was that they were signs, divided into grammatical categories and endowed with signification or connotation, capable especially of suppositing in propositions for those singular beings that populate the world.... Finely structured mental propositions could thus play at once the roles of primary objects of knowledge and belief, privileged bearers of truth-value, and deep semantic structures for sentences of spoken language" (196-197 passim). If, at the beginning of his career, Ockham accepted the hypothesis of ficta to serve as subjects or predicates of the propositions in question--instead of the real universals Walter Burley felt obliged to posit--in his later doctrine he abandon this assumption for a specific idea: "intellectual acts, thus connected to exterior individuals in the world, could assume, just like enunciations, all the semantic functions required for compositional analysis, in particular that of suppositio" (197). William of Ockham's followers can be divided between those that refuse his notion of an interior discourse really composed of concepts not in any language (such as Hugh Lawton, William Crathorn and Gregory of Rimini) and those that endorsed in its general outlines the Ockhamist approach of oratio mentalis without sharing all of its particular theses regarding the exact syntactic or semantic structure of this interior discourse (such as Walter Chatton, John Buridan, Albert of Saxony and others).

At the end of this detailed analysis of Panaccio's book we can say this is a very well-structured study on a fundamental philosophical topic. The accuracy of the analyses and the appropriate use of the ancient and medieval sources allowed the author to produce a useful tool for those scholars interested in the problem of mental language. Furthermore, although the book was already published in its original French, this translation represents a greater opportunity of access for the majority of scholars around the world. Moreover, both the high quality of the translation, the essential postscript written by Panaccio himself, and the sixteen pages of bibliography contribute to make this work a useful and innovative one in the field of the history of medieval philosophy. We warmly recommend scholars to study this book. In our opinion, this is a work that should not be absent in the library of a scholar of medieval studies.

Copyright (c) 2018 Matteo Scozia

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