Portrait of Nicole Oresme: Miniature of Nicole Oresme's
Traité
de l’espere, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, France, fonds
français 565, fol.
Nicole Oresme, also known as
Nicolas
Oresme,
Nicholas Oresme, or
Nicolas d'Oresme (c.
1323 -
July 11,
1382) was one
of the most famous and influential
philosophers of the later
Middle Ages. He was an economist, mathematician,
physicist, astronomer, philosopher, psychologist, musicologist,
theologian and
Bishop of Lisieux,
a competent translator, counselor of King
Charles V of France, one of the
principal founders and popularizers of modern sciences, and
probably one of the most original thinkers of the 14th
century.
Oresme's life
- Therefore, I indeed know nothing except that I know that I
know nothing. - Nicole Oresme
Nicole Oresme was born c.
1320-1325 in the village of Allemagne ( today's Fleury-sur-Orne) in the vicinity of Caen, Normandy, in the diocese of Bayeux. Practically
nothing is known concerning his family.
The fact that Oresme
attended the royally sponsored and subsidized College of Navarre, an institution for
students too poor to pay their expenses while studying at the
University of
Paris, makes it probable that he came from a peasant
family.
Oresme studied the “artes” in Paris (before 1342), together with
Jean Buridan (the so-called founder of
the French school of natural philosophy),
Albert of Saxony and perhaps
Marsilius of Inghen, and there
received the
Magister Artium. A
recently discovered papal letter of provision granting Oresme an
expectation of a benefice establishes that he was already a
regent master in arts by 1342. This
early dating of Oresme's arts degree places him at Paris during the
crisis over
William of Ockham's
natural philosophy
In 1348, he was a student of theology in Paris, in 1356, he
received his doctorate and in the same year he became grand master
(grand-maître) of the
College of
Navarre.
Many of his most thoughtful Latin treatises antedate 1360 and show
that Oresme was already an established schoolman of the highest
reputation, which attracted the attention of the royal family, and
brought him into intimate contact with the future
Charles V in 1356.
Beginning in 1356, during the captivity of his father,
John II, in England, Charles acted as
regent and from 1364 until 1380, King of France. On November 2,
1359, Oresme became "secretaire du roi" and in the period
following, it appears that he became chaplain and counsellor to the
king.
There is a long tradition that says that Oresme was also the tutor
to the
dauphin (who later became
Charles V), but this is not quite certain. Charles appears to have
had the highest esteem for Oresme’s character and talents, often
followed his counsel, and made him write many works in French for
the purpose of popularizing the sciences and of developing a taste
for learning in the kingdom. At Charles’s insistence Oresme
delivered a discourse before the papal court at Avignon, denouncing
the
ecclesiastical disorder of the
time.
Much can be said about the fact that Oresme was a lifelong intimate
friend and consultant of King Charles, "Le Sage", until his death
in 1380. His influence on Charles’ progressive political,
economical, ethical and philosophical thinking was probably quite
strong, but an extensive investigation of these facts has not been
tackled yet. Oresme contributions stand out when compared with a
circle of intellectuals like
Raoul de
Presle,
Philippe de
Mézières, etc. at Charles’ court.
Royal
reliance on Oresme’s capabilities is evidenced, when the grand
master of Navarre was sent by the dauphin to seek a loan from the
municipal authorities of Rouen in 1356 (see
above) and then in 1360. In 1361, with the support of Charles, while
still grand master of Navarre, Oresme was appointed archdeacon of
Bayeux. It is known that the fervent schoolman
Oresme unwillingly surrendered the interesting post of grand
master.
On
November 23, 1362, the year he became master of theology, Oresme
was appointed canon of the Cathedral of Rouen. At the time of this appointment, he was
still teaching regularly at the University of Paris.
On
February 10, 1363, he was made a canon at La Saint Chapelle, given
a semiprebend and on March 18, 1364, and
was elevated to the post of dean of the Cathedral of Rouen.
It is likely that the royal hand of John II, the father of Charles,
was influenced by the suggestions of the dauphin, in Oresme’s
frequent changes of positions.
During his tenure in these successive posts at the Cathedral of
Rouen (1364-1377), Oresme spent a lot of time in Paris, especially,
in the context of attending to the affairs of the University. Even
though many documents verify Oresme’s stays in Paris, nevertheless,
we cannot infer that he was also teaching there at that time.
