Jean Buridan, in Latin Joannes Buridanus, (1300 - 1358) was a French philosopher who sowed the seeds of religious scepticism in Europe. His name is most familiar through the thought experiment known as Buridan's ass.
Born, most probably, in Bétune, France, Buridan studied at the University of Paris under the scholastic philosopher William of Ockham. Apocryphal stories abound about his reputed amorous affairs and adventures which are enough to show that he enjoyed a reputation as a glamorous and mysterious figure in Paris life. That he also seems to have had an unusual facility for attracting academic funding suggests that he was indeed a charismatic figure.
Unusually, he spent his academic life in the faculty of arts, rather than obtaining the doctorate in theology that typically prepared the way for a career in philosophy. He further maintained his intellectual independence by remaining a secular cleric, rather than joining a religious order. By 1340, his confidence had grown sufficiently for him to launch on attack on his mentor, William of Ockham. This act has been interpreted as the beginnings of religious scepticism and the dawn of the scientific revolution, Buridan himself going on to prepare the way for Galileo Galilei through the theory of impetus. A posthumous campaign by Okhamists succeeded in having Buridan's writings placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum from 1474-1481.
Albert of Saxony was among the most notable of students, renowned himself as a logician.
The paradox known as Buridan's ass was not originated by Buridan himself. It is first found in Aristotle's De Caelo where Aristotle asked how a dog faced with the choice of two equally tempting meals could rationally choose between the two. Buridan nowhere discusses this specific problem but its relevance is that he did advocate a moral determinism whereby, save for ignorance or impediment, a human faced by alternative courses of action must always choose the greater good. Buridan allowed that the will could delay the choice in order more fully to assess the possible outcomes of the choice. Later writers satirised this view in terms of an ass who, confronted by two equally desirable and accessible bales of hay, must necessarily starve while pondering a decision.