Intellectus and induction: Three Aristotelian commentators on the cognition of first principles, including an original translation of John Buridan's "Quaestiones in duos Aristotelis libros posteriorum analyticorum"

Ariane Economos, Fordham University

Abstract

Recent scholars have argued that the skeptical problem of induction was unknown until the 18th century. They claim that a theory of knowledge such as the one embraced by medieval Aristotelians, which holds that an effect may be demonstratively proven to follow from its cause, must also hold that a necessary connection exists between a cause and its effect. What such scholars overlook is that medieval philosophers also argue that to claim that all knowledge of causal connections must be obtained demonstratively would lead to an infinite regress; the premises from which a demonstration proceeds cannot always themselves be demonstrated if a regress is to be avoided. Thus, medieval philosophers identify some indemonstrable premises which are causal in nature. They take propositions like, “scammony causes the purging of bile,” and, “a certain herb results in the reduction of fever,” to be indemonstrable principles which may serve as the starting-points of demonstrations. Principles such as these, medieval Aristotelians claim, are known through induction. Thus, to truly understand whether or not a medieval “skeptical problem” could pre-date that of Hume, what we must examine is the medieval account of the acquisition of indemonstrable first principles. ^ An examination of such principles and an analysis of the medieval claim that they are acquired through induction is the theme of this dissertation. Over the course of the dissertation, I defend three theses. First, I argue that when medieval philosophers interpret Aristotle's claim that first principles are obtained through induction, they adapt this claim so as to apply to a kind of principle which we do not find in Aristotle, namely, a principle stating a causal connection. Second, I argue that three medieval commentators on Aristotle—Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Aquinas, and John Buridan—each interpret the role which induction plays in the acquisition of these principles in such diverse ways that we ought not look for one overarching “medieval view” of induction. Third and finally, I argue that Buridan's unique approach to induction and its relation to intellectus (the Latin equivalent of nous) is fueled almost entirely by his sensitivity to skeptical concerns. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Ariane Economos, "Intellectus and induction: Three Aristotelian commentators on the cognition of first principles, including an original translation of John Buridan's "Quaestiones in duos Aristotelis libros posteriorum analyticorum"" (January 1, 2009). ETD Collection for Fordham University. Paper AAI3377044.
http://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI3377044

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