With the commencement of Oresme’s prolonged translating activities
at the request of Charles V, he did reside continuously in Paris,
as is shown to be true by letters dating from August 28 to November
11, 1372 sent by Charles to Rouen. Oresme’s residency in Paris
appears to have been extended by Charles to 1380, when Oresme began
working on his translation of
Aristotle’s
Ethics in 1369, which appears to be completed in 1370.
Aristotle’s
Politics and
Economics may have been
completed between the years of 1372 and 1374, and the
De caelo
et mundo in 1377. Oresme received a pension from the royal
treasury as early as 1371 as a reward for his great labours.
Because of
Oresme’s untiring work for Charles and the royal family, with the
king’s support, on August 3, 1377, Oresme attained the post of
Bishop of Lisieux. It
appears that Oresme didn’t take up residency at Lisieux until
September of 1380, and little is known of the last five years of
his life. Oresme died in Lisieux on July 11, 1382, two years after
King Charles’ death, and was buried in the cathedral church.
Oresme's scientific work
Oresme is best known as an economist, mathematician, and a
physicist, according to Taschow's book (
Nicole Oresme und der
Frühling der Moderne, 2003) also as a musicologist,
psychologist and philosopher. Oresme's economic views are contained
in "Commentary on the
Ethics of
Aristotle, of which the French version is dated
1370; "Commentary on the
Politics and the
Economics of Aristotle", French edition, 1371; and
Treatise on Coins (
De origine, natura, jure et
mutationibus monetarum). These three works were written in
both Latin and French; and all of them, especially the last, stamp
their author as the
precursor of the
science of political economy, and reveal his mastery of the French
language. In this way, Oresme became an early creator of the French
scientific language and terminology. He created a large number of
French scientific terms and anticipated the usage of Latin words in
the scientific language of the 18th century. The French "Commentary
on the
Ethics of Aristotle" was printed in Paris in 1488;
that on the
Politics and the
Economics, in 1489.
The
Treatise on coins,
De origine, natura, jure et
mutationibus monetarum was printed in Paris early in the
sixteenth century, also at Lyons in 1675, as an appendix to the
De re monetaria of
Marquardus Freherus, is included in the
Sacra bibliotheca sanctorum Patrum of
Margaronus de la Bigne IX, (Paris,
1859), p. 159, and in the
Acta publica monetaria of
David Thomas de
Hagelstein (Augsburg, 1642). The
Traictié de la première
invention des monnoies in French was printed at Bruges in
1477.
If we are to make some of the following excursions into the fields
of Oresme’s universal work such as in mathematics, musicology,
psychology, natural philosophy, and physics, we need only
illuminate a small part of each of them:
Mathematics
His most important contributions to mathematics are contained in
Tractatus de configuratione qualitatum et motuum, still in
manuscript. An abridgment of this work printed as
Tractatus de
latitudinibus formarum of
Johannes de Sancto Martino (1482,
1486, 1505 and 1515), for a long time has been the only source for
the study of Oresme's mathematical ideas. In a quality, or
accidental form, such as heat, the
Scholastics distinguished the
intensio (the degree of heat at each point)
and the
extensio (as the length of
the heated rod). These two terms were often replaced by
latitudo and
longitudo, and from the time of
Thomas Aquinas until far into the fourteenth
century, there was lively debate on the
latitudo formae. For the sake of
clarity, Oresme conceived the idea of employing what we should now
call rectangular co-ordinates, in modern terminology, a length
proportionate to the
longitudo was the abscissa at a given
point, and a perpendicular at that point, proportional to the
latitudo, was the ordinate. Oresme shows that a
geometrical property of such a figure could be regarded as
corresponding to a property of the form itself. The parameters
longitudo and
latitudo can vary or remain
constant. Oresme defines
latitudo uniformis as that which
is represented by a line parallel to the longitude, and any other
latitudo is
difformis; the
latitudo
uniformiter difformis is represented by a right
line inclined to the axis of the longitude. Oresme proved that this
definition is equivalent to an algebraic relation in which the
longitudes and latitudes of any three points would figure: i.e., he
gives the equation of the right line, and thus long precedes
Descartes in the invention of
analytical geometry. In this doctrine,
Oresme extends to figures of three dimensions.
