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Teleology in the Ethics of Buridan JAMES J. WALSH I. TO SET THE STAGE FOR THIS STUDY, let me invoke an impression developed by Vernon Bourke from the careful researches embodied in his History. of Ethics. It is Bourke's view that there was a significant shift in emphasis in ethical thought during the fourteenth century, from traditional teleology to modern deontology. Thus, for many ancient thinkers, man is by nature ordered to an ultimate end, and the philosopher's task is to formulate the end and show how it may be attained. But for many moderns, man's moral situation is oriented rather to the law. The philosopher's task is to spell out that law and justify the obligation to obey it. Bourke finds the thought of William of Ockham leading the way toward the modem conception and links this move to Ockham's nominalism and voluntarism. Without a common nature, man can hardly be oriented by nature to any ultimate end; he is thus left, as it were, face-to-face with the omnipotent divine will, obligated to obedience to divine commands which are without natural foundation . Whether or not this is the standard interpretation of Ockham's significance on this topic, it is hardly idiosyncratic. 1 cite Bourke here only because of his laudable effort to assess the significance of fourteenth-century thought in the wider framework of the history of ethics, and because of the straightforwardness of his formulations. I shall not be directly concerned with the accuracy of this interpretation. 1 shall operate rather on what I hope is a relevant tangent, using this view of Ockham as a deontological pioneer only as a point of departure. One presumes, pending possible reassessments of later medieval intellectual alignments, that the major vehicle for Ockham's influence was the via moderna, the nominalist curriculum in many universities, especially in central and eastern Europe. In those universities, ethics was studied through the standard set-text, the Nicomachean Ethics. But Ockham did not write a commentary on the Ethics. His moral doctrine is found in his Commentary on the Sentences and the Quodlibeta Septem, aimed for the most part at graduate theologians. To see the ethics taught in the nominalist curricula, one must look at commentaries on the Ethics by nominalist masters. A few of these have been studied, with some curious results. Albert of Saxony, a leading nominalist at Vienna, drew heavily from Walter Burley for his commentary. Burley was a famous opponent of Ockham on many issues and drew in turn from St. Thomas. ~ The most popular commentary seems to have been by John I wishto thank Bonnie Dornck Kent,John Favareau, and ProfessorPaul Kristellerfor help with thisstudy. I should record the view of Mrs Kent that important background materials can be found m St. Anselm and Duns Scotus. She may well be right, but one has to limit such studies severely. I See V. Bourke, History,ofEthics (GardenCtty, N.Y.: Image Books, 1970),vol. 1, pp. 10, 153ff. Among many possible confirming studies, see especially A. Garvens, "Die Grundlagender Ethik Wilhelms von Ockham ," FranziskamscheStudien 21 (1934):243-73, 360-408. esp. 249. 2The standard study of Albert of Saxony's commentary ts G. Hetdmgsfelder, "Albert yon Sachsen: Sein Lebensgang und sein Kommentar zur Nicomachischen Ethlk des Anstoteles,'" Beitrage zur Geschwhte der Philosophw des Mtttelalters 22 (1921), pts. 3-4 Burley's commentary has been studiedby G Gomes, m [265] 266 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY Buridan, the leading nominalist at Paris. Manuscripts abound, there were several printed editions, and Buridan's work influenced commentaries by many others) It, too, contains material drawn from an opponent of Ockham, material pertinent to our topic, which will be pursued in detail shortly. Some time ago I presented a study of Buridan's commentary which argued that although on some points it is nominalist in method, the substantive ethical doctrine differs significantly from what is usually attributed to Ockham .4 A part of that difference involves teleology. Ockham claimed that it cannot be proved for any given occurrence that it has a final cause, nor can it be proved by natural reason whether or not everything is oriented to a single...


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