I am researching a humanist text, Johannes Matthaeus Phrissemius' preface to his edition of Rudolf Agricola's De inventione dialectica. In it, he contrasts the (in his opinion) useful topics contained in Agricola's work with the (again, in his opinion) abstruse and useless questions being debated in standard university textbooks of dialectic.

He complains about the person falsely termed a dialectician [dialecticus], "qui aliud nihil, qua[m] in umbra nugatur disputatq[ue] cotidie, ecquid tantum septem sint artes mechanicae, ecquid adiectiua appellent, ecquid terminus in propositione positus, possit supponere personaliter.”

And, while we're here, is "in umbra" an idiom? It occurs in a parallel passage describing the activity of the "true" dialectician:

"At dialectico, hoc est ei, qui probabili accurataq[ue] de re quauis uti uelit oratio[n]e, & in umbra ac schola discere ea,"

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1 Answer 1


Appellatio and suppositio are technical terms in medieval logic. The subject is quite complicated, but here's an oversimplified overview based on an important work in the subject: William of Sherwood's Introductiones in Logicam (free, but inaccurate, online version), c. 5: "De Proprietatibus Terminorum."

  • Appellatio (appellation; verb: appellate) is the "present fittingness of a term, i.e. the property according to which the thing signified by a term can be said of another by means of the word 'is'." (§5)

    praesens convenientia termini, i.e. proprietas secundum quam significatum termini potest dici de aliquo mediante hoc verbo ‘est’.

    He goes on to say that this property applies to substantive nouns, adjectives, and participles, but not to pronouns, verbs, and indeclinable particles (§8). Later on, in §48 ff, William of Sherwood will launch into a pretty technical discussion of different kinds of appellatio, often using the verb appellare. As the SEP linked above indicates, this term has a varied history.

  • Suppositio (supposition; verb: supposit) is (as the SEP article mentions) closer to the modern idea of "reference": how does the term refer? A very common division (though there are others) distinguishes [1] material supposition (e.g. "man is a monosyllable") from [2] formal supposition, which has two subkinds: [2.1] simple supposition (e.g. "man is a [logical] species") and personal supposition (e.g. "man is mortal").

To return to the phrase that the OP is trying to translate, an accurate translation would need to advert to the fact that this technical jargon is being used. In fact, translating out the jargon (as in the other answers) ends up obscuring Phrissemius's point. I suggest the following:

The "falsely named" dialectician,

...who [does] nothing besides talk nonsense in the dark and dispute daily, whether there are only seven mechanical arts, whether adjectives appellate, [or] whether a term located in a proposition can personally supposit.

  • 1
    This answer is far superior to mine, especially in explaining the requested terms, so I deleted my answer.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Oct 31, 2022 at 6:36

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