Crítica, Revista Hispanoamericana de Filosofía, Volume 12, number 36, December 1980
La doctrina tomista clásica sobre el signo: Domingo de Soto, Francisco de Araújo y Juan de Santo Tomás
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Mauricio Beuchot
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

Abstract: This article attempts to make a synthesis on the classic Thomist reflection on the sign. Our study focuses on what is known as “the Thomist Reinassance” of the 16th and 17th centuries. In our opinion this is best represented by Domingo de Soto, Francisco de Araújo, and Juan de Santo Tomás née Juan Poinsot. Because of both the chronology and school affiliations, we are presenting the authors and their respective problems in order of succession and importance. Although explicit references are not numerous, we can perceive, respectively, Poinsot´s debt to the doctrine of Araújo´s to that of Soto. Soto was the great logician and theorist of the sign; Araújo, the conscientious analyst and critic; and Poinsot, the excellent systematizer of problems, polemics, and conclusions. The famous adage circulating in the Spanish universities of the time (especially in Salamanca) referred to Soto: “qui scit Sotum, scit totum”; Araújo called him “magister noster”, and Poinsot quoted him with great esteem. The sequence among these thinkers is therefore apparent.
The reflection on the sign encompassed various fields: ontology, logic, psychology, and epistemology; but here we will be primarily concerned with the ontological and logical aspects.
The relational character of the ontology of the sign must be insisted upon, much as Peirce has done a long time afterwards. The sign maintains a relationship with the thing signified and with the cognitive faculty. Numerous problems arise in specifying the type of reltionship the sign has with each of these correlates. The three thinkers struggle to explain the ontological relationship implied by the sign.
The classification of the various types of signs, then, is very interesting. It is extensive and complicated, but it does show us our thinkers´ lucidity with respect to the multiple modalities of signification.
The properties of each sign, distinct and characteristic, were also examined in terms of their own nature, since the different nature of each type of sign makes for different properties. The authors considered the many difficulties inherent in the division of signs and in differentiating among them according to their respective properties.
As to the logic of the sign, we find that these philosophers did a study that we, today, would not hesitate to call “semiotic”. They explain and ponder the functions of the sign as the basis for all instruments of logic: in the order of terms, in the order of propositions, and in the order of inferences. It should be noted that they paid careful attention to syntax, semantics, and pragmatics.
We find impotant observations —although still in incipient and rudimentary form— on the pragmatic aspect of the sign. They also offer us a great wealth of syntactical and semantic considerations. Above all, in the semantics sector, a strong realism is evident, easily on a par with contemporary developments. In addition, there are some psychological and epistemological theories on the sign that these authors work with.
In conclusion, recent research on the subject of the comparison between scholastic logic and contemporary logic has demonstrated how little we know about the former and the many lessons it could teach the latter, since it elaborates a profoundly philosophical reflection on the phenomenon of the sign.
[M.B.]
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