Paul of Venice

views updated Jun 08 2018


(b. Udine, Italy, ca. 1370; d. Padua, Italy, 15 June 1429)

natural philosophy, logic.

Christened Paolo Nicoletti da Udine, Paul of Venice was a highly respected scholar and leader of the Hermits of St. Augustine. He was the son of Nicoletto di Venezia, a noble citizen of Udine, and his wife Elena. Paul received his early religious and literary training at the monastery of St. Stephen in Venice. In 1390 the Augustinian order sent him for university training to Oxford, where he studied both natural philosophy and terminist logic and seems to have been influenced by Ockhamism. But his sympathies seem to have lain primarily with the Averroists, although he also adopted some doctrines of earlier Augustinians, especially Gregory of Rimini. After a fairly brief period at Oxford, Paul apparently studied at Paris, where he likely knew and studied with Pierre d’Ailly, a leading nominalist of the period.

Paul returned to Italy about 1395, and although little is known of his activities for nearly twelve years after that date, he must have been occupied with preaching and lecturing, since by 1408 he had already acquired a considerable reputation. In that year he was listed among the masters at Padua.

In 1413 Paul served briefly as Venetian ambassador to the king of Poland, and during the next two years, he lectured at Siena, Bologna, and Paris. In 1415 he was summoned before the Venetian Council of Ten, apparently on a charge of having interrupted his lectures at Padua in order to lecture elsewhere. He was ordered not to travel outside Venice for a year. In 1416 he was allowed to leave Venice, on the condition that he not attend the Council of Constance. He returned to Padua, where he remained for three years.

Most of Paul’s work was written between 1409 and 1417; and because of his growing reputation as a philosopher, in 1417 the friars of his convent received the rare honor of being entitled to wear the black beret reserved for patricians of Venice. In 1420, when he was elected prior provincial of Siena and of the province of Marche Tarvisine, he was at the height of his fame. He was accorded such honorific titles as monarcha sapientiae, summus Italiae philosophus, and Aristotelis genius.

Paul’s fame apparently carried with it a certain immunity. In 1420 a dispute with a Friar Francesco Porcerio led to a trial for heresy, and in that same year he was again summoned before the Council of Ten and exiled to Ravenna, where he was ordered to remain for at least five years. Neither of these difficulties seems to have affected his fortunes, and he simply ignored the sentence of the Council. In 1421 he was reelected prior provincial of Marche Tarvisine, and in 1422 he became regent at the Siena convent. He was deputed to lecture at Bologna in May 1424, moved to Perugia in November of that year, and was granted a faculty to visit Rome in 1426. In 1427 he was a professor at Siena, and he was rector of the university during 1428.

On 16 June 1428 Paul’s petition to return to Padua was granted, and a year later he died and was buried there. The cause of his death is unknown.

Although Paul was widely known as a prominent rationalist with Averroist tendencies, and although his work in natural philosophy was widely read, his real importance seems to have been primarily in the field of logic. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, his Logica was inscribed in the list of required texts at Venice, Padua, and Ferrara. And his logic remained widely read in many parts of Italy even until near the end of the seventeenth century, when it was still used as a text in Jesuit schools.

Paul’s four logical works—although not markedly original—probably constitute the most thorough and encyclopedic exposition of the so-called terminist logic written during the Middle Ages. He seems to have read and thoroughly digested the most important logical work since Peter of Spain, and one finds in his writings, presented with admirable clarity, order, and understandings, almost all of the important concepts, problems, and proposed solutions of problems of terminist logic. His Logica is undoubtedly his most important and enduring contribution.

Paul’s work in natural philosophy, on the other hand, is much less impressive in every respect. Although he wrote extensively in both natural philosophy and geology, his work seems to be wholly derivative and eclectic in a not very discriminating fashion.

