Semiotics and medieval theologies. Terminology, encyclopedias and texts

Principal Investigator - Prof.  Costantino Marmo


The research group is engaged in the study of the use and definition of central terms for the history of semiotics that date back to the medieval tradition (signumsymbolumcharacterfiguraimagovestigiummodus significanditerminusrelatioconnotatiosecondaria significatiodistans et indistanssuppositio, etc.).

The history of semiotics, in its connection with medieval philosophy (in particular with the philosophy of theology and the divine mind) often runs the risk of looking in the past for only what appears to be an anticipation of contemporary theories. By contrast, this group intends to understand old semiotic theories and practices “iuxta propria principia”, in its own proper terms, without avoiding any comparisons with contemporary theories, but rather reading the old theories in the context of the encyclopedia of which they are expressions.

Hence the group is committed to the reconstruction of the system of theories from which semiotics, philosophy of language and philosophy of knowledge have emerged, but also of the sources from which medieval authors draw and of their reception within a certain culture both in a synchronic and diachronic sense.

Staff members

Francesco Bellucci

Associate Professor

Riccardo Fedriga

Associate Professor

In particular, the two main lines of research are:

  1. A study of the medieval reception of Aristotle’s Categories, and more in general the whole Ars vetus (Porphyry’s Introduction, Aristotle’s Categories and De interpretatione). Over the centuries, with the establishment of philosophical schools, monastic schools, and universities, a considerable amount of texts was centered upon the Ars vetus, which contained reflections on semantics, ontology, and metaphysics, well before the Latin translation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and of the so-called Ars nova (the remaining books of Aristotle’s Organon). The reflection on relationships, in particular, was the basis for the elaboration of the theories of sign in the Middle Ages, leading to definitions and classifications of extreme theoretical interest also for contemporaneity (such as the theory of intentionality, paronymy and semiotic inference). 

  2. A study of prophecies, signs and mental language between the thirteenth and the fourteenth century. The theme of prophecy crosses, in the course of medieval thought, different traditions, which are not only those relating to the great “Book religions”, but which belong to the historical phases of a theological debate that moves from the exegetical and apologetic approach, proper to the old-testament and patristic reflections, to a survey that in the thirteenth century, with authors such as Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, focuses on the faculties of the soul and on the very status of prophecy, in the wake of Arabic noetics and the recovery of the Aristotelian psychology. The research intends to show the functional shift of the term to the investigation of the pragmatic value of prophetic utterances, the values ​​of truth and the rules of a logic of belief (“logica fidei”). In this context, the prophetic propositions become the product of a practical science that has the pragmatic function of indicating to the viator how to combine terms and propositions of mental language to approach divine simplicity and to realize the providential plan that God foresees for him.

Finally, part of the research is dedicated to the study, according to the techniques of “distant reading” through the lens of contemporary notion of the philosophy of religion of terms such as hard and soft facts, internalism and externalism, fixity of the present and eternalism.

The group operates through various actions: organization of research seminars, publication of volumes and scientific articles, participation in international conferences and projects and (traditional and digital) editions of texts.


  • SH5_11 - Cultural heritage, cultural memory
  • SH5_6 - Philosophy, history of philosophy

Among their main publications:

  • Bellucci; C. Marmo (2018) “Sign and Demonstration in Late Ancient Commentaries on the Posterior Analytics”. Cahiers de l’Institut du Moyen-Âge Grec et Latin 87, pp. 1–34. ISSN 0591-0358
  • Bellucci (2018) “Signs and Demonstration in Aristotle”. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (3), pp. 410–428. ISSN: 0960-8788