History of Ancient Philosophy - Aristotle, De interpretatione: signification, truth and modality

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The course is primarily (though not exclusively) aimed at students who have a good command of ancient Greek.


Aristotle, De interpretatione: signification, truth and modality.

Aristotle’s De Interpretatione has exerted an enormous influence on the history of Western logic and philosophy of language. After a very controversial outline of the semantic relations between words, thoughts and objects, this short treatise goes on to offer concise treatments of various kinds of language unit, from names and verbs to phrases and complete sentences, and ends up focusing on the behaviour of pairs of contradictory sentences in relation to truth values (true and false) and modal notions (possible, impossible, necessary). The famous chapter 9 discusses the problematic connection between these issues and the problem of determinism in the case of sentences about future contingent events. 

We shall read and analyse the De interpretatione closely, working directly on the Greek text, and discuss all the philological and philosophical issues it poses. We shall take the ancient commentators into account and compare Aristotle’s views with those of other ancient philosophers (Plato, the Stoics and the Epicureans), on the one hand, and with contemporary philosophical debates on meaning, truth, and determinism, on the other. 

The course will have a continuation in the seminar for PhD students. 

Educational aims

The course will propose a detailed examination, in seminar form, of fundamental philosophical texts and issues from classical antiquity, considered from various points of view: historical genesis and fortune, conceptual substance, philological issues.

Bibliographical references

Critical editions:

  • Minio-Paluello, L. (ed.), Aristotelis Categoriae et Liber De Interpretatione (Oxford, 1949).
  • Weidemann, H. (ed.), Aristoteles, De interpretatione (ΠΕΡΙ ΕΡΜΗΝΕΙΑΣ) (Berlin and New York, 2014).

Translations and commentaries:

  • Ackrill, J.L., Aristotle: Categories and De interpretatione (Oxford, 1963).
  • Weidemann, H., Aristoteles: Peri hermeneias, 3rd edn (Berlin, 2014).

Further literature:

  • Crivelli, P., Aristotle on Truth (Cambridge, 2004).
  • Weidemann, H., De interpretatione, in C. Shields (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle (Oxford, 2012), 81–112.
  • Whitaker, C.W.A., Aristotle’s De interpretatione: Contradiction and Dialectic (Oxford, 1996).

More bibliographical information will be provided during the course.