In approaching Paul’s work in natural philosophy, Duhem has shown the importance of distinguishing clearly between the early Expositio super octo phisicorum (completed in 1409) and the later Summa naturalium.1 In the Expositio, Paul revealed himself as an orthodox Averroist not only on the question of the unicity of the agent intellect, but also on other issues. By the time of the Summa, he had moved away from Averroës in important respects and located his primary influences among the Parisian natural philosophers of the fourteenth century. In part this move away from Averroës can probably be explained as an attempt to maintain the orthodox position on God’s omnipotence, as expressed in the 1277 condemnations. Thus when in the Summa Paul admitted the logical possibility of an actually infinite magnitude, while still maintaining that such a magnitude cannot occur in nature, he did not merely abandon Averroës to follow Albert of Saxony, but he also affirmed an accepted condition of divine omnipotence.2 The same must be said of his admission that God could move the entire universe.3 Paul often attempted unsuccessfully to reconcile Averroistic positions with the assertion of divine omnipotence. For example, he continued to uphold a notion of absolute place (he calls it locus situalis) as a relation of objects to the center of the universe, even though he had abandoned the notion of an immobile earth as the center of the universe and treated the center merely as a geometrical point.4

At least some of the shifts in Paul’s positions should be treated as genuine changes of opinion, not merely as efforts at orthodoxy. A good example is the change in his view of projectile motion. In the Expositio, he takes the view that a projectile, after losing contact with the projecting instrument, is carried by successive waves of air.5 For this view Paul found support not only in Aristotle and Averroës, but also in Walter Burley, a realist and terminist who remained with the standard Peripatetic position. In the Summa he had come to accept an account of projectile motion in terms of an “impetus” imparted to the object by the projecting instrument, a theory most importantly linked with Jean Buridan.6 While this does seem to reflect a genuine change of opinion, it is also a good example of Paul’s eclecticism. Although he supported his new view in language reminiscent of Buridan and Albert of Saxony, and although he followed Buridan’s and Albert’s arguments in extending the theory of the impetus to account for the acceleration of freely falling bodies,7 the version of the theory that he accepted is not Buridan’s but a version usually associated with the Scotist Francis of Marchia. For Buridan the impetus transferred to the projectile would keep it moving indefinitely, were it not for the resistance of the air. Paul followed Francis of Marchia in explaining the tendency of the projectile to lose velocity by the view that the impetus, since it is not natural to the projectile but is impressed on it by violence, is gradually lost as the motion continues.

As Duhem has shown, Paul’s work is repeatedly marred by elementary confusions. Thus in the Expositio, after attributing projectile motion to the push of air, he wrote about how much further a projectile would move in a void.8 In attempting to defend Aristotle against Ockham’s view that motion is identical with the thing moved, he used an argument based on the possibility of God’s removing all form from prime matter and then moving the prime matter, hardly a defense that Aristotle would have appreciated.9

When we turn to Paul’s geological theories in his De compositione mundi, the judgment must be much the same. Despite the fact that the intervening century and a half had witnessed both important theoretical advances and a number of significant discoveries and empirical observations, Paul’s work is heavily dependent on the Composizione del mondo of Ristoro (written in 1282). Duhem goes so far as to characterize Paul as no more than a plagiarist of Ristoro.10 Thus he not merely copied Ristoro’s accounts of the origin of mountains and rivers and of the Mediterranean Sea, failing to take account of the discoveries of Marco Polo and others, but he even failed to include some of Ristoro’s most interesting observations, such as the presence of fossils high on mountains.11 Furthermore, Paul continued to rely heavily on astrological arguments and failed to take account of the strong antiastrological arguments of earlier philosophers such as Oresme.

Although Paul undoubtedly aided in the dissemination of Parisian natural philosophy in Italy, he should probably not be accounted an important figure in medieval science.


1. Duhem, Études sur Léonard de Vinci, vol. III, p. 104.

2. Paul of Venice, Summa naturalium Aristotelis, pt. II (De caelo et mundo), 7.

3.Ibid., pt. VI (Metaphysica), sec. 37.

