The idea of this book first emerged after the publication of what the noted Buridan-scholar, Jack
Zupko, quite aptly designated as my “mammoth translation of the entire Summulae”. 1 That
volume is indeed rather large, maybe intimidatingly so to students, or even to professional
philosophers who just want to get an introduction to medieval nominalist thought in general, or
to Buridan’s philosophical logic and metaphysics in particular.
It was therefore a plausible idea to provide something by way of a companion to that large
volume, which would help the modern reader to approach (borrowing the catchy phrase of E. A.
Moody) Buridan’s “architectonic work in logic”. The result is the subsequent discussion of
Buridan’s logical, and closely intertwined metaphysical and epistemological ideas.
This book, therefore, does not even pretend to provide a complete survey of Buridan’s
philosophy. In fact, given the enormous output of medieval philosophers and theologians, any
book on almost any medieval figure can only pretend to provide a complete survey of their
thought. But this book does not have even this pretense. Indeed, attempting to provide a
complete survey of Buridan’s ideas ranging from logic to metaphysics, physics (including
cosmology as well as biology and psychology), ethics, and politics would be not only futile, but
also ineffective and superfluous.
After the appearance of Jack Zupko’s excellent monograph, 2 there is no need for another
primarily historical survey of Buridan’s life and works. What we need now is a careful doctrinal,
philosophical analysis of those of his ideas that were truly ground-breaking in his time and that
still make Buridan an exciting thinker to us, worth engaging for what we can learn from him
about issues that intrigue us today. The ideas in question are in particular those that constitute
Buridan’s distinctive brand of nominalism, his conception of how our rich linguistic and
conceptual structures can be mapped onto a rather parsimoniously construed reality.
Accordingly, having this conception in its focus, this little volume certainly contains less, but in
many respects more, than the large one it is supposed to accompany.
On the one hand, focusing on what is intriguing to us, this book will not consider a number of
elements of Buridan’s logic that were important parts of the discipline as it was taught in
Buridan’s time, but would not particularly further our understanding of Buridan’s nominalist
conception of the relationships between language, thought and reality. Thus, for instance, a
systematic survey of Buridan’s discussions of topics (rules of probable reasoning), fallacies, or
even syllogistic rules would be beside the point from this perspective. Those discussions are
considered only to the extent they are relevant to our primary focus.
Zupko, Jack; “John Buridan” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2002 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),
URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2002/entries/buridan/
See Zupko, J. John Buridan: Portrait of a 14th-century Arts Master, Notre Dame University Press, 2002.