Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

The Nominalism of John Buridan

PHIL 7041: The Nominalism of John Buridan
Gyula Klima
John Buridan (ca. 1300-1362) has worked out perhaps the most comprehensive account of nominalism in the history of Western thought, the philosophical doctrine according to which the only universals in reality are "names" (nomina): the common terms of our language and the common concepts of our minds. But these items are universal only in their signification; they are singular entities like any other in reality. This course examines what is most intriguing to contemporary philosophers in Buridan's medieval philosophical system: his nominalist account of the relationship between language, thought and reality. The main focus of the discussion is Buridan's deployment of the Ockhamist conception of a "mental language" for mapping the complex structures of written and spoken human languages onto a parsimoniously construed reality, comparing his conception with that of other nominalists, such as William Ockham, Albert of Saxony, Nicholas d’Oresme, Gabriel Biel, and Peter of Ailly, and realists, such as Peter of Spain, William of Sherwood, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Walter Burley, and others. There will be contrasts and comparisons with relevant ideas of contemporary philosophers as well, such as Fodor (mental language), Kaplan (demonstratives, singular reference), Kripke (essentialism, possible worlds, rigid designators), Quine (ontological commitment, nominalism), and others. The discussion will be based on my recently published monograph on John Buridan (Oxford, 2009; for a detailed description of the contents of the book with chapter-abstracts, see:, along with selected primary and secondary sources.

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