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John Buridan and Nicholas of Autrecourt on Causality and Induction

  • J. M. M. H. Thijssen (a1)

The names of John Buridan (1300–after 1358) and Nicholas of Autrecourt (1300–after 1350) are often associated with the so-called Ockhamist statute of 1340 at the University of Paris. For a long time the discussion centered upon the question: Was this statute directed against Ockham or Autrecourt? Puzzling also was the part Buridan played, who presumably was rector at the time that the statute was promulgated. Should he, as an alleged ‘Ockhamist,’ be accused of patricide or did he defend Ockham against the attacks of Autrecourt?

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1 Moody, E. A., ‘Ockham, Buridan and Nicholas of Autrecourt,’ Studies in Medieval Philosophy, Science, and Logic (Berkeley 1975) 127–61, options for Autrecourt. Paqué, R., Das Pariser Nominalistenstatut (Berlin 1970) and, more recently, Bottin, F., La scienza degli Occamisti (Rimini 1982) 36 are of the opinion that the statute was directed against Ockham. Scott, T. K., ‘Nicholas of Autrecourt, Buridan and Ockhamism,’ Journal of the History of Philosophy 9 (1971) 15–43 is of the opinion that ‘neither Nicholas nor Buridan should be regarded as an Ockhamist in his theory of knowledge.’ He does not discuss the statute. With the publications of Courtenay and Tachau this controversy now seems to have come to an end. Cf. Courtenay, W. J. Tachau, K. H., ‘Ockham, Ockhamists, and the English–German Nation at Paris, 1339–1341,’ History of Universities 2 (1982) 53–96; and Courtenay, W. J., ‘The Reception of Ockham's Thought at the University of Paris,’ in Preuve et raison a l'Université de Paris (edd. Kaluẓa, Z. & Vignaux, P.; Paris 1984) 43–64. These authors have situated the 1340 statute among a number of other statutes, all of which have to do with the maintainance of discipline at the university. This statute is not concerned with specific philosophical positions, but with styles of reasoning, and it is difficult to argue that the practices proscribed in the body of the document are in accordance with those of Ockham. In addition, the external evidence associating the 1340 statute with Ockhamism is very flimsy. The rubric ‘Statutum facultatis de reprobatione quorundam errorum Ockhanicorum’ is an interpolation. The references in the Procurator's Book of the English–German nation and in an oath formula of 1341 were proved to be references to quite another statute which is lost. This lost statute, promulgated in January–February 1341, contained prohibitions against the ‘scientia Okamica.’ Without going further into this question, it suffices to say that it was directed against a group of members at the English Nation and was related to issues such as Ockham's views on universals, his reinterpretation of the categories, and the effects on the understanding of physics. It had nothing to do with Ockham's theological opinions.

2 According to Maier's interpretation, Autrecourt was the one who banned the experientia from the realm of evident knowledge. But due to the intervention of Buridan, induction was rehabilitated. Cf. Maier, A., Metaphysische Hintergründe der spätscholastischen Naturphilosophie (Rome 1955) 387–88, 392–93 and ‘Das Problem der Evidenz in der Philosophie des 14. Jahrhunderts,’ in her Ausgehendes Mittelalter II (Rome 1967) 391–93.

3 This opinion can be found in Bottin, , La scienza 123, 135; Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 391; Moody, , ‘Ockham, Buridan…’ 149–50; Scott, , ‘Nicholas’ 31; Serene, E., ‘Demonstrative Science,’ in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (edd. Kretzmann, N., Kenny, A., Pinborg, J.; Cambridge 1982) 515.