Besides the longitude and latitude of a form, he considered the
mensura, or
quantitas, of the form, proportional
to the area of the figure representing it. He proved this theorem:
A form
uniformiter difformis has the same quantity as a
form uniformis of the same longitude and having as
latitude the mean between the two extreme limits of the first. He
then showed that his method of figuring the latitude of forms is
applicable to the movement of a point, on condition that the time
is taken as longitude and the speed as latitude; quantity is, then,
the space covered in a given time. In virtue of this transposition,
the theorem of the latitude
uniformiter difformis became
the law of the space traversed in case of uniformly varied motion.
Oresme's demonstration is exactly the same as that which made
Galileo a celebrated person in the
seventeenth century. Moreover, this law was never forgotten during
the interval between Oresme and Galileo because it was taught at
Oxford by
William Heytesbury and
his followers, then at Paris and in Italy, by all the subsequent
followers of this school. In the middle of the sixteenth century,
long before Galileo, the Dominican
Domingo de Soto applied the law to the
uniformly accelerated falling of heavy bodies and to the uniformly
decreasing ascension of projectiles.
In
Algorismus proportionum and
De proportionibus
proportionum, Oresme developed the first calculation-method of
powers with fractional irrational exponents, i.e. the calculation
with
irrational proportions
(
proportio proportionum). The basis of this method was
Oresme’s equalization of continuous magnitudes and discrete
numbers, an idea that Oresme took out of the musical
monochord-theory (
sectio canonis). In this way, Oresme
overcame the
Pythagorean prohibition
of regular division of Pythagorean intervals like 8/9, 1/2, 3/4,
2/3 and provided the tool to generate the
equal temperament 250 years before
Simon Stevin. Here is an example for
the equal division of the octave in
12
parts:
\left(\frac{2}{1}\right)^\frac{1}{12}\cdot\left(\frac{2}{1}\right)^\frac{1}{12}\cdots\left(\frac{2}{1}\right)^\frac{1}{12}
= \left(\frac{2}{1}\right)^\frac{12}{12}.
For instance, Oresme used this method in his musical section of the
Tractatus de configurationibus qualitatum et motuum in
context of his “
overtone or partial tone
theory” (see below) to produce irrational proportions of sound
(ugly timbre or tone colour) in the direction of a “
partial tone continuum” (
white noise).
Finally Oresme was very interested in limits, threshold values and
infinite series by means of
geometric additions (
Tractatus de configurationibus qualitatum
et motuum,
Questiones super geometriam Euclidis) that
prepared the way for the infinitesimal calculus of Descartes and
Galileo. He demonstrated the divergence of the
harmonic series, providing a
proof still taught in calculus classes today.
For Oresme’s anticipation of modern
stochastic, see below under the heading of
"Natural Philosophy".
As Taschow undoubtedly has shown, Oresme transformed the
above-discussed graphic method of his
Tractatus de
configurationibus qualitatum et motuum from the music-theory
of his time. Hence, we come to Oresme’s important contributions in
the field of musicology.
Musicology
In Oresme's "
configuratio qualitatum and the functional
pluridimensionality" associated with it, one can see that they are
closely related to contemporary musicological diagrams, and most
importantly, to musical notation, which equally quantifies and
visually represents the variations of a sonus according to given
measures of extensio (time intervals) and intensio (pitch). The
complex notational representations of music became, in Oresme's
work,
configurationes qualitatum or
difformitates
compositae, music functioning once more as the legitimating
paradigm.But the sphere of music did not only provide Oresme's
theory with an empirical legitimating, it also helped to exemplify
the various types of uniform and difform configurations Oresme had
developed, notably the idea that the configurationes endowed
qualities with specific effects, aesthetical or otherwise, which
could be analytically captured by their geometric
representation.This last point helps explain Oresme's overarching
aesthetical approach to natural phenomena, which was based on the
conviction that the aesthetic evaluation of (graphically
representable) sense experience provided an adequate principle of
analysis. In this context, music played once more an important role
as the model for the "
aesthetics of
complexity and of the infinite" favored by the mentalité of the
fourteenth century.Oresme sought the parameters of the
sonus experimentally both on the microstructural,
acoustical level of the single tone and on the macrostructural
level of unison or polyphonic music. In attempting to capture
analytically the various physical, psychological and aesthetic
parameters of the
sonus according to
extensio and
intensio, Oresme wished to represent them as the
conditions for the infinitely variable grades of
pulchritudo and
turpitudo. The degree to which he
developed this method is unique for the Middle Ages, representing
the most complete mathematical description of musical phenomena
before
Galileo's Discorsi.Noteworthy in this
enterprise is not only the discovery of “
partial tones”or
overtones three centuries before
Marin Mersenne, but also the recognition of
the relation between overtones and tone colour, which Oresme
explained in a detailed physico-mathematical theory, whose level of
complexity was only to be reached again in the nineteenth century
by
Hermann von
Helmholtz.Finally, we must also mention Oresme’s mechanistic
understanding of the
sonus in his
Tractatus de
configuratione et qualitatum motuum as a specific
discontinuous type of movement (vibration), of resonance as an
overtone phenomenon, and of the relation of
consonance and
dissonance, which went even beyond
the successful but wrong
coincidence
theory of consonance formulated in the seventeenth
century.Oresme's demonstration of a correspondence between a
mathematical method (
configuratio qualitatum et motuum)
and a physical phenomenon (sound) represents an exceptionally rare
case, both for the fourteenth century, at large, and for Oresme’s
work in particular. The sections of the Tractatus de
configurationibus dealing with music are milestones in the
development of the quantifying spirit that characterizes the modern
epoch.
