Buridan's Logical Works. I. An Overview of the Summulae de dialectica

"In this essay, I wish to question the view that the distinction between medieval and early modern philosophy is primarily one of method. I shall argue that what has come to be known as the modern method in fact owes much to the natural philosophy of John Buridan (ca. 1295-1361), a secular arts master who taught at the University of Paris some three centuries before Descartes. Surrounded by conflicts over institutional governance and curricular disputes, Buridan emerged as a forceful voice for the independence and autonomy of teachers in the faculty of arts, arguing that philosophy as properly practiced belonged to them, the "artists artistae", not to those who taught in the so-called 'higher' faculties of theology, law, and medicine. Now such voices had been heard before at Paris, most notably from Averroist arts masters in the late 13th and early 14th-centuries.(*) Buridan is different, however, because unlike Boethius of Dacia and John of Jandun, he knew how to make the case for artistic autonomy without denigrating the theology and thereby inviting official condemnation. His trick was not to argue that there are 'two truths', one acquired and the other revealed, which might well come into conflict with each other, or that propositions whose truth has been revealed in scripture in no way qualify as scientia. It was rather to recognize the profoundly different methods of theology and philosophy, without losing sight of the fact that what counts as evidence in a proof in natural philosophy does not work in a theological argument, even if both have the same conclusion, such as that the human soul is immortal. Buridan seems to think that if only people would respect the differences between the rules of philosophical and theological inquiry, no conflicts would arise. He is not so naive as to claim this could ever happen, of course. But it does explain why he almost always diagnoses such conflicts in terms of some logical or linguistic confusion on the part of the people who propose them. Buridan is also different because in him the secularizing sentiment already present in the Latin Averroists begins to take shape as a way of doing philosophy, i.e., as a philosophical grammar..
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