4 Bottin, Moody, and Scott, all have concentrated on Buridan's theory of knowledge of substances and have taken this theory to be a refutation of Autrecourt's views. I am far from denying that there exists a difference of opinion on this subject between the two authors, but I doubt whether this established divergence of itself is sufficient reason to conclude that Buridan was carrying on a controversy precisely with Autrecourt. In contradistinction to the authors mentioned above, I have concentrated on the arguments which Buridan reproduces (in the same text as discussed by the authors mentioned above) of his opponens (whoever that may be) before refuting them. To my mind they do not correspond with those of Autrecourt. It should be noted that the chronology of the works of Autrecourt and Buridan is of no help here.

5 Scott, , ‘Nicholas’ 37 remarks that he ignored the problem of knowledge of causal generalizations by induction: ‘the main reason for this was simply that I have not been able to get clear just what Buridan's position is regarding such knowledge.’ By the way, Scott seems not to have used the studies of Maier.

6 This is the text of the fifth corollary in Nicholas' second Letter to Bernard of Arezzo. For the Latin text cf. Lappe, J., Nicolaus von Autrecourt: Sein Leben, seine Philosophie, seine Schriften (Munich 1908) 8.2934.

7 Weinberg, J.R., Nicholas of Autrecourt (New York 1969), who (18–19) translates the passage cited in n. 6.

8 For the Latin text see Lappe, 11.29–12.11. For example, when the antecedent is interpreted to mean ‘fire is productive of heat if it is near a combustible substance and there is no impediment, and it is next to the flax which is combustible and there is no impediment.’ Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 3435.

9 Cf. Lappe, , 29.1–18. A literal translation of this passage may be found in Weinberg, , Nicholas 48–49.

10 Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 4849.

11 Maier, A., Die Vorläufer Galileis im 14. Jahrhundert (Rome 1949) 222–23.

12 Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 90, where some other examples are provided. The other examples are borrowed from Baudry, L., Lexique philosophique de Guillaume d'Ockham (Paris 1958) 41 (Ockham) and from Oakley, F., ‘Pierre d'Ailly and the Absolute Power of God,’ reprinted in his Natural Law, Conciliarism, and Consent in the Late Middle Ages (London 1984) 65 (Pierre d'Ailly).

13 Weinberg, J. R., Ockham, Descartes and Hume (Madison, Wisc. 1977) 55 n. 6.

14 Ockham, William, Sententiae I Prologus q. 9 (Opera theologica I [edd. Gal, G. G. & Brown, S.; St. Bonaventure 1967] 241.1–4, 242.3–4, 243.18–244.3.

15 Cf. Hanson, N. R., Observation and Explanation (London 1971) 2839.

16 Lappe, , 3.2833.

17 Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 3637, 49–50, and 91–92.

18 Buridanus, Johannes, Kommentar zur Aristotelischen Physik (Paris 1509; repr. Frankfurt 1964) (hereafter cited as In Phys.) I q. 4 (fol. 4va).

19 In Phys. I q. 4 (fols. 4vb–5ra). This passage has been translated by Moody, , ‘Ockham, Buridan’ 150.

20 This line of reasoning against the necessity of causal efficacy also occurs in the Arabic tradition. Cf. Averroes' ‘Destructio Destructionum Philosophiae Algazelis’ in the Latin Version of Calo Calonymos (ed. with an Introduction by Zedler, B. H.; Milwaukee, Wisc. 1961) 403405: ‘Ait Algazel. Copulatio autem inter id quod reputatur ad modum causae, et id quod reputatur causatum, non est necessaria apud nos. Sed omnia duo, quorum hoc non est illud, nec illud hoc, et affirmatio unius non includit affirmationem alterius, nec negatio unius includit negationem alterius, non est ex necessitate esse unius esse alterius, nec ex necessitate privationis unius ut privetur alterum.’ This work (in Arabic: Tahāfut al-Tahāfut) is meant to be a refutation of Algazel's Tahāfut al-Falāsifa. Averroës' procedure is to cite passages from Algazel's Tahāfut and then to state his arguments for or against his position. It is from one such citation that our passage was taken. The text cited here is from a Renaissance version. The earliest translation into Latin dates from 1328 (by Calonymos I). A Latin edition of Alagazel's Tahāfut is not available, but there exists an English translation by Kamali, A., Al-Ghazali: Tahafut al-Falasifah (Lahore 1958) 185–86. — A similar line of reasoning may also be found in Ockham. Cf. above.