Oresme, the younger friend of
Philippe
de Vitry, the famous music-theorist, composer and
Bishop of Meaux, is the founder of modern
musicology. Oresme dealt nearly with every musicological area in
the modern sense such as :
- acoustics (in Expositio super de anima,
Quaestiones de anima, De causis mirabilium,
De configurationibus, De commensurabilitate vel
incommensurabilitate),
- musical aesthetics (in De configurationibus, De
commensurabilitate vel incommensurabilitate),
- physiology of voice and hearing (in Quaestiones de
sensu, Expositio super de anima),
- psychology of hearing (in Quaestiones de anima, De
causis mirabilium, Quaestiones de sensu),
- musical theory of measurement (in Tractatus specialis de
monocordi, De configurationibus, Algorismus
proportionum),
- music theory (in De configurationibus),
- musical performing (in De configurationibus),
- music philosophy (in De commensurabilitate vel
incommensurabilitate).
With his special „theory of species“(
multiplicatio specierum) Oresme
formulated the first and correct theory of
wave-mechanics of sound and light, 300 years
before
Christian Huygens where
Oresme describes a pure energy-transport without material
spreading. The terminus „
species“
in Oresme’s sense means the same as our modern term „
wave form“.
Oresme discovered also the phenomenon of
partial tones or
overtones, 300 years before
Mersenne (see above) and the relation between
overtones and
tone colour, 450 years
before
Joseph Sauveur. In his very
detailed "physico-mathematical theory of partial tones and tone
colour", Oresme anticipated the nineteenth century theory of
Hermann von Helmholtz.
In his musical aesthetics, Oresme formulated a modern subjective
"theory of perception", which was not the perception of objective
beauty of God’s creation, but the constructive process of
perception, which causes the perception of beauty or ugliness in
the senses. Therefore, one can see that every individual perceives
another "world".
Many of Oresme’s insights in other disciplines like mathematics,
physics, philosophy, psychology, which anticipate the self-image of
modern times, are closely bound up with the "
Model Music" (unusual for present-day thinking).
The
Musica functioned as a kind of "Computer of the Middle
Ages" and in this sense it represented the all embracing hymn of
new quantitative-analytic consciousness in 14th century.
Psychology
Because of the work of Taschow it is also known that Oresme was an
outstanding psychologist. By using a strong empirical method, he
investigated the whole complex of phenomena of the human psyche.
Oresme was confident in the activity of "
inner senses" (
sensus interior) and in the
constructiveness, complexity and subjectivity of the perception of
world. By using this quite progressive features, Oresme was a
typical exponent of the "
Parisian Psychological School"
(
Jean Buridan,
Barthelemy de Bruges,
Jean de Jandun,
Henry of Hesse (
Heinrich von Langenstein) etc.) and
his work was closely related with the scientists of optics
(
Alhazen,
Roger
Bacon,
Witelo,
John Pecham etc.). But in addition, Oresme
anticipated some important facts of the psychology of the 19th and
20th century, especially, in the fields of
cognitive psychology, perception
psychology, psychology of consciousness and
psycho-physics.
