1902 Encyclopedia > Jean Buridan

Jean Buridan
French philosopher
(fl. 14th century AD)




JEAN BURIDAN, a celebrated philosopher who flourished in the 14th century, was born at Bethune in Artois, but in what year is not known. He studied at Paris under William of Occam, and became an ardent nominalist. The legend which represents him as having been involved, when a student, in the terrible drama of the Tour de Nesle has no discoverable historical basis. He long held the office of professor of philosophy in the university of Paris; in 1327 he was its rector; in 1345 he was deputed to defend its interests before Philip of Valois and at Rome. He was alive in 1358, but the year of his death has not been recorded. The tradition that he was forced to flee from France along with other nominalists, end that he settled in Vienna, and there founded the university in 1356, is unsupported by evidence and in contradiction to the fact that the university of Vienna was founded by Frederick II. in 1237. An ordinance of Louis XL, in 1473, directed against the nominalists, prohibited the reading of his works. These works treat of logic, metaphysics, physics, ethics, and politics; theology is deliberately avoided on the ground that it does not rest on reason alone, and does not proceed exclusively by argumenta- tion. In philosophy Buridan acknowledged no other authority than that of reason. He followed Occam in resolutely denying all objective reality to universals. He held that singulars or individuals alone exist, and that universals are mere words. " Genera et species non sunt nisi termini apud animam existentes vel etiam termini vocales aut scripti, qui non dicuntur genera aut species nisi secundum attributionem ad terminos mentales quos désig- nant." Occam had not gone so far. The chief aim of his logic is commonly represented as having been the devising of rules for the easy and rapid discovery of syllogistic middle terms,—the construction of a dialectical pons asinorum,—but there is nothing in his writings to warrant this representation. The parts of logic which he has treated with most minuteness and subtility are the doctrines of modal propositions and of modal syllogisms. In comment- ing on Aristotle's Nieomaehean Ethics he dealt in a very independent and interesting manner with the question of free will. The conclusions at which he arrived are remarkably similar to those long afterwards reached by John Locke. The only liberty which he ascribes to the soul is a certain power of suspending the deliberative process and determining the direction of the intellect. Otherwise the will is entirely dependent on the view of the mind, the last result of examination. The comparison of the will unable to act between two equally balanced motives to a hungry ass unable to eat between two equal and equidistant bundles of hay is not found in any of his works, and may have been invented by his opponents to ridicule his determinism. His works are—Summula de dialectica, 1487 ; Compendium logicœ, 1489 ; Quœstiones in viii. libros physicorum, &c, 1516;/» Arislotelis Metaphysica, 1518; Quœstiones in x. libros ethicorum Aristotelis, 1489 ; Quœstiones in viii. libros politicorum Aristotelis, 1500. There may be consulted regarding him, besides the general histories of philosophy, Bayle's Dictionary, art. " Buridan "; Prantl's Geschichte der Logik, bk. iv. 14-38 ; and Stb'ckl's Geschichte der Philosophie des Mittelalters, Bd. ii. 1023- 1028. (R, F.)









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