The Philosophy of William of Ockham: In the Light of Its Principles by Armand Maurer (Studies and Texts, No 133: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies) Every philosophy is sustained by a number of elemental principles that give it cohesion and unity. Ockham's is no exception. The principles of the divine omnipotence and the rule of parsimony of thought known as 'Ockham's razor', and others like the principle of non-contradiction, help to shape the entire range of his thought. Many of his conclusions on matters as diverse as God's knowledge, will and power, on creation and the causality of natural things, and on human intuition and morality are reducible to them. These principles are not unique to Ockham but were common to all the scholastics. Yet it is precisely in confrontation with the views of his predecessors and contemporaries such as Scotus, Henry of Gent, Aquinas and Chatton that the particular force and character of his thought are revealed. Over and again he sets each principle to powerful use, but allows no single one of dominate, or to yield all its consequences. Martin Heidegger once declared, 'Every thinker thinks but one single thought'. The original and focal point of Ockham's thought is the singular or individual thing (res singularis), as common nature (natura communis) is the central conception of Scotism, and the act of existing (esse) is of Thomism. With Ockham the traditional conjugations of being come to signify the thing itself in its ineluctable unity. The concept of being is univocal, standing for and signifying individuals. A being is radically diverse and incommunicable, differing from every other being not only in number but also in essence. Indeed, an individual thing can no longer be said to have an essence; it is an essence. Ockham takes his place among the great philosophers because, like them, he drew out all the implications of his insight. He remains a seminal thinker: his denial of common essences, his emphasis on language in philosophical discourse, all anticipate significant developments in modern philosophy.
Science, the Singular, and the Question of Theology by Richard A. Lee, Jr. (The New Middle Ages: Palgrave) explores the role that the singular plays in the theories of science of Robert Grosseteste, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Marsilius of Inghen, and Pierre d'Ailly. Confronting the scientific status of theology, Lee argues that the main issue is how to provide a "rational ground" for existing singulars. The book exposes how, on the eve of modernity, existing singulars were freed from the constraints of rational ground.
Author’s introduction: The argument presented here appears, on its face, to be a relatively straightforward historical presentation of what happened to the question of the scientific nature of theology from Grosseteste to Ockham and his reception. Yet the argument is, in fact, constructed in reverse. Rather than attempting to tell the story as if we did not know the conclusion, the story is told precisely from the point of view of the conclusion. How can we read the history of medieval thought (especially on the question of the scientific status of theology) such that Ockham's position appears to be a "natural" one? How do thinkers such as Aquinas and Scotus appear if we know already the problems and issues with which Ockham deals? Can we read the history of medieval thought from the perspective of Ockham's thought?
What motivates the choice of such a form of history is a relatively simple issue. It has always seemed strange to me that from a certain moment in history, that is, from the moment of the condemnations of the 1270s, Aquinas could be read as a radically dangerous thinker and Ockham as the answer to that threat. To be sure, there was a certain rivalry between the mendicant orders. To be sure, Bonaventure seemed to be moving theology along a different path than Albert the Great or Aquinas. But such rivalries and traditional allegiances cannot fully explain how the Franciscans seemed to emerge victorious from the various condemnations of the 1270s.The history presented here attempts to be a history of how Ockham's "nominalism" was for a time preferable to Aquinas's "realism." That is, this history stops at Ockham and his reception and attempts not to rush headlong into the counter‑Reformation where Aquinas would once again prove himself the better. I make no claims to offering a better understanding of what Grosseteste, Aquinas, Scotus, or Ockham "really meant." Rather, I simply try to show a way of reading a particular history that makes sense of the contributions of all thinkers from within that history. I attempt to read the history of this question such that Ockham appears not as a destructive radical, but rather as attempting to solve problems raised by an Aquinas who can appear to be radical. What is opened in this form of telling the story is a reading of Aquinas that no longer seems possible to us today. But unless we can reopen this way of reading Aquinas, we run the risk of misunderstanding later medieval responses to Aquinas.
This points to another reason for offering a history such as this. The history of reading medieval philosophy after the Middle Ages is itself an interesting topic for scholarly study. What are the effects of our interpretations of medieval thought in the aftermath of the counter-Reformation? The fact that Aquinas was the philosopher to whom the Catholic Church turned for a response to Luther meant that Aquinas had to be read in a different way. But for the same reason, thinkers like Scotus, Ockham, Marsilius of Inghen, Pierre d'Ailly Robert Holcot, and others had to be reinterpreted with Aquinas serving as the standard. Aquinas's historical position was thereby reversed; he now comes after Ockham and is a response to Ockham. Because of this peculiar history, Ockham's reading of and response to Aquinas cannot be detached from the victory that Aquinas won over Luther.
This study, therefore, attempts to uncover just how medieval Aristotelian thought from before the condemnations of the 1270s might have been interpreted in the aftermath of the condemnations. I have had to avoid raising debates in Aquinas scholarship that have become standard. I do not mean to say that such debates have no merit, that such debates fundamentally misunderstand Aquinas. Rather, I mean only to say that I am interested in how philosophers, particularly Franciscan philosophers, after 1277 could have understood and misunderstood Aquinas.
The choice of presenting the story in this fashion leads to a certain way of dealing with the scholarly contributions of those giants on whose shoulders I sit. I have made a deliberate choice to attempt to refrain from pointing to the scholarly literature when I am in agreement or disagreement. I have made this choice for two main reasons. First, I did not want my quibbles with others' interpretations to cloud the argument I am pursuing unless I find that the disagreement fundamentally affects that argument. Second, I have traced my indebtedness to previous scholars in the bibliography and one who wishes to know the exact extent of my agreement or disagreement can certainly trace that by reading the texts referred to there. I do this more out of honor for the work of these scholars than out of the vanity of thinking that my contribution is better than theirs.I should add, perhaps, one final note of caution. I have come to the study of medieval philosophy in general and this topic in particular from an interest in contemporary "continental" philosophy. This is unusual today, but it was not always so. Hegel, Brentano, Heidegger, Arendt, and many other of the major figures in this tradition were constantly engaging medieval thought. Yet today the tradition of continental philosophy and the tradition of scholarship into medieval philosophy have parted ways, neither showing particular interest in the other. Perhaps in some small way this study can be a move toward bringing these two sides of the family back into harmony.
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