Philosophy Medieval Logic
E. Jennifer Ashworth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0273


Medieval logic has wide geographical, linguistic, and chronological borders. Its origins are in ancient Greece, especially in the six books of Aristotle’s Organon, and the classical Greek tradition continued in the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire. It was handed on to the Latin-speaking West largely through the translations and commentaries of Boethius (d. c. 525), and was later handed on to the Islamic Empire through translations, first into Syriac and then into Arabic. These were used by Islamic and Jewish thinkers who in turn wrote their own commentaries and texts in Arabic, Judeo-Arabic, and Hebrew. Especially in the 12th and 13th centuries, a number of Arabic translations of Greek sources along with original Arabic works were translated into Latin and so were some original Greek sources. The Byzantine tradition largely came to an end in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople. More difficult to determine, however, is when medieval logic ended in the Latin-speaking West. Partly as a result of the Greek scholars who fled to Italy in the early 15th century, and the hitherto-unknown Greek texts they brought with them, there was a new emphasis on the use of classical Greek and Latin and a rejection of the specifically medieval developments in logic as barbarous. However, medieval logic and Renaissance humanist logic flourished side-by-side into the first decades of the 16th century, and even in the 17th century, remnants of medieval developments are still to be found in logic texts. This bibliography will deal briefly with the non-Latin traditions and with the Latin tradition to 1200, and will focus on the Latin tradition from 1200 to 1500. In addition to limitations of space, there are several reasons for this choice. First, so far as the rich Arabic tradition is concerned, scholarship in that area is less well developed than in scholarship concerning the Latin tradition. Second, in so far as the decision to focus on the period from 1200 to 1500 is concerned, this is the period in which universities and the studia of religious orders were established in Europe and placed logic at the heart of their curriculum. As a result, logical vocabulary and logical techniques of analysis are found in philosophical, scientific, and theological writing, and logical writings themselves contain important contributions to semantics, epistemology, and ontology. Sixteenth-century changes in university curricula would alter this situation. Moreover, this is the period in which the specifically medieval developments of supposition theory, consequences, insolubles, and obligationes would take place, the very developments that were the object of humanist scorn, and that disappeared until 20th-century logicians and philosophers once more recognized their importance.

General Overviews

Serious study of medieval logic and language began in a piecemeal fashion in the first half of the 20th century, when such scholars as Martin Grabmann began editing some of the many medieval logic manuscripts that had survived in European libraries. By 1962, when William and Martha Kneale published their groundbreaking work on the entire history of logic from Plato to Frege and beyond (The Development of Logic, Oxford: Clarendon), new developments in formal logic had alerted historians of logic to interesting parallels between medieval and 20th century logic, and since then, the number of editions, translations, and studies has increased exponentially. In some ways, this has made it more difficult than before to produce an overview of medieval logic, as there is so much material to be absorbed, as well as a realization that there is still much to be discovered. By far the most complete overview is found in Kretzmann, et al. 1982, along with the companion set of translations of medieval texts in Kretzmann and Stump 1988. The coverage in Gabbay and Woods 2008 is not as complete. Broadie 1993, Dutilh Novaes 2007, and Parsons 2014 do not provide genuine overviews, but they cover enough important issues to give the reader a taste for medieval logic.

  • Broadie, Alexander. Introduction to Medieval Logic. 2d ed. Oxford: Clarendon, 1993.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198240266.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is a readable book that gives a clear account of some basic topics, but despite the title, it focuses on the 14th century. Only the second edition should be used as it was substantially revised to remove errors and omissions in the first edition.

  • Dutilh Novaes, Catarina. Formalizing Medieval Logical Theories: Suppositio, Consequentiae and Obligationes. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This discussion of three key theories in medieval logic offers a clearly organized combination of historical material, drawn largely from the 14th century, with formal analyses based on a prior conceptual analysis.

  • Gabbay, Dov M., and John Woods, eds. Handbook of the History of Logic. Vol. 2, Mediaeval and Renaissance Logic. Amsterdam: North-Holland, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1016/S1874-5857(08)80020-9Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is more of a handbook than a history. There is full historical coverage to the end of the 12th century, and from the mid-14th century onward, but events during the long period from 1200 to the mid-14th century can only be partially reconstructed from essays on particular themes.

  • Kretzmann, Norman, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg, eds. The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1982.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHOL9780521226059Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    While this pioneering work is inevitably somewhat dated, it marks a milestone in the history of medieval logic. Seventeen of its forty-six chapters are devoted to logic and language, and all the relevant issues are covered by experts in the field. Views have changed on some questions, such as whether the Topics were absorbed into consequences.

  • Kretzmann, Norman, and Eleonore Stump, eds. The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts. Vol. 1, Logic and the Philosophy of Language. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

    Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    This is the only anthology devoted to medieval logic, and it is a companion to The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy. Although it largely draws on works not already translated, and on logicians from the 13th and 14th centuries, it provides a comprehensive coverage of the main topics. The translations are clear and readable.

  • Parsons, Terence. Articulating Medieval Logic. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199688845.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation » Share Citation »

    Parsons has not claimed to write an overview, or to present new scholarship, but he gives an interesting and original account of the formal structures of syllogistic and supposition theory without trying to force medieval logic into the straitjacket of modern symbolic logic. There is a good bibliography.

back to top

Your subscription doesn't include the subject of this book.