4. Paul of Venice, Expositio super octo phisicorum libros Aristotelis, book IV, tract I, ch. 3, pt. 2, note 6.

5.Ibid., pt. I.

6. Paul of Venice, Summa naturalium Aristotelis, pt. II (De caelo et mundo), sec. 22.

7.Ibid pt. I (physica), sec. 32.

8. Paul of Venice, Expositio super octo phisicorum libros Aristotelis, book VII, tract II, ch. 2, pt. 1.

9.Ibid., book III, tract I, ch. 3, dubium secundum.

10. P. Duhem, Le système du monde, vol. IV, pp. 199–210, esp. pp. 209–210, where Duhem compares a number of passages from Paul and Ristoro. See also L. Thorndike, Science and Thought in the Fifteenth Century, pp. 195–232.

11. Paul of Venice, De compositione mundi, esp. chs. 18–27.


I. Original Works. Paul’s most important works on logic and natural philosophy are Logica (Bologna, [?], 1472; Venice, 1475, 1478, 1480, 1485, 1488, 1492, 1493, 1498, 1565; Milan, 1474, 1478, 1484); Expositio super libros de generatione et corruptione (Perugia, 1475 [?]’ Venice, 1498); Summa naturalium Aristotelis (Venice, 1476, 1503; Milan, 1476; Paris, 1514, 1521); Expositio in libros Posteriorum Aristotelis (Venice, 1477, 1481, 1486, 1491, 1494, 1518); Quadratura (Pavia, 1483; Venice, 1493; Paris, 1513); Sophismata (Pavia, 1483; Venice, 1493; Paris, 1514); Universalia predicamenta sexque principia (Venice, 1494); De compositione mundi (Venice, 1498); Expositio super octo phisicorum libros Aristotelis (Venice, 1499); Logica magna (Venice, 1499); and In libros de anima (Venice, 1504).

II. Secondary Literature. On Paul and his work, see I. M. Bochenski, History of Formal Logic (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1961); P. Duhem, Études sur Léonard de Vinci, II (Paris, 1955), 319–327, and index in vol. III; P. Duhem, Le système du monde, IV (Paris, 1954), 199–210, and vol. X (Paris, 1959), 377–439; A. B. Emden, A Biographical Register of Oxford University, III (Oxford, 1959), 1944–1945, which contains a bibliography; A. Maier, An der Grenze von Scholastik und Naturwissenschaft (Essen, 1943), p. 207; A. Maier, Zwei Grundprobleme der scholastischen Naturphilosophie, 2nd ed. (Rome, 1951), 273–274; F. Momigliano, Paolo Veneto e le correnti de pensiero religioso e filosofico nel tempo suo (Udine, 1907); D. A. Perini, Bibliographia Augustiniana, III (Florence, 1929–1938), 29–46, contains biographical note and bibliography; and L. Thorndike, Science and Thought in the Fifteenth Century (New York, 1929), 195–232.

T. K. Scott, Jr.

Paul of Venice (1369–1429)

views updated May 23 2018


Paolo Nicoletto Veneto joined the Hermits of St. Augustine as a boy and later taught at the Augustinian convent and the University of Padua for most of his life. The order's Register lists him at the Studium in Oxford from 1390 to 1393 where he studied theology but not logic, as often believed. Briefly, he served as prior general of the Augustinian order and later as ambassador to Cracow, Poland. In 1420, he was implicated in sedition against the Venetian Republic, was banished, and spent his last years in Siena and Perugia.

More than twenty works, extant in some 270 manuscripts, are attributed to him, but Paul's authorship of some of those works is questionable. His popular Logica Parva transmitted elementary Oxford logic to Italy. His Lectura super librum Posteriorum Analyticorum and Summa Naturalium were similarly important for conveying the Oxford style of scientific investigation to Italy. Judged by the number of manuscripts, other works had less influence, for example, Lectura super librum de Anima.

