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John Buridan, Quaestiones super libros "De generatione et corruptione" Aristotelis: A Critical Edition with an Introduction (review)
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Reviewed by
Michiel Streijger, Paul J. J. M. Bakker, and Johannes M. M. H. Thijssen, editors. John Buridan, Quaestiones super libros "De generatione et corruptione" Aristotelis: A Critical Edition with an Introduction. History of Science and Medicine Library, 17. Medieval and Early Modern Science, 14. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. ix + 269. Cloth, $141.00.

To readers of these pages, John Buridan needs no introduction. A popular and influential teacher in his own time, he came early to the attention of historians of medieval intellectual history who, for the most part, have rested content to read his works in manuscripts and early printed editions. So it is a happy occasion to welcome a new critical edition of a work by Buridan, especially one that expands our access to Buridan's thought beyond his logic, physics, and cosmology.

In the introduction, the editors recount the manuscript traditions of Buridan's literal commentary on De generatione et corruptione and the more complex tradition of the Quaestiones, which is the work edited here. The editors discovered two versions of the Quaestiones and chose to work with the version represented by the greater number of manuscripts. They provide detailed evidence from shared accidents among the manuscripts of this version to support their stemma codicum. Using the stemma, they selected a base manuscript and two others, each representing a distinct branch, for collation. The text itself is accompanied by an apparatus criticus and an apparatus fontium.

In De generatione et corruptione, Aristotle tried to improve upon the inadequate efforts of his predecessors to explain growth and change in the terrestrial realm. After dismissing atomism and theories relying on a single or several persisting elements, he offered his own theory, in which four primary qualities inhere in prime matter to form four elements, which in turn combine to form mineral, vegetable, and animal bodies. But, as they tried to work out the consequences of his theory, Aristotle's Arabic and Latin commentators discovered several problems, one of which became perhaps the most widely discussed problem in medieval philosophy: how to reconcile the idea that the properties of compound substances derive from the proportion of their constituent elements with the idea that those properties derive from the compound's substantial form. This problem becomes even more difficult when the compound in question is a living body, especially when the living body is human. The problem was addressed by philosophers in commentaries on various works of Aristotle, by theologians in commentaries on the Sentences, and even by physicians. Some historians, such as Anneliese Meier, have seen this as a conflict between the Aristotelian theory of matter and Aristotelian metaphysics, with the metaphysicians insisting that a thing is what it is because of its substantial form, and the natural scientists insisting that a thing it what it is because of what it is made of. For several centuries this problem provoked many unsatisfactory solutions, remaining intractable right up to the time that natural philosophers began to abandon the Aristotelian worldview; indeed, its intractability may have contributed to their willingness to look elsewhere for a coherent theory of matter.

Given the importance of this problem in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century commentaries on De generatione, this edition may frustrate readers who expect pedagogy along with philology. Readers will find where in the text the three manuscripts have column breaks, but will find no explanatory notes. The introduction surveys Buridan's life and ponders the sequence of events through which a medieval quaestiones commentary made [End Page 140] its way from the master in his lecture hall to the copyist's pen, but it offers no overview of the subject matter treated in the commentary itself.

Buridan dealt with the problem of the elements in the longest question of his commentary, the twenty-second question of book 1, "Whether the substantial forms of elements remain in a mixed body." He found that incompatible consequences followed whether a mixed body's qualities arose from its constituent elements or from its substantial form. How, for example, could fire and water persist in a compound when they possess opposing qualities? Yet how could a single substantial form yield the various organ...