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Siger of Brabant

SIGER OF BRABANT

(b. Brabant, ca. 1240; d. Orvieto, Italy, 1281/1284)

philosophy.

Nothing is known of Siger’s birthplace, his family, or his early education. He arrived in Paris probably between 1255 and 1260, was admitted to the Picard nation of the University of Paris, and became master of arts between 1260 and 1265. His name is first cited in a document dated 27 August 1266, in which he appears as a boisterous and pugnacious young teacher at the Faculty of Arts. He received a special rebuke in Thomas Aquinas’ De unitate intellectus (1270); and on 10 December 1270 the bishop of Paris, Étienne Tempier, condemned thirteen heterodox propositions taken from the writings of Siger and his partisans. After 1270 Siger tempered his doctrinal positions, but remained the leader of the dissident minority party in the Faculty of Arts. Later he was summoned by the inquisitor of France but fled in late 1276 with two other teachers and took refuge at the papal court, the tribunal of which was reputedly more lenient than that of the inquisitors. (On 7 March 1277 Tempier, with Siger’s teaching particularly in mind, condemned 219 propositions.) At the papal court, Siger was placed under house surveillance in the company of a cleric. Sometime during the pontificate of Martin IV (1281–1285), the cleric, in a fit of madness, stabbed Siger to death. John Peckham attests his death in a letter dated 10 November 1284.

Dante esteemed Siger as the victim of attacks by conservative theologians. Although Siger’s career ended prematurely, his historical role was nevertheless fundamental because of the reactions he provoked in university circles — and on such men as Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Albert the Great, and John Peckham.

On the basis of his writings discovered to date, it is known that Siger was concerned primarily with metaphysics and psychology, and secondarily with logic and natural philosophy; several questions on ethics also have been discovered. His contributions to science can be found in his writings on psychology and natural philosophy, in which areas connections can be made between philosophy and science.

Siger’s writings on psychology are devoted to problems of the intellective soul, and these are treated in an exclusively philosophical manner: the works contain only those few elements of descriptive psychology that are indispensable for formulating the philosophical problems.

Siger wrote several works on natural philosophy. Of the three Quaestiones naturales found in Paris, the first is purely philosophical and deals with the uniqueness of the substantial form: the second defends the Aristotelian principle “Everything that moves is moved by something else”: and the third discusses the problem of gravity, which is resolved in the spirit of Ibn Rushd.

Six other Quaestiones naturales have been found in Lisbon. The third and sixth are purely philosophical, and two others are patterned on Aristotle’s pseudophilosophical hypotheses on the “natural place” of simple bodies (the first question) and on the influence of the heavens (orbis) in human generation (the fourth question), which are of no interest for experimental science. Only the second and fifth questions have some scientific taste. The second and fifth questions have some scientific taste. The second interprets an experiment in physics: “If a lighted candle is placed in a vessel put on water, why does the water then rise in the vessel?” Siger’s answer is inspired by Aristotle. The candle warms the air, which then rises to the top of the vessel. Because a vacuum is impossible and water is fluid, the water rises (remaining in contact with the air), compresses the air, and thus increases its own ascending motion. But the vessel would shatter if placed mouth down on the earth. Since the latter cannot rise because of its cohesion and weight. The fifth question is a brief, abstract discussion of the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise.

In Impossibilia the problem of gravity is again examined in chapter 4. After a long discussion, in which he rejects the opinions of Albertus Magnus and of Thomas Aquinas, Siger again adopts (but modifies) Ibn Rushd’s thesis. The entire discussion is developed according to Aristotelian physics (with all its prejudices).

De aeternitate mundi treats the eternity of mankind in a purely philosophical context. Compendium de generatione el corrupione, a fragment of which has been discovered in a manuscript in Lilienfeld, Austria, is a brief, unoriginal analysis of Aristotle’s treatise. Almost all of the twenty-four Quaestiones super libros I et II Physicorum, discovered at the Vatican, deal with purely philosophical problems. The only questions of possible interest from a scientific viewpoint are II, 1 and 2, on the natural movement of light and heavy bodies (which is explained in the same way as in the other writings), and II , 5, in which Siger explains that musica, perspectiva, and astrologia are intermediary between the purely natural and mathematical sciences.

Siger’s contribution to experimental science seems insignificant. Even those problems that could have been treated scientifically were given a philosophical explanation and were solved without originality by relying on the principles of Aristotle and Ibn Rushd. If the commentaries of Munich MS 9559, which have been arrtibuted to him by Martin Grabmann, were truly by Siger, this assessment would be different, for then Siger would be the author of an important series of commentaries on natural philosophy in which many scientific questions are discussed. Formerly the author accepted Grabmann’s attribution; but serious difficulties have since been raised concerning the authenticity of several commentaries, and it seems preferable not to take them into account here.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

I. Original Works. All the works of Siger quoted in the article are in B. Bazán, ed., Signer de BRabant Quaestiones in tertium de anima. De anima intellectiva. De aeternitate mundi (Louvain, 1972), and B. Bazán, ed., siger de Brabant. Écrits de logique, de morale et de physique (Louvain, 1974).

II. Secondary Literature. See P. Mandonnet, Siger de BRabant et l’averroïme latin au XIIIe siècle, 2nd ed., 2 vols. (Louvain, 1908–1911); F. Van Steen-berghen, Siger de BRabant d’aprés ses oeuvres inédites, 2 vols. (Louvian, 1931–1942); La philosohie qu XIIIe siècle (Louvain, 1966), 357–402; and Introduction á létude de la philosophie médiévale (Louvain, 1974), passim (see Table onomaztique, p.603).

F. Van Steenberghen

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Siger de Brabant

Siger de Brabant (sēzhā´ də bräbäN´), fl. 1260–77, French theologian, head of the movement known as Latin Averroism. At the Univ. of Paris he taught that the individual soul had no immortality and that only the universal "active intellect" was immortal. He maintained also that the world had existed from eternity. In an attempt to reconcile these beliefs with Christian faith, Siger adopted the Averroist notion of "double truth" —that something could be true in rational philosophy but false in religious belief. St. Thomas Aquinas vigorously attacked Siger's teachings, and the doctrines were condemned in Paris in and after 1270. Siger died in Italy.

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Siger of Brabant

Siger of Brabant (Averroist philosopher): see AVERROISM.

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