The Logica Magna, a gigantic work (200 folios) attributed to Paul, exists in only one manuscript and two fragments. This encyclopedic album covers most topics of scholastic logic that were disputed at Oxford in the last half of the fourteenth century. Its author undoubtedly took part in those debates that occurred while Paul was yet unborn or still a youth. With few exceptions, inconsistencies of doctrine, rules, and examples between Logica Magna and Logica Parva, as well as other factors, make it highly unlikely that they were written by the same person.

Logica Parva contains the core of scholastic logic that remained resilient against Humanist criticism well into the modern world. Focusing on logical form, it distinguishes between the logical signs (e.g., of affirmation/negation, of quantification, of conjunction, disjunction and implication) and nonlogical signs (ordinary nouns and verbs) of a language. Next, it gives inference rules (consequentia ) keyed to the logical signs. Finally, it supports a truth-conditional concept of truth in which the truth of a sentence is decidable in virtue of its logical form. Material supposition serves as a quotational device within a meta language where any sentence of the object language can be quoted. Translation is understood as the substitution of one sentence for another in virtue of their common logical form and comparable nonlogical terms.

Paul of Venice organized and conveyed Oxford learning to Italy in the early fifteenth century. Humanists who urged a return to classical Latin usage and condemned the barbari britanni undoubtedly had works like his in mind, but few humanists read or understood them. Lorenzo Valla's Dialectica criticizes the logica vetus of Boethius but ignores the logica moderna. J. L. Vives rejects sophismata as a pedagogical method in Adversus pseudodialecticos but retains Scholastic concepts under a neoclassical nomenclature in De artibus.

See also Augustinianism; Boethius, Anicius Manlius Severinus; Humanism; Logic, History of; Philosophy of Science, History of.


primary sources

Logica Magna. Tractatus de suppositionibus, edited and translated by A. R. Perreiah. St. Bonaventure NY: Franciscan Institute, 1971.

Logica Magna. Part II, Fascicule 6: Tractatus de Veritate et Falsitate Propositionis, Tractatus de SignificatoPropositionis, edited by Francesco Del Punta, translated by Marilyn McCord Adams, 1978; Part I, Fascicule 1: Tractatus de Terminis, edited and translated by Norman Kretzmann, 1979; Part I, Fascicule 7: Tractatus de scire et dubitare, edited and translated by Patricia Clark, 1981; Part II, Fascicule 8: Tractatus de Obligationibus, edited and translated by E. Jennifer Ashworth, 1988; Part II, Fascicule 3: Tractatus de Hypotheticis, edited and translated by Alexander Broadie, 1990; Part II, Fascicule 4: Capitula de Conditionali et de Rationali, edited and translated by G. E. Hughes, 1990; Part I, Fascicule 8: Tractatus de necessitate et contingentia futurorum, edited and translated by C. J. F. Williams, 1991. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

modern editions

Ruello, F., ed. Paulus Venetus, Super Primum Sententiarum Johannis de Ripa Lecturae Abbreviatio. Firenze: Leo S. Olschki, 1980.

Perreiah, A. R. trans. Paulus Venetus Logica Parva, (an English translation of the 1472 edition with introductory essay and notes). Munich: Philosophia Verlag, 1984.

Perreiah, A. R., ed. Paulus Venetus Logica Parva, First Critical Edition from the Manuscripts with Introduction and Commentary. Leiden, NY: E. J. Brill, 2002. Bibliography, pp. 301310.

secondary sources

Conti, Alessandro D. Esistenza e Verita: Forme e strutture del reale in Paolo Veneto e nel pensiero filosofico del tardo medioevo. Roma: Istituto Storico Italiano per il Medio Evo, 1996. Bibliography, pp. 301316.

Perreiah, A. R. Paul of Venice: A Bibliographical Guide. Bowling Green, OH: Philosophy Documentation Center, 1986.

Alan R. Perreiah (2005)