Theory of obligationes

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Obligationes or disputations de obligationibus were a medieval disputation format common in the 13th and 14th centuries, which had nothing to do with ethics or morals but rather with logical formalisms.[1] The name comes from the fact that the participants were "obliged" to follow the rules.[2] Several styles of disputations de obligationibus were distinguished in the medieval literature with the most widely studied being called "positio" (positing). "Obligational" disputations resemble recent theories of counterfactual reasoning and are believed to precede the modern practice of the academic "thesis defense." Obligationes also resembles a stylized, highly formalized, version of Socratic dialogues and precede other more modern dialogical accounts of logic such as Lorenzen games, Hintikka games and game semantics.

William of Ockham said Obligationes:

...consists of this that in the beginning some proposition has to be posited, and then propositions have to be proposed as pleases the opponent, and to these the respondent has to answer by granting or denying or doubting or distinguishing. When these answers are given, the opponent, when it pleases him, has to say: “time is finished”. This is, the time of the obligation is finished. And then it is seen whether the respondent has answered well or not.[3]


  1. ^ "Medieval Theories of Obligationes". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 
  2. ^ Uckelman, Sara L., 2011, "Interactive Logic in the Middle Ages"; Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation
  3. ^ William of Ockham, c.1323, Summa Logicae; 40, p.67


  • Ashworth, E. J. "Obligationes Treatises: A Catalogue of Manuscripts, Editions and Studies." Bulletin de Philosophie Médiévale 36, 1994, pp. 118-147.
  • Ekenberg, Thomas. "Order in Obligational Disputations." In: Medieval Forms of Argument: Disputation and Debate. Hrsg. Georgiana Donavin, Carol Poster, und Richard Utz. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002. S. 53-66.

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