Oresme discovered the psychological "
unconscious" and its great importance for
perception and behaviour. On this basis, he formulated his
"
theory
of unconscious conclusions of perception" (500 years before
Hermann von Helmholtz) and his
“hypothesis of two attentions“, concerning the conscious and an
unconscious attention as seen in 20th century knowledge.In his
modern "theory of cognition", Oresme showed that no
thought-content-like, categories, terms, qualities and quantities,
out of human consciousness, exist. For instance, Oresme unmasked
the so-called "
primary qualities"
such as size, position, shape, motion, rest etc. of the 17th
century scientists (
Galilei,
John Locke etc.), .), and argued that
they were not 'objective' in outer nature, but should be seen as
very complex cognitive constructions of psyche under the individual
conditions of the human body and soul.Because reality is only at
the "expansionless moment" (
instantia) Oresme reasoned
that, therefore, no motion could exist except in consciousness. It
means that motion is a result of human perception and memory, in
the sense, of the active composition of "before" and "later". This
theory becomes plausible, for example, in the field of sound.
Oresme wrote: "If a creature would exist without memory, it never
could hear a sound…" Sound is a human construction and nothing
more.
Oresme had already developed a first "
psycho-physics" that shows many similarities
with the approach of
Gustav
Theodor Fechner, the founder of modern psycho-physics. Oresme’s
ideas of psyche are strongly mechanistic. Physical and psychical
processes are equivalent in their structure of motion
(
configuratio qualitatum et motuum). Every structure has a
qualitative (psychical) and a quantitative (physical) moment; and
therefore psychological processes (intensities) can be measured
like physical ones. In this way, Oresme supplied the first
scientific legitimating of measurement of psyche and contra
Aristotle and the Scholastics) even of the
immaterial soul.
However, the strongest focus Oresme drew to the psychology of
perception. Among a lot of parts in writings he composed, unique
for the whole Middle Ages, a special treatise on perception and its
disorder and delusion (
De causis mirabilium), where he
examined every sense (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) and
cognitive functions. With the same method used by psychologists of
the 20th century, namely by means of analysis of delusions and
disorders, Oresme recognized already many essential laws of
perception, for instance the "Gestaltgesetze" (shape-law) 500 years
before Christian von Ehrenfels, limits of perception (maxima et
minima), etc.
Natural philosophy
Taschow’s work (
Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne) reveals also the complex cosmos of Oresme’s
philosophical thinking. Oresme anticipated many essential views of
the self-image of modern times, such as, his insight into the
incommensurability of
natural proportions, into the
complexity,
the
indetermination and the infinite
changeability of the world etc. In Oresme’s linear-progressive
world every time everything is unique new and by this way also the
human knowledge.
The excellent model for this new infinite world of the 14th century
(in contrast to the in endless repetitions captivated in
musica mundana of antiquity)
was the Oresmian
machina musica. For Oresme the music
analogously showed that, with a limited number of proportions and
parameters, someone could produce very complex, infinitely varying
and never repeating structures (
De configurationibus qualitatum
et motuum,
De commensurabilitate vel
incommensurabilitate,
Quaestio contra divinatores).
That is the same message as of the “
chaos
theory” of the 20th century where the iteration of the simplest
formulas produce a highly complex world with no predictability of
behaviour.
Based on the musico-mathematical principles of
incommensurability,
irrationality and
complexity, Oresme finally created a dynamic
structure-model for the constitution of substantial species and
individuals of nature, the so-called "theory of
perfectio specierum" (
De
configurationibus qualitatum et motuum,
Quaestiones super
de generatione et corruptione,
Tractatus de perfectionibus
specierum).By means of using an analogy of the musical
qualities with the “first and second qualities” of
Empedocles, an Oresmian individual turns into a
self-organizing system which
takes the trouble to get to his optimal system state defending
against disturbing environmental influences.
A further progressive approach was Oresme’s extensive investigation
of statistical approximate values and measurements by means of
margins of error. He formulated his "
theory of probabilities", as well
as, in the psychological, physical and mathematical fields:
For instance, Oresme laid down two psychological rules (
De
causis mirabilium). The first rule says: With an increase in
the number of unconscious judgments of perception (depth of
meaning) grows the probability of misjudgements and in this way,
the probability of errors of perception. The second rule says: The
more the number of
unconscious
judgments of perception exceed a diffuse limit, the more
improbable is a fundamental error of perception because it never
breaks down the vast majority of unconscious judgments. The
knowledge-theoretical point of these depending on each other rules
is that perception is nothing more than a probability value in the
grey area of these two rules. Perception is never an objective
“photography” but a complex construction without absolute
evidence.
