Self-Knowledge and the Science of the Soul in Buridan’s Quaestiones De Anima

  • Susan Brower-TolandEmail author
Part of the Historical-Analytical Studies on Nature, Mind and Action book series (HSNA, volume 3)


Buridan holds that the proper subject of psychology (i.e., the science undertaken in Aristotle’s De Anima) is the soul, its powers, and characteristic functions. He takes it as obvious, moreover, that such a science is possible. To the extent that the science of psychology includes the human or intellective soul, however, Buridan’s claim regarding its possibility is far from obvious. After all, the human soul is immaterial and, hence, neither it nor any of its acts is accessible to the senses. And yet, on Buridan’s broadly empiricist theory of knowledge, all knowledge takes its start in the senses and in what can be derived from the senses. How, then, is a science of the human soul possible? The closest Buridan comes to addressing this question is a single question in Book III, in which he considers how—despite its inaccessibility to the senses—we come to form a concept of the (human) intellect. Even here, however, crucial details of the account remain obscure. The chapter argues that, on Buridan’s account our general concept of intellect is inferentially derived from our experience of our own intellective states and rational activities. According to the author, Buridan’s notion of experience is a non-conceptual, non-discursive mode of self-awareness. On that interpretation, then, it turns out that, for Buridan, our concept of the intellect itself and, hence, the science of (human) psychology in general, is ultimately grounded in the phenomenal experience of our own intellective states.


State-reflexive thoughts Subject-reflexive thoughts Self-knowledge 



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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Saint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA

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