John Buridan

Gyula Klima

Published in print December 2008 | ISBN: 9780195176223
Published online January 2009 | e-ISBN: 9780199871957 | DOI:

Series: Great Medieval Thinkers

John Buridan

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John Buridan (ca. 1300–1362) has worked out perhaps the most comprehensive account of nominalism in the history of Western thought, the philosophical doctrine according to which the only universals in reality are “names”: the common terms of our language and the common concepts of our minds. But these items are universal only in their signification; they are just as singular entities themselves as are any other items in reality. This book critically examines what is most intriguing to contemporary readers in Buridan’s medieval philosophical system: his nominalist account of the relationships among language, thought, and reality. The main focus of the discussion is Buridan’s deployment of the Ockhamist conception of a “mental language” for mapping the complex structures of written and spoken human languages onto a parsimoniously construed reality. Concerning these linguistic structures themselves, the book carefully analyzes Buridan’s conception of the radical conventionality of written and spoken languages, in contrast to the natural semantic features of concepts. The discussion pays special attention to Buridan’s token-based semantics of terms and propositions, his conception of existential import, ontological commitment, truth, and logical validity. Finally, the book presents a detailed discussion of how these logical devices allow Buridan to maintain his nominalist position without giving up Aristotelian essentialism or yielding to skepticism, always relating the discussion to contemporary concerns with these issues.

Keywords: nominalism; mental language; Ockhamism; token-based semantics; truth; logical validity; Aristotelian essentialism; skepticism

Book.  368 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Christianity

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