Now we provide an example for Oresme’s mathematical anticipation of
elements of modern
stochastic (
De
proportionibus proportionum). Oresme states: "If we take a
finite multitude of positive integers, then it is the number of
perfect integers or the number of cubes much lesser than other
numbers." In addition, the more numbers we take, the larger is the
relationship of the non-cubes to the cubes or of the imperfect
integers to perfect integers. Therefore, if we do not know
something about a number than it is probable (
verisimile)
that this number is not a cube. It is like in game (
sicut est
in ludis), where somebody asks whether a hidden number is a
cube. One has more surety to answer with ‘No’ because this seems to
be more probable (
probabilius et verisimilius).Oresme than
looked at a multitude of 100 different mathematical objects that he
had formed in a certain way, and he determined that from it (100 •
99) : 2 = 4950 combinations from each two elements can be formed.
From those, 4925 show a certain interesting quality E, whereas the
remaining do not have this quality E. Finally, Oresme calculated
the quotient 4925 : 25 = 197 : 1 and concluded from it that it is
probable (
verisimile) that, if somebody is looking for
such an unknown combination, this will show the quality E.Thus
Oresme calculated the number of the favourable and the number of
the unfavourable cases and their quotients. But yet, he did not
have the quotient from the number of the favourable and the entire
number of the equally-possible cases. He did not quite have our
modern "measure of probability". But Oresme still had developed a
clever tool to judge the "easiness" of arrival of an event
quantitatively. Oresme used terms for his calculations of
probability like
verisimile,
probabile /
probabilius,
improbabile /
improbabilius,
verisimile /
verisimilius
/
maxime verisimile and
possible equaliter. No
one before Oresme, and even a long time after him, used these words
in context of games and aleatory probabilities. We can find
Oresme’s methods again later in
Galileo's and
Blaise Pascal's works in the 17th
century.
In conclusion we want to refer shortly to an example of Oresme’s
probability theory in physics. In his works
De
commensurabilitate vel incommensurabilitate,
De
proportionibus proportionum,
Ad pauca respicientes
etc. Oresme says: "If we take two unknown natural magnitudes like
motion, time, distance, etc., then it is more probable
(
verisimillius et probabilius) that the ratio of these two
are
irrational rather than rational.
According to Oresme this theorem applies generally to the whole
nature, to the earthly and to the celestial world. It has great
effect on Oresme’s views of
necessity and
contingency, and in this way, of his
view of the
law of nature (
leges
naturae) and his criticism of astrology.
It is obvious that Oresme was inspired for his "probability theory
in physics, mathematics and perception psychology" from his work in
music: The division of
monochord
(
sectio canonis) proved the
sense of hearing and the mathematical reason clearly that most of
the divisions of chord produce irrational, i.e.
dissonant intervals.
Physics
Oresme’s physical teachings are set forth in two French works, the
Traité de la sphère, twice printed in Paris (first edition
without date; second, 1508), and the
Traité du ciel et du
monde, written in 1377 at the request of King
Charles V, but never printed. In most of
the essential problems of statics and dynamics, Oresme follows the
opinions advocated in Paris by his predecessor,
Jean Buridan de Béthune, and his contemporary,
Albert of Saxony. In
opposition to the Aristotelian theory of weight, which said that
the natural location of heavy bodies is in the centre of the world,
and that of light bodies in the concavity of the moon's orb, Oresme
countered by proposing the following: "The elements tend to dispose
themselves in such a manner that, from the centre to the periphery
their specific weight diminishes by degrees." Oresme thought that a
similar rule may exist in worlds other than ours. This is the
doctrine later substituted for the Aristotelian by
Copernicus and his followers, such as
Giordano Bruno. Oresme discusses the diurnal
motion of the earth, to which he devoted the gloss following
chapters xxiv and xxv of the
Traité du ciel et du monde.
Oresme begins by establishing that no experiment can decide whether
the heavens move form east to west or the earth from west to east;
for sensible experience can never establish more than one relative
motion. For the first time he gave the example of motions inside a
moving ship which are no different than on a static earth. This was
later often named 'Galilean frame of reference'.He then showed that
the reasons proposed by the physics of
Aristotle against the movement of the earth were
not valid. Oresme then pointed out, in particular, the principle of
the solution of the difficulty drawn from the movement of
projectiles. Next he solved the objections based on the texts of
Holy Scripture. In interpreting these passages he laid down rules
universally followed by Catholic exegetics of the present day.
Finally, he adduces the argument of simplicity for the theory that
the earth moves, and not the heavens.
