Birthplace: Béthune, France
Cause of death: unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Executive summary: Buridan's Ass
Jean Buridan, in Latin Joannes Buridanus, French philosopher, was born at Béthune in Artois between 1297 and 1300. He studied in Paris under William of Ockham. He was professor of philosophy in the university of Paris, was rector in 1327, and in 1345 was deputed to defend its interests before Philip of Valois and at Rome. He was more than sixty years old in 1358, but the year of his death is not recorded. The tradition that he was forced to flee from France along with other nominalists, and founded the university of Vienna in 1356, is unsupported and in contradiction to the fact that the university was founded by Frederick II in 1237. An ordinance of Louis XI, in 1473, directed against the nominalists, prohibited the reading of his works. In philosophy Buridan was a rationalist, and followed Ockham in denying all objective reality to universals, which he regarded as mere words. The aim of his logic is represented as having been the devising of rules for the discovery of syllogistic middle terms; this system for aiding slow-witted persons became known as the pons asinorum. The parts of logic which he treated with most minuteness are modal propositions and modal syllogisms. In commenting on Aristotle's Ethics he dealt in a very independent manner with the question of free will, his conclusions being remarkably similar to those of John Locke. The only liberty which he admits 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 an ass dying of hunger between two equal and equidistant bundles of hay is not found in his works, and may have been invented by his opponents to ridicule his determinism. That he was not the originator of the theory known as "liberty of indifference" (liberum arbitrium indifferentiae) is shown in G. Fonsegrive's Essai sur le libre arbitre (1887). His works are Summula de dialectica (Paris, 1487); Compendium logicae (Venice, 1489); Quaestiones in VIII libros physicorum (Paris, 1516); In Aristotelis Metaphysica (1518); Quaestiones in X libros ethicorum Aristotelis (Paris, 1489; Oxford, 1637); Quaestiones in VIII libros politicorum Aristotelis (1500).
University: University of Paris
Professor: Philosophy, University of Paris
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