Query: formido oppositi?

Here, as promised earlier, is another query from me that I hope will encourage others to send me their own queries this summer:

Might anyone have information on the origins of the notion of ‘formido oppositi’ ?  Among Latin scholastic authors, it’s regularly said to be the defining feature of opinion, but where does this come from?

(The best way to respond, I might add, is to “leave a reply,” below.)


2 comments on “Query: formido oppositi?

  1. Nicolas Faucher says:

    Working on faith in the 13th century, I have found many occurrences of this expression, given that the absence of such a ‘formido’ is what separates faith from opinion.

    The earliest occurrences I have found of similar expressions appear in Alexander of Hales’ well-known Summa (“[…] opinio est acceptio unius partis cum formidine alterius […].”) as well as in his earlier Glossa in Quattuor Libros Sententiarum (“[…] opinio, quae est acceptio cum formidine […].”) The first is a collective work but, as far as I know, Alexander wrote the Glossa alone.

    The idea of defining faith as opposed to opinion in this respect can be traced back at least to Hugh of St-Victor, with his definition of faith as it is found in the De Sacramentis Christianae Fidei : “Fidem esse certitudinem quamdam […] supra opinionem et infra scientiam constitutam.” He proceeds to define “opinantes” as those who “in iis quae audiunt alteram quamcunque partem eligunt ad existimationem, sed non approbant ad affirmationem. Quamvis enim unum ex duobus magis probabile intelligunt, utrum tamen adhuc idipsum verum sit asserere non praesumunt […]” The idea of having no presumption towards such an assertion could be likened to the idea of fearing that the opposite could be true.

    More than that, I cannot say but I would be very glad to know if you find other informations on the topic.

  2. Deborah Black sent me this reply via email:

    As with all things important in medieval philosophy, the origin is, of course, Avicenna! In De anima V.1 of the Avicenna Latinus, there is the following definition of opinio: opinio vero est conceptio ad quam acceditur cum formidine alterius partis (Van Riet vol. 2, p. 79).

    Things are a bit complicated, however, since the Latin translation doesn’t quite render the Arabic, and Avicenna himself doesn’t use his standard vocabulary for “knowledge” (ʿilm) and “opinion” (ẓann), although that’s clearly what he has in mind. He instead contrasts “belief” (raʾy), defined as “certain conviction” (iʿtiqād majzūm), and opinion. (Normally raʾy is a generic term of which both ʿilm and ẓann are species. The Latin is rendering raʾy as sententia). Nor does he use the standard technical term for “certain” here, which would be yaqīnī. So that may have confused the translators.

    There is also a slight alteration in the definition of opinio/ẓann: the Arabic doesn’t have “fear,” but rather, “possibility”: “opinion is the belief to which one inclines while allowing the possibility of the second extreme.” The substitution seems to result from the orthography of the Arabic text. The reading in the Rahman edition is تجويز (tajwīz)= possibility; the Latin translators seem to have read تخويف (takhwīf)= causing fear. Van Riet has a useful summary on p. 79, n. 46; you can see how the two words could easily be confused.

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