Varieties of Necessity in John Buridan : Logic and Natural Philosophy in the Late Middle Ages

Abstract: This dissertation is a study of John Buridan's (c.1300-c.1361) conception of modalities. Modal concepts - concepts of necessity, possibility, impossibility, and contingency - describe the ways in which things could and could not be otherwise. These concepts became notoriously central for philosophical discourse in the late Middle Ages. In recent years, Buridan's philosophy and modal theory have received sophisticated scholarly attention. The main contribution of the dissertation is to show new ways in which Buridan's modal theory is embedded in its contextual practical aims, as providing methods for argumentation schemes and analysis used in his natural philosophy and metaphysics.The dissertation is divided into two parts. In Part I, I conduct a detailed analysis of Buridan's account of varieties of modality in logical contexts. In Chapter 2, I show that Buridan distinguishes between broad and restricted forms of necessity in his treatment of logical consequence. Moreover, I show how the distinction between these forms of necessity underpins his modal syllogistics. I argue in Chapter 3 that Buridan acknowledged a variety of modal concepts that are distinguished as a matter of degree. I identify the main modal concepts Buridan's theory reckons with, show how he motivates the distinctions among them, and clarify how they are logically related. Part II turns to applications of Buridan's modal analyses to natural philosophy. In Chapter 4, I address the relationship between necessity with sempiternal truth in Buridan's commentary on Aristotle's De Caelo and compare Buridan's treatment of a key passage in that commentary with the treatment by John of Jandun (c. 1285-1328), a near-contemporary master of arts at Paris. Chapter 5 focuses on Buridan's account of the relationship between power-based concepts of modality and his modal semantics. Chapter 6 describes Buridan's account of contingency in the Physics, and sets Buridan's account of the relationship between forms of contingency and chance against the background of a received debate between Avicenna's and Averroes' views on the subject. Finally, in Chapter 7, I analyse some important applications of Buridan's distinction between logical and metaphysical possibility in physical contexts. I conclude this section by showing how Buridan considered merely conceivable possibilities useful in natural philosophy, and draw further conclusions for investigating the connections between logic and natural philosophy in the later Middle Ages.