Modality and Validity in the Logic of John Buridan

Dissertation, University of Toronto (2021)
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What makes a valid argument valid? Generally speaking, in a valid argument, if the premisses are true, then the conclusion must necessarily also be true. But on its own, this doesn’t tell us all that much. What is truth? And what is necessity? In what follows, I consider answers to these questions proposed by the fourteenth century logician John Buridan († ca. 1358). My central claim is that Buridan’s logic is downstream from his metaphysics. Accordingly, I treat his metaphysical discussions as the key to his logic. As has been often noted, Buridan’s metaphysics are radically anti-realist about universals, though I think the depth and scope of his anti-realism has at times been papered over. Buridan constructs his logic on an amazingly spartan ontology, and this accomplishment is overdue for reconsideration. To the foregoing questions: truth is a feature of propositions, and of propositions only—not of proposition-like states of affairs, or anything like that. It is a function of the reference or supposition (suppositio) of their terms, which depends on predication in a propositional context. And necessary truth is grounded in causation: a predication is necessary if it cannot be falsified by any power, natural or supernatural, without ii annihilating what its terms stand for. “Socrates is a human”, for instance, can only be falsified by annihilating Socrates, and so it is a necessary truth. These considerations provide an ample theoretical basis for a thorough examination of Buridan’s modal logic. This is what the thesis culminates with. In the final chapter, I set forth some novel and surprising findings, chief of which is this: Buridan’s modal syntax and semantics are nothing like Kripke’s—and indeed are incompatible with them. This has significant implications not only for modal logic and metaphysics, but for how we think about medieval logic and philosophy more generally. Throughout the thesis, I advocate a methodology of emphasising the differences, rather than the similarities, between past and present thought. Buridan is wildly unlike what we’re used to, and we should let him speak for himself

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Boaz Faraday Schuman
University of Copenhagen


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