21 Cf. In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5ra).

22 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5ra): ‘Quaedam de incomplexa dicunt quod nulla notitia incomplexa fit per aliam, nisi virtute consequentiae. Sed consequentia non est nisi complexi ad complexum; igitur’ etc.

23 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5ra).

24 Lappe, , 11.25–12. Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 3840 for an exposition of Autrecourt's views.

25 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5va).

26 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5va): ‘… et quia videtur eis quod impossibile sit demonstrare aliquam conclusionem in qua affirmatur de aliquo subiecto hoc verbum “est” secundum adiacens, quia non potest inveniri medium quod esset notius de ilio subiecto quam hoc verbum “est.” Unde statim videtur quod in sillogismo esset petitio principii, verbi gratia volo demonstrare quod a est et sillogismo sic: “b est” et “a est b”; igitur “a est.” Constat quod in minori propositione ego iam accipio quod a est. Non enim possum scire quod a est b, nisi prius vel simul sciam quod a est.’

27 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5va): ‘Item, in sillogismo demonstrativo nec ad maiorem sine minore, nec ad minorem sine maiore debet sequi conclusio gratia formae, quia superflueret alia premissa. Sed ad istam “a est b” sequitur quod a est; igitur illa propositio “a est b” non potest esse premissa ad sillogisandum demonstrative quod a est.’

28 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 6ra): ‘Quarta conclusio est quod in quibusdam per istam propositionem “a est” non solitarie sed cum alia premissa ego possum demonstrative scire istam conclusionem “b est,” licet a sit aliud quam b, et b aliud quam a. Verbi gratia, non est tibi notum ad sensum quod cor est, sed tibi est notum ad sensum quod homo est; igitur tu argues sic: “Si homo est, cor est; sed homo est; igitur cor est.” Minor patet ad sensum, et maior erit nota quando demonstratum erit quod non potest homo vivere sine corde.’ Cf. also Maier, , Metaphysische Hintergründe 394 for a transcription.

29 Buridanus, Johannes, Kommentar zu Aristotelischen Metaphysik (Paris 1518; repr. Frankfurt 1964) (hereafter cited as In Metaph.) II q. 2 (fol. 9vb): ‘Unde quamvis nullus mente sanus negaret primum principium, tamen potest de eo habere formidinem. Hoc enim expertus fui. Petivi enim a pluribus vetulis, utrum scilicet crederent quod simul possent sedere et nonsedere; statim dicebant quod erat impossibile. Et tunc petivi ab eis: “Nonne creditis quod Deus posset hoc facere?” Statim responderunt: “Nescimus, Deus posset omnia facere, et quod impossibilia Deum posse facere credendum est.”’ Cf. also Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 392 n. 48 for a transcription.

30 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 5vb): ‘Secunda conclusio contra illos est, quod non oportet omnem praemissam demonstrationis fieri notam et evidentem per reductionem ad primam principium. Multa enim principia demonstrationum fiunt nota nobis per sensum vel per memoriam vel per experientiam, absque hoc quod oporteat ea aliter demonstrari, sicut habetur secundo Posteriorum.’

31 An outline of Aristotle's theory of demonstrative science may be found in Barnes, J., ‘Aristotle's Theory of Demonstration,’ Phronesis 14 (1969) 123–54 and in Marrone, S. P., William of Auvergne and Robert Grosseteste: New Ideas of Truth in the Early Thirteenth Century (Princeton 1983) 20–23, 251–56. The assimilation of the Posterior Analytics is treated in the survey-articles of Dod, B. G., ‘Aristoteles Latinus,’ in The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy (edd. Kretzmann, N., Kenny, A., Pinborg, J.; Cambridge 1982) 45–80 and Lohr, C. H., ‘The Medieval Interpretation of Aristotle,’ op. cit. 80–99.

