Jean Buridan , 1300-1358 France, a pioneer of faith and science

Hi Max,

Here is a person I had never heard of until recently. He is a priest who launched the idea in Christian thinking that observations are better than speculations. It may be obvious to us now but it wasn’t back then. Yes I know a lot of people have still not heard of it! He is another in the series of pioneers of science who were also people of faith. I have lots more to show you. Cheers.

Jean Buridan 1300-1358 France

was a French priest who sowed the seeds of the Copernican revolution in Europe.[1] After receiving his master of arts degree around 1320, Buridan became a lecturer in natural, metaphysical, and moral philosophy at the University of Paris. He quickly achieved recognition as a gifted philosopher, but he remained a secular cleric rather than becoming a member of a religious order, and he never sought a degree in theology. Little is known of his personal life.

He was a pioneer in introducing theology into physical questions; for example, he argued that God could create a vacuum even though Aristotle posited the vacuum’s impossibility.

The conception of science formulated by Buridan justified its pursuit within the framework of the Christian doctrine of divine omnipotence. His concept has been followed since the late seventeenth century. To make science compatible with Christian dogma, Buridan had to break its traditional ties with metaphysics and define its principles methodologically, in terms of their value in “saving the phenomena.” He still encountered some theological difficulties in applying this method within the domain of physics, as did Galileo three centuries later; but after the time of Buridan, natural philosophy had its own legitimacy and ceased to be either only a handmaiden of theology or a mere exposition of the doctrines of Aristotle.

He developed the concept of impetus, the first step toward the modern concept of inertia, and an important development in the history of medieval science. His name is most familiar through the thought experiment known as Buridan’s ass (a thought experiment which does not appear in his extant writings).

The concept of inertia was alien to the physics of Aristotle. Aristotle, and his peripatetic followers, held that a body was only maintained in motion by the action of a continuous external force. Thus, in the Aristotelian view, a projectile moving through the air would owe its continuing motion to eddies or vibrations in the surrounding medium, a phenomenon known as antiperistasis. In the absence of a proximate force, the body would come to rest almost immediately.

Jean Buridan, following in the footsteps of John Philoponus and Avicenna, proposed that motion was maintained by some property of the body, imparted when it was set in motion. Buridan named the motion-maintaining property impetu.

In 1340 Buridan was rector of the University of Paris for a second time, and in that year he signed a statute of the faculty of arts which censured certain masters for the practice of construing texts in a literal sense rather than in accordance with the intentions of the authors, warning that this practice gave rise to “intolerable errors not only in philosophy but with respect to Sacred Scripture”.

It is not unlikely that he fell victim to the Black Plague, which in 1358 took the lives of many of those who had managed to survive its first outbreak in 1349


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