Oresme assumed that colour and light are of the same nature. In
Oresme’s view colour is nothing more than broken and reflected
white light: i.e. "the colours are parts of
white light". Also this theory was inspired by Oresme’s
musicological investigations: In his theory of
overtones and tone colour Oresme analogized
these musical facts with the phenomenon of mixture of colours on a
rotating top.
In his treatise
De visione stellarum Oresme asked if the
stars are really where they seem to be. By using optics, Oresme
answered that they are not. Two centuries before the Scientific
Revolution, Oresme proposed the qualitatively correct solution to
the problem of atmospheric refraction, that light travels along a
curve through a medium of uniformly varying density, and he arrived
at this solution using
infinitesimals. Oresme concluded that nearly
nothing in the heavens or on earth is seen where it truly is,
calling all visual sense data into doubt.
See also
Footnotes
- The formulations "founder", "anticipation" etc. in this
biography could be misunderstood as anachronisms. But in Taschow’s
theory of evolutionary consciousness (see
Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der Moderne) is no place
for an idea of linear evolution that would be the decisive
condition for a view of anachronism.
- Nicole Oresme, Quodlibeta, MS Paris, BN lat. 15126,
98v.
- [1]
- William J. Courtenay, The Early Career of Nicole Oresme,
Isis, Vol. 91, No.3 (Sept., 2000), pp 542-548.
- The peace treaty of Brétigny 1360 rescued John II from his
custody in England. Because of the escape of his son, the
duke of
Anjou, which leaved in England as hostage, John II came back to
London in 1364. On April 8, 1364, he died there.
- Ulrich Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne, Halle 2003, book 1, pages 142-163.
- Ulrich Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne, Halle 2003, book 1, pages 59-204. For Oresme's
complex musicological writing see also book 3 and 4.
- U. Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne.
- This source is missing.
- Nicole Oresme, Quaestiones de anima: Si esset aliquod
animal quod nullo haberet retentivam et non sentiret nisi in
praesentia, tunc non proprie perciperet sonum. Patet statim propter
hoc quod est res successiva sicut motus; ideo oportet aliqualiter
recolere de praeterito.
- U. Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne.
- Ulrich Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne, Halle 2003, book 4, pages 820-822.
- J. Franklin, The Science of Conjecture: Evidence and
Probability Before Pascal, Baltimore 2001, ch. 6.
- U. Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne.
- Ulrich Taschow, Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne, Halle 2003, book 1, pages 150-153.
References
- Taschow, Ulrich. Nicole Oresme und der Frühling der
Moderne: Die Ursprünge unserer modernen quantitativ-metrischen
Weltaneignungsstrategien und neuzeitlichen Bewusstseins- und
Wissenschaftskultur. Halle: Avox Medien-Verlag, 2003, 4 Books
in 2 Volumes. ISBN 3-936979-00-6
- Meunier, Essai sur la vie et les ouvrages de Nicole Oresme
(Paris, 1857); WOLOWSKI, ed., Traictié de la première invention des
monnoies de Nicole Oresme, textes français et latin d'après les
manuscrits de la Bibliothèque Impériale, et Traité de la monnoie de
Copernic, texte latin et traduction française (Paris, 1864);
- Jourdain, Mémoire sur les commencements de l'Economie politique
dans les écoles du Moyen-Age in Mémoires de l'Académie des
Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, XXVIII, pt. II (1874);
- Curtze, Der Algorismus proportionum des Nicolaus Oresme in
Zeitschr. für Mathematik und Physik, XIII, Supplementary (Leipzig,
1868), 65-79; IDEM, Der Tractatus de Latitudinibus Formarum des
Nicolaus Oresme (Ibid., 1868), 92-97; IDEM, Die mathematischen
Schriften des Nicole Oresme (Berlin, 1870); SUTER, Eine bis jetszt
unbekannte Schrift des Nic. Oresme in Zeitschr. für Mathematik und
Physik, XXVII, Hist.-litter. Abtheilung (Leipzig, 1882),
121-25;
- Cantor, Vorlesungen über die Gesch. der Mathematik, II (2nd
ed., Leipzig, 1900), 128-36; DUHEM, Un précurseur français de
Copernic: Nicole Oresme (1377) in Revue générale des Sciences
(Paris, 15 Nov., 1909); IDEM, Dominique Soto et la Scolastique
parisienne in Bulletin hispanique (Bourdeaux, 1910-11).
External links