Medieval Philosophy and Theology

Richard Rufus on Naming Substances

a1 CNRS, Paris


Some names, specifically the proper names by which people are called, are considered “a mess” by at least one prominent contemporary philosopher. 1 Looking at the matter from the perspective of medieval philosophy, we might say that the reason such names are semantically ill-behaved is that the act of naming from which they d erive is not one of adequate naming. Moreover, supposing that all manner of beings, including people, are “things,” we might let adequate naming be governed by the following principle: an agent adequately names a thing if and only if, knowing its proper nature, she bestows a name on the thing by considering that nature. Obviously, on this principle, the acts of naming from which people in our societies derive their names are not acts of adequate naming.


1 Although I quote from a number of Rufus’s works, there are two on which this paper is primarily based, both written when Rufus was a master of Arts in Paris, before 1238. I refer to the first as the Urmetaphysics. The second is a two-part treatise which Professor Wood has called the Contra Averroem. The Urmetaphysics is Rufus’s first commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, only very recently discovered by Professor Wood. It is to be distinguished from his second Metaphysics commentary which I refer to as th e Main Metaphysics Commentary. The Contra Averroem is comprised of “De ideis” and “De causa individuationis,” of which “De ideis” deserves a special mention. Discovered by Professor Timothy Noone, it w as first transcribed by Noone and Wood in 1990. Recently, Professor Noone has kindly sent me a revised transcription, for which I am very grateful. This transcription is quoted here.With the exception of “De ideis,” all quotations from Rufus are based on transcriptions made or revised by Professor Wood. Citations will indicate the relevant folio numbers of the manuscript or manuscripts on which the transcription is based. The manuscript itself, when first referred to, will be identified by the name of the city in which the library which houses it is located, the abbreviated name of the library, and its codex number.“All in all, proper names are a mess and if it weren’t for the problem of how to get the kids to come fo r dinner, I’d be inclined to just junk them” (David Kaplan, “Dhat,” Syntax and Semantics, vol. 9, ed. Peter Cole; repr. in Contemporary Perspectives in the Philosophy of Language, ed. P. French et al. (Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1979, pp. 383–400, p. 386).