Risto Saarinen

title.none: Zupko, John Buridan (Risto Saarinen)

identifier.other: baj9928.0401.033 04.01.33

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Risto Saarinen, University of Helsinki,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: Zupko, Jack. John Buridan: Portrait of a Fourteenth-Century Arts Master. Series: Publications in Medieval Studies. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. Pp. xix, 446. ISBN: $40.00 0-268-03256-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.01.33

Zupko, Jack. John Buridan: Portrait of a Fourteenth-Century Arts Master. Series: Publications in Medieval Studies. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003. Pp. xix, 446. ISBN: $40.00 0-268-03256-4.

Reviewed by:

Risto Saarinen
University of Helsinki

John Buridan (1300-1361) has received growing attention among contemporary historians of logic, philosophy, natural science and ethics. Jack Zupko's new study is a first comprehensive overview of Buridan's thought. It brings together Zupko's own studies and editorial expertise related to this late medieval secular cleric who was "the most famous philosopher of his time" (xi). This might be an overstatement, not only because of William Ockham (1285-1347), but in particular because past philosophers like Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas were certainly more famous in Buridan's lifetime. But it is certainly true that Buridan's writings exercised an enormous influence over many areas of European intellectual history until the sixteenth century.

The only earlier study with which Zupko's work can be compared is Bernd Michael's unpublished German dissertation Johannes Buridan: Studien zu seinem Leben, seinen Werken und zur Rezeption seiner Theorien im Europa des spaten Mittelalters, 1-2, Berlin 1985. But Michael's work has a strongly bibliographic and historical character and it does not contain much philosophical discussion. Both Michael and Zupko underline that we know very little about Buridan's life. The only way to approach him is therefore through his writings, a proper and suitable fate for a true philosopher.

Although Zupko employs Michael's findings, those interested in John Buridan would have benefited from more contextual and historical material which now remains only available in Michael' dissertation. Zupko has collected a great amount of English scholarship on Buridan, but there are also interesting German studies on Buridan, most recently the extensive work Subjekt und Metaphysik: Die Metaphysik des Johannes Buridan (Munster: Aschendorff, 2003) by Gerhard Krieger. This work Zupko probably did not yet have an opportunity to use, but he does use Krieger's older book on Buridan's ethics as well as Anneliese Maier's important older German studies.

New English secondary literature, of which most has appeared only after Michael's dissertation, is extensively taken into account, which makes the book a valuable source of collected information on Buridan's thought. Zupko's own method is historical in the sense that he is not aiming at solving contemporary philosophical problems with the help of Buridan, but presents Buridan's views in their own context. He even says that the question of what Buridan means to us today is unanswerable and that the readers who look for contemporary insights will not find his book "very edifying" (xviii). At the same time, Zupko's presentation is philosophical in the sense that he tries to take Buridan's philosophical legacy as seriously as possible and aims at a careful reading of Buridan's arguments.

The materials of the book are divided in two parts. The first part deals with methodical issues and consists of nine chapters: 1. language, 2. the science of logic, 3. propositions, predicables and categories, 4. suppositions, 5. syllogisms, 6. topics, 7. fallacies, 8. demonstrations, 9. insoluble propositions. The second part treats Buridan's philosophical practice in seven chapters: 10. ultimate questions (metaphysics), 11. bodies and souls, 12. knowledge, 13. natural science, 14. virtue, 15. freedom, 16. Buridan's philosophical legacy. The last chapter gives a rationale for this table of contents. For Zupko, Buridan's legacy lies in his innovative way of pursuing the philosophical method, most notably the instruments developed in his Summulae de Dialectica (pp. 273-4).

Given this, Zupko concludes that Buridan was rather a clarifier and a skilled teacher than a systematic logician or an Aristotelian philosopher. It is therefore not very fruitful to compare Buridan with other medieval systems or to label him as an adherent of some school. He is rather an analytical thinker who finds that many controversies have arisen "because of a lack of logic" (272-3). This is probably a fair overall statement of Buridan's philosophy. But it does not rule out the many comparisons and systematic findings which Zupko and other scholars of Buridan have made concerning particular areas of philosophy.

Chapter 15 on freedom illustrates the dialectic between method and practice. Buridan's Questions on Nicomachean Ethics deals with freedom in a sophisticated manner and employs many logical tools. Buridan locates the will's role in its possibility to defer the choice in situations of uncertainty (which for him seems to be a common situation in decision-making). But Buridan denies that the will could act directly against reason and knowledge. Whereas Gerhard Krieger and myself have interpreted this as a moderately voluntaristic, perhaps also Scotistic view, Zupko says that Buridan "comes down firmly on the side of intellectualism" (253).

Zupko admits that Buridan uses Scotistic vocabulary, but "he does so in a different sense." Thus his account of freedom is more intellectualistic than voluntaristic. As I have said in an earlier round of this debate, "Zupko and I agree in almost everything related to the interpretation of texts; only our final judgments differ" ("Akrasia and Voluntarism: Replies and Afterthoughts," in Philosophical Studies in Religion, Metaphysics and Ethics, ed. Timo Koistinen, Helsinki: Luther-Agricola Society 1997, 239-253, here: 244). Our dispute probably also concerns the hermeneutical issue of whether one must teach that the will makes conscious irrational choices in order to qualify as a voluntarist. In spite of these differences I think that Zupko makes a very congenial reading of Buridan's account of freedom and that he rightly sees that the issue of non velle, of delaying one's judgment, gets so prominent a role because it offers an opportunity to make Aristotelian action theory compatible with the Parisian doctrinal condemnations of the year 1277 (260).

Perhaps Buridan's account of eubulia and synesis in Book 6 of his Questions on Ethics can shed some new light to this old debate, as I propose in more detail in my "The Parts of Prudence: Buridan, Odonis, Aquinas", forthcoming in Dialogue (Canadian Philosophical Review, 42, 2003).

For most readers, the first part concerning the method will be philosophically and historically the most interesting. It offers an excellent companion volume to Guyla Klima's new English translation of Buridan's Summulae de Dialectica (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001). Zupko defends the view that Buridan understands logic as a way of doing philosophy in which logic "has meaning only when it is learned and applied in practice." Moreover, this view is "completely alien to the modern understanding of logic as a self-contained theory of inference" (135). On the other hand, many contemporary philosophers have compared modern formalizations fruitfully with Buridan's logic.

Zupko has already in his dissertation from 1989 edited and translated Buridan's Questions on Aristotle's De anima (Book III, Third Redaction). Therefore he is an expert in Buridan's philosophy of mind, as chapters 11 and 12 show. Here (pp 201-2) he concludes that although Buridan is not a precursor of Descartes, he, unlike Thomas Aquinas, asks Cartesian questions concerning the justification of knowledge.

Although Zupko wants to rule out modern philosophical questions from his discussion and even concludes that it is unfruitful to compare Buridan with various schools, he in fact does treat modern issues (Cartesianism, modern vs. medieval logic) and compares Buridan's doctrines with other historical models. I am glad that he does, since these discussions, among other virtues of the book, make his text indeed edifying also for modern philosophers. For the historians, the book is a goldmine of information and a useful synopsis of what we know of this prominent 14th-century forerunner of the modern period.