32 Cf. Aristotle's Posterior Analytics (translated with notes by Barnes, J.; Oxford 1975) 248–60 for the status quaestionis and for an interpretation of Ch. 19. See also Hess, W., ‘Erfahrung und Intuition bei Aristoteles,’ Phronesis 15 (1970) 48–83 for an account of the role of induction in Aristotle's works.

33 In Metaph. II q. 2 (fol. 9va-b): ‘Et ideo sciendum est, sicut determinat Aristoteles in fine Posteriorum, quod aliqua sunt principia indemonstrabilia accepta per sensum, ut quod iste ignis est calidus. Alia autem accepta per memoriam, ut quod ignis quam heri tetigi fuit calidus. Et aliqua sunt accepta per experimentum, ut quod iste ignis quam scilicet ego <non> (ed. nunc) tango est calidus.’ This passage has also been transcribed in Maier, , Metaphysische Hintergründe 388–89.

34 This definition may be found in In Metaph. I q. 8 (fol. 7va). It is illustrated by the same example as was discussed above. The definition is Aristotelian (Metaph. 980a27–981a16; Anal. Post. 100a4–9).

35 In Metaph. II q. 2 (fol. 9vb): ‘Postea etiam sunt aliqua principia universalia, que propter experimenta in multis singularibus consimilibus concedunt ab intellectu propter naturalem inclinationem intellectus ad veritatem….’ Cf. also In Metaph. I q. 8 (fol. 7va): ‘ergo per suam inclinationem naturalem ad veritatem consurgit ad consentiendum universali propositioni.’

36 In Phys. I q. 15 (fol. 19ra). Transcription also in Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 393.

37 A copy of Buridan's Quaestiones on the Posterior Analytics was discovered by Prof. H. Hubien (Liège). I am very grateful that he put his transcription of this text at my disposal. The question which is particularly relevant with regards to our subject is Book II q. 11 (‘Utrum notitia primorum principiorum sit nobis innata’). From this question I quote the following passage: ‘Ideo principiorum indemonstrabilium non est scientia proprie, sed eorum est habitus qui vocatur “intellectus,” non quia sit ipsamet potentia intellectualis, sed pro tanto quia non virtute aliorum intellectorum assentit eis, sed virtute propria tanquam est naturaliter determinatus …. Et ideo, licet intellectus indigeat inductione, tamen illa non est sufficiens ad determinandum intellectum, nisi intellectus per suum naturam esset ad hoc inclinatus et determinatus’ (transcription of Prof. Hubien).

38 Cf. Marrone 251–87 for a lucid exposition of Grosseteste's theory. Weinberg, J. R., Abstraction, Relation and Induction (Madison–Milwaukee 1965) 133–36 has drawn attention to the influence of the Arabic views on induction in the West. Especially Avicenna has been important in this respect. His theory came to be known via Algazel's Logic. Cf. Lohr, C. H., ‘Logica Algazelis: Introduction and Critical Text,’ Traditio 21 (1965) 268.334–50 and 274.553–59.

39 The commentary of Thomas has been translated into English by Larcher, F. R., Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle (Albany, N.Y. 1970).

40 Scotus, John Duns, Ordinatio I dist. 3 pars 1 q.4 (Opera Omnia III [Vatican 1954] 141–44); Ockham, William, Sententiae I Prologus q. 2 (Opera Theologica I edd. Gal, G. G. & Brown, S. [St. Bonaventure 1967] 87 and 90–96). In both cases the context is once again knowledge of the first principles.

41 In Metaph. II q. 1 (fol. 8va).

42 Cf. Baudry, , Lexique 119–20. Weinberg, , Abstraction, Relation and Induction 139–50 analyzes Scotus' and Ockham's theories on induction. According to him Scotus' theory may be compared with Mill's method of agreement, and Ockham's theory with Mill's method of difference.

