At the end of this presentation of John of Jandun’s commentaries on Aristotle, I will try to give some general conclusions.

First, as I hoped at the beginning, we can see some salient aspects of his personality: beneath the philosopher, we see the man and his character, sure of himself, critical, conscious of his intelligence, perhaps a little arrogant, but a thorough and brilliant scholar and teacher. We also see the development of his attitude between the early commentaries of an open minded and curious scholar to the arrogant and sometimes condescending master (as in the letter to the colleague who had expressed his criticism and disbelief about the influence of celestial bodies on human beings[1]).

As Ian P. Wei made us observe in his interesting article[2], the scholars of the thirteenth-century universities (with some exceptions, like Roger Bacon) did not write about themselves or each other as twelfth-century learned men often did. They considered themselves as part of a group; for instance, the masters of theology belonged to a distinct and self-aware group, enjoying very high status. The organisation of the university with its faculties and corporations naturally led to this attitude. I quote a passage of Wei: “Biographical writing was displaced by representations of the scholar as a social type with distinctive qualities, needs, and pastoral roles. It had no function once material interest were pursued by collective bargaining rather than competition between masters”[3]. This is why we have to study the writings of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century scholars very closely, and from a different viewpoint from one the one generally adopted by historians of philosophy.

Let us recall some recurrent features of John’s commentaries: his personal style, including the way in which he expresses his opinion, critical or appraising, of the arguments developed in the mentioned sources; his colloquial expressions, sometimes reminding us of a French ‘tournure’ (as we saw for instance in his commentary of the De anima).

As for another recurrent feature,  the so-called ‘disclaimers’ (if something is against the catholic faith, then I do not doubt that it is false), this may seem to us rather hypocrite, but it was probably necessary to escape trouble with the authorities. The topic has been treated extensively by MacClintock in his chapter “Faith, reason, end the Double Truth”[4]. As he remarks, these kind of passages are common in the works of medieval philosophers since the introduction of Aristotle’s works on natural philosophy and generations of scholars have examined them. He then lists a series of quotations which show that most arts masters from about 1250 on esteemed that philosophy and theology must be regarded as completely separate areas of thought and finally, asks the question if these masters were insincere or if they were really troubled by a deep concern for the conflicts that followed upon the analysis of Aristotle. “As a result of this concern it was maintained that the domains of philosophy and theology ought to be distinguished sharply in terms of aim and methods”, and on the scale of nuances between the various masters “John of Jandun <was> located well along the infrared end of the scale”[5].

Without developing the concept of “double truth”, I cannot resist revisiting the quotations showing that John, at least at a certain stage of his career, had low esteem for the  theologians he frequented. One is taken from his commentary on De anima:


[…] non provenit ex ignorantia […], sed hoc contingit multis ex eo quod ipsi in sua senectute magis fuerunt intenti circa theologica quam circa philosophica; et ideo multas conclusiones philosophie naturalis pretermiserunt sine sufficienti declaration. Credo etiam quod multi eorum qui consummaverunt dies duos in studio philosophie intellexerunt itsam positionem, sed aliis occupationibus impediti non scripserunt eam expresse[6].


These theologians “in their old age” are still more rudely criticised in the intriguing treatise De laudibus Parisius, probably written not long before John had to leave Paris with his friend Marsilius of Padua[7].

While MacClintock[8] is reluctant to assume that John of Jandun was sceptic or even sarcastic in his description of contemporary theologians and insincere in his “disclaimers”, I tend to think that it is quite in line with his character, as we have seen above, and also of his veneration of Averroes, to assume an attitude of the proud and sceptical philosopher, whatever his belief (or not) in Christian doctrines.

Finally, let me conclude that the picture of John of Jandun as one of the most outstanding masters in the Averroist tradition can now be refined and completed. Behind the eminent scholar we discovered an eager intellectual, desiring to embrace the whole of natural philosophy, but also attentive to the outside world and very critical about the ecclesiastical authorities, sharp and demanding, but also a generous disputant, ‘garrulous’ in his explications, but also thorough and systematic. It is not amazing that such a man, tired of the academic world after more than a decade of teaching (ca. 1307-1321), associated himself to a still more critical scholar, Marsilius of Padua, and thus was associated by the authorities to the current of ‘dangerous’ thinkers attacking the whole system of the Church. We cannot creep further into John’s skin and his emotions, apart from enthusiasm, admiration, indignation, anger, contempt, all expressed in his intellectual production, will remain unknown to us. But we can imagine that this inflammable man felt more than an intellectual friendship for the comrade he accompanied in his flight from Paris.



[1] See the Introduction, section Personality and philosophy.

[2] Ian P. Wei, « From Twelfth-Century Schools to Thirteenth-Century Universities : The Disappearance of Biographical and Autobiographical Representation of Scholars », in Speculum 86 (2011) pp. 42-78.

[3] Op. cit., p. 78. I am less convinced by his remarks about narratives about conflict becoming unacceptble, having seen to many reports of disputations.

[4] MacClintock, chapter 4, pp. 69-101.

[5] Id., p. 96.

[6] Quoted by MacClintock (op. cit.), p. 97 and n. 101 (p. 176).

[7] See the Introduction.

[8] MacClintock, pp. 97-99. In the later added passage on p. 99-100, he takes his distance with the theory of double truth, as Gilson had done in his time.


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