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ISSN 0869-5377
The Logos Journal

The “Speculative Grammar” of Thomas of Erfurt and Modern Thought: the Case of Charles Sanders Pierce’s Semiotics


About author:
Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy of Religion and Religious Studies, Faculty of Philosophy, Lomonosov Moscow State University (MSU). Address: 27 Lomonosovsky ave., Bldg 4, GSP-1, 119991 Moscow, Russia.

The author compares the speculative grammar of Charles Sanders Peirce and that of Thomas of Erfurt in order to find possible parallels between them. As is well known, Pierce was interested in medieval logic and philosophy, including the ideas presented in the Treatise On the Modes of Signification by Thomas of Erfurt (in Pierce’s time, this treatise was known as Speculative Grammar and mistakenly attributed to Duns Scotus). Pierce cited this work and even gave the title of speculative grammar to one part of his semiotics. In that regard it is notable that the structure of Peirce’s semiotics reflects the structure of the medieval Trivium—a complex of “language sciences,” which included grammar, logic and rhetoric. On the other hand, Peirce sometimes described his speculative grammar as a “theory of knowledge” and this fact dramatically separates him from the medieval tradition. Likewise, certain elements of Peirce’s grammar are more like Kant’s categories than Thomas of Erfurt’s “modes of signification.” Therefore, the main problem the article deals with can be described as follows: do we see in this particular case an accidental and incoherent usage of medieval terminology, or did Thomas’ treatise have a real influence on Pierce’s work? The article concludes that the grammatical tradition of the Middle Ages has had an influence on the semiotics of Peirce, but that this influence was very limited and affected only a few formal aspects. As for the essence of Pierce’s speculative grammar, it is rather a creative development of the philosophical and logical tradition of Modernity.

Keywords: Charles Sanders Pierce; Thomas of Erfurt; speculative grammar; logic; linguistics; semiotics

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