John Buridan

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • Buridan was a brilliant logician and, thanks to his many students who spread his teachings and writings throughout universities in Italy and central Europe, one of the most influential interpreters of Aristotle in the later MA. His logical masterwork, the Summulae de Dialectica, is a comprehensive textbook combining the traditional logic of Aristotle with the newer, nominalist methods focused on the semantics of terms and propositions. He brought the same innovative approach to the teaching of Aristotle, addressing various problems in Aristotle’s metaphysics and natural philosophy through logical analysis. He popularized the theory of impetus, derived from John Philoponus through the Arabic commentators—an account of projectile motion to replace the flawed Aristotelian theory of antiperistasis. His name is associated with ‘Buridan’s Ass’, the parable of a donkey allegedly starving to death because it has no reason to choose between two equidistant and equally tempting piles of hay, though this illustration is not found in his writings. It is probably the work of later opponents, wishing to satirize Buridan’s idea that freedom consists in the ability to defer choice.

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  • License
    © 2010 Oxford University Press. Reproduced by permission of Oxford University Press (
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  • Citation for previous publication
    • Zupko, J. (2010). John Buridan. In R. E. Bjork (Ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages (vol. 1, pp. 311-312). New York-Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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