43 It is the same line of reasoning we already encountered in the Letters.

44 Nicholas of Autrecourt, Exigit (ed. O'Donnell, J. R., Mediaeval Studies 1 [1939] 237 41–47): ‘Cum probatur quod certitudo per propositionem quiescentem in anima quae est “illud quod producitur ut in pluribus a causa non libera est effectus ejus naturalis,” quaero: Quid appellas causam naturalem? Vel illam quae produxit praeteritum ut in pluribus et adhuc producet in futurum si duret et applicetur? Et tunc minor non est scita, esto quod aliquid sit productum ut in pluribus; non est tamen certum an sic debeat esse in futurum.’ This passage has been analysed in Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 390–91 and in Weinberg, , Nicholas 69–71. More or less the same criticism holds for Ockham. Experience of the regularity of nature is needed for expressing causal routines in a universal proposition. There is, however, no guarantee that the same routines will hold in the future.

45 Nicholas of Autrecourt, Exigit (237 3941): ‘Tertia decima conclusio est quod de scitis per experientiam illo modo quo dicitur sciri “rheubarbarum sanat choleram” vel “adamas attrahit ferrum,” habetur solum habitus conjecturativus, non certitudo.’

46 Lappe, , 13.6–8. Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 111–12.

47 In Metaph. II q. 1 (fol. 8vb).

48 In Metaph. II q. 1 (fol. 8rb): ‘Et vocatur evidentia propositionis simpliciter, quando ex natura sensus vel intellectus homo cogitur <sive necessitatur> (Ed: sine necessitate), ad assentiendum propositioni ita, quod non potest dissentire, et huiusmodi evidentia secundum Aristotelem conveniret primo principio complexo, ut patet quarto huius.’

49 Cf. In Metaph. II q. 1. These passages have also been transcribed and discussed by Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 398403.

50 Cf. foregoing note.

51 For this reason I do not quite agree with the interpretation that Bottin, , La scienza 135 has given of the evidentia ex suppositione: ‘… egli [Buridan] pero difende la dottrina occamista del possibile intervento divino nelle leggi di natura e di consiguenza costruisce una scienza puramente congetturale e ipotetica,’ and (op. cit. 210–11): ‘Infatti, Giovanni Buridano, benché cerchi di evitare con ogni cura le ingerenze a livello scientifico della teologia e benché cerchi di smorzare molte delle polemiche relative appunto alla possibilità di uno diretto intervento divino nelle cause naturali, in realta elabora egli stesso una epistemologia nella quale il “casus supernaturaliter possibilis” e continuamente preso in considerazione.’ To my mind, the case of a divine intervention is too much stressed here. Federici-Vescovini, G., ‘Arti’ e filosofia nel secolo XIV (Florence 1983) 35–36 makes a connection between the suppositio naturalis and induction which is not altogether clear to me. Her way of presenting the problem gives the impression that ‘supposizione naturale’ has something to do with ‘supposizione del communis cursus naturae.’

