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BURIDAN ON SINGULAR CONCEPTS For Buridan, when I say that Aristotle is a man, both the words 'Aristotle' and 'man' in my utterance correspond to mental terms or concepts, i.e., acts of understanding, which are directed at or take as their objects things in the external world.1 A person's concepts, Buridan holds, are accidental forms existing as singularly in his or her soul as does the color of a wall. But though a concept may exist thus determinately in one's mind, that does not prevent it from being universal in signifying and representing, i.e., from being an act ofunderstanding through which one is able to understand not just one thing only but many things similarly and indifferently.2 'Man' corresponds to 'For a thorough presentation of Buridan's ideas about the relations between spoken terms and concepts, see Johannes Buridanus: Sophismata, ed. T. K. Scott (Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt: Fommann-Holzboog, 1977) ch. 1. Buridan uses a variety of labels for the mental counterparts of spoken words; e.g. in the first chapter of the Sophismata, the terms passio,' 'conceptus,' 'intentio,' 'actus significantis,' and 'nomen mentalis' are used interchangeably. For the identification of mental terms, concepts, and acts of understanding, see Buridan, In Metaphysicen Aristotelis Quaestiones, Hb. IV, q.l (ed. Paris 1518). 2 Buridan, In Metaphysicen Aristotelis Quaestiones, lib. I, q. 7: "Alia ponuntur universalia in significando vel representando, quia non significant determinate hoc vel illud sed indifferenter omnia similis generis vel similis speciei, ut iste terminus 'homo' omnes homines, iste terminus 'color' omnes colores. Et sic universalia sunt termini significativi sive in mente sive in voce sive in scriptura, et isti termini ita singulariter existunt vel in mente vel in voce sicut iste color in pariete . . . Alia conclusio est quod si ilia dictio 'circa' designet habitudinem actus intelligendi ad rem intellectam vel ad res intellectas , tunc possibile est quod actus intelligendi sint circa universalia et non circa singularia, quia ille actus intelligendi a quo sumitur hoc nomen [ed. 58RICHARD H. MILLER such a concept. All human beings are its objects, the things understood by it. 'Aristotle,' in contrast, does or can correspond to a singular concept, an act of understanding which takes as its object just a certain particular thing. I shall try in this discussion to lay the foundations for an explanation of Buridan's views on the nature and origin of singular concepts. The task can best be approached, I believe, by first taking a brief glance at some of his conclusions about universal or common concepts. I. Universal and Quidditative Concepts Buridan describes the process by which universal concepts are formed as follows: Different concepts related as to the more superior and the more inferior arise, in the beginning, from different natural and sensible accidents . Whence from the similar shapes of men not found in other animals, or also from such similar operations and affections as thinking or laughing, we can come to a common and indifferent concept of all men which is nevertheless conformable to all animals. Later, we find other accidents somehow similar in all animals, such as sensing , moving, drinking, and sleeping; and so we come to a common concept of all animals. Buridan believes that it is fact about the world that members of a species or genus do resemble each other in various ways. It is a fact about = nominum] 'animal' non est determinate actus intelligendi rem unam numero solum sed similiter et indifferenter multas res, scilicet omnia animalia" (ed. Paris 1518, f. 7ra-b). 3 Buridan, In Metaphysicen Aristotelis Quaestiones, lib. VII, q. 14: ". . . Diversi conceptus subordinati secundum superius et inferius proveniunt a principio ex diversis accidentibus naturalibus et sensibilibus. Unde ex figuris consimilibus hominum quarum consimiles non inveniuntur in animalibus aliis, vel etiam ex operationibus et passionibus consimilibus, sicut sunt ratiocinari, ridere, etc., nos possumus venire ad unum conceptum communem et indifferentem omnium hominum, et tamen convenientem omnibus animalibus. Postea alia accidentia invenimus quodammodo consimilia in omnibus animalibus, et sentiré, movere, bibere, dormiré, et sic venimus ad conceptum communem omnibus animalibus" (ed. Paris 1518, f. 50ra-b). Buridan on Singuhr Concepts59 us that we can detect these resemblances through our senses and mentally represent...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 57-72
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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