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Buridan, John (c.1300–after 1358)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-B022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

Unlike most other important philosophers of the scholastic period, John Buridan never entered the theology faculty but spent his entire career as an arts master at the University of Paris. There he distinguished himself primarily as a logician who made numerous additions and refinements to the Parisian tradition of propositional logic. These included the development of a genuinely nominalist semantics, as well as techniques for analyzing propositions containing intentional verbs and paradoxes of self-reference. Even in his writings on metaphysics and natural philosophy, logic is Buridan’s preferred vehicle for his nominalistic and naturalistic vision.

Buridan’s nominalism is concerned not merely with denying the existence of real universals, but with a commitment to economize on entities, of which real universals are but one superfluous type. Likewise, his representationalist epistemology accounts for the difference between universal and singular cognition by focusing on how the intellect cognizes its object, rather than by looking for some difference in the objects themselves. He differs from other nominalists of the period, however, in his willingness to embrace realism about modes of things to explain certain kinds of physical change.

Underlying Buridan’s natural philosophy is his confidence that the world is knowable by us (although not with absolute certainty). His approach to natural science is empirical in the sense that it emphasizes the evidentness of appearances, the reliability of a posteriori modes of reasoning and the application of certain naturalistic models of explanation to a wide range of phenomena. In similar fashion, he locates the will’s freedom in our evident ability to defer choice in the face of alternatives whose goodness appears dubious or uncertain.

Citing this article:
Zupko, Jack. Buridan, John (c.1300–after 1358), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-B022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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