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John Buridan on Universal Knowledge

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Starting from a passage in the treatise De universali reali by Jean de Maisonneuve (Johannes de Nova Domo), where Jean de Maisonneuve denounces John Buridan as a materialist, the article looks for textual evidence that would support or otherwise refute this claim in Buridan’s works on natural philosophy. In particular, the article analyzes Buridan’s discussion of universal knowledge in the final redactions of his commentaries on Aristotle’s Physica and De anima, which turn out to complement each other. Here, Buridan asks if something extended and material can have universal knowledge. Against the opinion commonly held, according to Buridan, not only by many of his contemporaries, but also by almost all of the ancient commentators (multi et quasi omnes expositores antiqui), Buridan argues that traditional arguments against a materialistic theory of the human mind are not conclusive. After having removed the main stumbling blocks, he goes on to sketch a theory of universal knowledge that is compatible with the assumption that the human intellect is a material form. As an appendix, the paper contains an edition of the key question on universal knowledge in the penultimate redaction of John Buridan’s Physics commentary, which is made available in print for the first time here.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2002-01-01

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