Past Event

John McCaskey and The Problem of Induction

February 7, 2018
5:30 PM - 9:00 PM
Columbia University Faculty House

The Columbia University Seminar on Medieval Studies will take place on Wednesday, February 7 at 5:30pm in the Faculty House. Dr. John McCaskey will present "The Problem of Induction: How the Ancient Solution Was Lost in a Medieval Game of Telephone."


Dr. McCaskey is a scholar of medieval and early modern history of science with a PhD in History from Stanford University (2006). He was most recently a fellow at the Center for Medieval Studies at Fordham University. Apart from several articles, he is also the editor and translator of Jacopo Zabarella's "On Methods and On Regressus" published in Harvard's I Tatti Renaissance Library in 2014.

The talk will be followed by dinner at Faculty House at 7:00pm. All those who wish to dine with John McCaskey after the talk must make reservations by contacting the rapporteur of the seminar, Carly Quijano at by Thursday, February 1. Dinner is a fixed buffet menu, which costs $30 per person. Payment is only by check made out to “Columbia University.”

One of the thorniest problems in philosophy is the problem of induction: how can we draw reliable universal conclusions from limited experience? Aristotle worked out a powerful solution to this problem, but his solution got lost as it passed from commentator to commentator, from manuscript to manuscript, from Greek to Syriac to Arabic to Hebrew to Latin. In the end, Aristotle was thought to say the opposite of what he did and the mistake has hampered discussion of induction ever since. In this talk, Dr. McCaskey will tell a medieval tale of texts lost, rediscovered, corrupted, mistranslated, and remind us how we can be affected even today by tenuous medieval transmissions.