Nicholas of Oresme

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Medieval miniature Nicholas of Oresmes

Nikolaus von Oresme (* before 1330 in Normandy ; † July 11, 1382 in Lisieux , France ; also Nicolas Oresme , Nicolas d'Oresme , Nicholas Oresme , Nicole Oresme ) was a French preacher , bishop and one of the most important natural scientists and philosophers of the 14th century .


1348 he joined as a student of theology at the College of Navarre in Paris one, eight years later, he became head (grand-maître) just this college. During this time he came into contact with the royal family - he is even regarded as the tutor of the Dauphin , who later became King Charles V of France . 1361 he became dean of the Cathedral of Rouen , 1362 Canon in Rouen . Around 1364 he appeared as a criminal preacher . Between 1370 and 1377 he translated Aristotle 's writings from Latin into French on behalf of the king . In 1377 he was elected Bishop of Lisieux , which he remained until his death.

Scientific work and achievements

Oresme was with Wilhelm von Ockham and Johannes Buridan one of the most influential teachers and thinkers of his time. In addition to his duties as a theologian and advisor to the royal family, he found time to be interested in scientific problems. He was a staunch opponent of astrology . He also became known as a translator of ancient writings (especially Aristotle) ​​into French, including the Nicomachean Ethics , Politics, and the pseudo-Aristotelian Oeconomica, and had the ability to popularize the science of his time.

Oresme is often portrayed as the forerunner of modern science; he discovered the heliocentric system before Nicolaus Copernicus , the law of fall before Galileo or analytic geometry before Descartes . This view fails to recognize that Oresme can still be counted as part of traditional scholasticism , even if he clearly criticizes some of the claims made in Aristotle's teaching .

He was nevertheless a pioneer, as his reflections on scientific problems contain many new ways of looking at things. In contrast to traditional doctrine, he insists that alternative solutions are at least conceivable and discussable, for example in the case of the rotation of the earth: both the geocentric and the heliocentric hypothesis are equally plausible in scientific discussions, since the arguments presented by Aristotle for the geocentric variant are not are conclusive (nevertheless Nicholas himself did not represent the heliocentric hypothesis).

Also new is the idea of ​​Nicholas that the movements of the planets were not impressed on them when the world was created by God, but rather that there is a balance of forces and resistances. In doing so, however, he moves completely within the traditional notions of “intelligences as movers” and of the fundamental difference between the sublunar and the heavenly world.

His attempt to apply mathematical concepts to scientific phenomena was groundbreaking . This becomes particularly clear when coordinates are used for the first time when qualitative changes are to be determined numerically, for example when asked whether one liter of hot water is “warmer” than five liters of lukewarm water. Oresme shows both facts as two rectangles with different abscissa (here: water quantity) or ordinate (here: temperature) and solves the problem by comparing the areas. He is not interested in specific measurements or comparisons, but rather in the basic solution. It quickly becomes apparent that the same consideration can also be applied to questions such as: How does the "movement" of a slow but large mass relate to that of a small, fast mass. That means: to all questions in which “intensive” quantities in the sense of Aristotle play a role.

His arguments on economic issues (actually on monetary policy ) point new ways: he insists that the right to mint coins belongs not to the sovereign but to the population. With this he turns against the increasing tendency of European rulers to solve their financial problems through monetary devaluation. His influence on the politics of his country father was unmistakable.

Oresme is characterized by his view that natural appearances must be traced back to natural (and not to supernatural) causes - a view that is clearly expressed in his writings against astrology .

In this sense, Nikolaus von Oresme is not only a typical representative of the philosophy of the early Renaissance , but also a pioneer and the like. a. for Cusanus , Copernicus, Galilei or Descartes.

The Soviet mathematician and science historian Vasily Pavlovich Subow conducted intensive research into the life and work of Oresme, who , among other things , translated the scholar's Tractatus de configurationibus qualitatum et motuum into Russian for the first time in 1958 .


  • Nicole Oresme: Traictie de la première invention des monnoies , ed. v. Louis Wolowski, Paris 1864.
  • Nicole Oresme: Le livre de Éthiques d'Aristote. Published from the Text of MS. 2902, Bibliothèque Royale de Belgique , ed. v. Albert Douglas Menut, New York 1940.
  • Nicole Oresme: The De Moneta of Nicholas Oresme and English Mint Documents , ed. v. Charles Johnson, London 1956.
  • Nicole Oresme: Le Livre de Yconomique d'Aristote , ed. v. Albert Douglas Menut, in: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 47.5 (1957).
  • Nicole Oresme: Le Livre de Politiques d'Aristote. Published from the Text of the Avranches Manuscript 223 , ed. v. Albert Douglas Menut, in: Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 60.6 (1970).
  • Nicole Oresme; Bartolus de Saxoferrato ; Johannes Buridan : Traité des monnaies et autres écrits monétaires du XIVe siècle , ed. v. Claude Dupuy, Lyon 1989.


Web links

Commons : Nicholas Oresme  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. ^ Oskar Panizza : German theses against the Pope and his dark men. With a foreword by MG Conrad. New edition (selection from the “666 theses and quotations”). Nordland-Verlag, Berlin 1940, pp. 43 and 207.
  2. Received among other things in several illuminated splendid manuscripts (Claire Richter Sherman: Imaging Aristotle. Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France, Berkeley [et al.] 1995).
  3. Pierre Souffrin, Jean-Pierre Weiss: Le traité des configurations des qualités et des mouvements de Nicole Oresme. Remarques on quelques problems d'interprétation et de traduction . In: Pierre Souffrin, Alain P. Segonds (ed.): Tradition et innovation chez un intellectuel du XIV. Siècle. Nicole Oresme. Études recueillies . Les Belles-Lettres, Paris 1988, ISBN 2-251-34505-1 , pp. 124-133.