52 Cf. Maier, , Die Vorläufer 219–50 (Notwendigkeit, Kontingenz und Zufall). Aquinas' position on this point is discussed in Van Hove, A., La Doctrine du miracle chez Saint Thomas et son accord avec les principes de la recherche scientifique (Wetteren–Bruges–Paris 1927), in Jacobi, K., ‘Kontingente Naturgeschehnisse,’ Studia mediewistyczne 18 (1977), 3–70 and in Wallace, W. A., ‘Aquinas on the Temporal Relation Between Cause and Effect,’ Review of Metaphysics 27 (1974) 569–84. Interesting passages of earlier medieval authors on miracles and the common course of nature are presented in Ward, B., Miracles and the Medieval Mind: Theory Record and Event 1000–1215 (London 1982) 3–33. A second objection to the exposition by Bottin, , La scienza (notably on p. 214) is that he gives the impression that Buridan's remarks about the evidentia ex suppositione communis cursus naturae have something in common with the hypothetico-deductive methodology of modern science. Buridan, however, is not advocating here that one should pose hypotheses in the sense of hypothetical syllogisms or that he admitted ‘an order of hypothetical necessity’ as Moody, , ‘Ockham, Buridan’ 154, has put it. For criticism of this position see Wallace, W. A., ‘Buridan, Ockham, Aquinas: Science in the Middle Ages,’ The Thomist 40 (1976) 481–82 and Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 403 n. 65. A good survey of the different meanings of the expression ex suppositione and the Aristotelian roots of this notion is provided in Wallace, W. A., ‘Aristotle and Galileo: The Use of (Suppositio) in Scientific Reasoning,’ in Studies in Aristotle (ed. O'Meara, D. J.; Washington 1982) 47–77.

53 Cf. Weinberg, , Nicholas 9193.

54 Latinus, Aristoteles, Analytica Posteriora 71b10–12 (edd. in the translation of William of Moerbeke by Minio–Paluello, L. & Dod, B. G. [Bruges/Paris 1968] 268).

55 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 6ra); cf. above.

56 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 6ra): Secunda conclusio est quod in omni demonstratione—sive quia, sive propter quid—scientia praemissarum est causa scientiae conclusionis… et secundum Linconiensem huiusmodi causalitas est in genere causae efficientis.

57 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 6rb): ‘Ego credo quod communiter in demonstrationibus mathematicis non est ex parte rerum significatarum per medium et per terminos conclusionis habitudo causae ad causatum vel econversa. Sicut est aliquando in naturalibus propter quid ita est in mathematicis…. Sed tamen illas demonstrationes mathematicas solemus vocare propter quid, quamvis ex parte rerum significatarum non sit habitudo aliqua causae ad causatum. Non enim solum attendimus ad causalitatem scientiae et ad scientiam et vocamus demonstrationem propter quid quae procedit ex propositionibus naturaliter evidentibus et magis scitis ad propositiones dubitabiles et ignotas sciri per illas magis scitas, et sic est in mathematicis. Ubi autem ex parte rerum est habitudo causae ad causatum, nos aliter distinguimus demonstrationem quia et propter quid, sicut ante dictum est.’

58 In Phys. I q. 4 (fol. 6rb). Buridan's conviction that a relation exists between cause and effect is also expressed further on in the same question (fol. 6va): ‘Ubi autem esset determinatio per naturam non concurrente actu libero voluntatis, ego crederem quod semper ex causis sufficientibus positis sequeretur effectus, nisi interveniret impedimentum.’

59 Transcription in Maier, , ‘Das Problem’ 411. The context of d'Ailly's observation is: ‘quod loquendo de evidentia secundum quid seu conditionalis vel ex suppositione, scilicet stante Dei influentia generali et cursu naturae solito nulloque facto miraculo talia possunt esse nobis sufficienter evidentia, sic quod de ipsis non habemus rationabiliter dubitare.’ Doubting this kind of evidence would entail many inconveniences and absurdities, the second of which has been mentioned above.

60 Lappe, , Nicolaus 35.17–25: ‘Reverendissimis patribus notum sit quod, quando magister Bernardus predictus et ego debuissem disputare, concordavimus ad invicem disputando conferre de primo consensu omnium principio, posito a philosopho quarto Metaphisice, quod est: “Impossibile est aliquid eidem rei inesse et non inesse,” loquendo de gradu evidentie qui est in lumine naturali strictissimus. Istis suppositis dixi in predictis epistolis, eo quod tales conclusiones nec implicite continebant contradictionem nec explicite, ut tunc dicebam causa collationis. Et in hoc consistit totum motivum quod tunc habui.’

Research for this paper was made possible by financial support from the Netherlands Organization for Pure Scientific Research.

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