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A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume I by De Morgan

Buridan was for free will that is


This

is the title from the Hartwell Catalogue of Law Books. I suppose it is what is elsewhere called the "Commentary on the Ethics of Aristotle," printed in 1489.[13] Buridan[14] (died about 1358) is the creator of the famous ass which, as _Burdin's_[15] ass, was current in Burgundy, perhaps is, as a vulgar proverb. Spinoza[16] says it was a jenny ass, and that a man would not have been so foolish; but whether the compliment is paid to human or to masculine character does not appear--perhaps to both in one. The story _told_ about the famous paradox is very curious. The Queen of France, Joanna or Jeanne, was in the habit of sewing her lovers up in sacks, and throwing them into the Seine; not for blabbing, but that they might not blab--certainly the safer plan. Buridan was exempted, and, in gratitude, invented the sophism. What it has to do with the matter {38} has never been explained. Assuredly _qui facit per alium facit per se_ will convict Buridan of prating. The argument is as follows, and is seldom told in full. Buridan was for free-will--that is, will which determines conduct, let motives be ever so evenly balanced. An ass is _equally_ pressed by hunger and by thirst; a bundle of hay is on one side, a pail of water on the other. Surely, you will say, he will not be ass enough to die for want of food or drink; he will then make a choice--that is, will choose between alternatives of equal force. The problem became famous in the schools; some allowed the poor donkey to die of indecision;
some denied the possibility of the balance, which was no answer at all.

MICHAEL SCOTT'S DEVILS.

The following question is more difficult, and involves free-will to all who answer--"Which you please." If the northern hemisphere were land, and all the southern hemisphere water, ought we to call the northern hemisphere an island, or the southern hemisphere a lake? Both the questions would be good exercises for paradoxers who must be kept employed, like Michael Scott's[17] devils. The wizard {39} knew nothing about squaring the circle, etc., so he set them to make ropes out of sea sand, which puzzled them. Stupid devils; much of our glass is sea sand, and it makes beautiful thread. Had Michael set them to square the circle or to find a perpetual motion, he would have done his work much better. But all this is conjecture: who knows that I have not hit on the very plan he adopted? Perhaps the whole race of paradoxers on hopeless subjects are Michael's subordinates, condemned to transmigration after transmigration, until their task is done.

The above was not a bad guess. A little after the time when the famous Pascal papers[18] were produced, I came into possession of a correspondence which, but for these papers, I should have held too incredible to be put before the world. But when one sheep leaps the ditch, another will follow: so I gave the following account in the _Athenaeum_ of October 5, 1867:


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