William of Ockham (/ˈɒkəm/; also Occam, from Latin: Gulielmus Occamus; c. 1287 – 1347) was an English Franciscan friar, scholastic philosopher, and theologian, who is believed to have been born in Ockham, a small village in Surrey. He is considered to be one of the major figures of medieval thought and was at the centre of the major intellectual and political controversies of the 14th century. He is commonly known for Occam's razor, the methodological principle that bears his name, and also produced significant works on logic, physics, and theology. In the Church of England, his day of commemoration is 10 April.
William of Ockham
William of Ockham depicted on a stained glass window at a church
|Died||1347 (aged 61–62)|
|Alma mater||University of Oxford|
|Metaphysics, epistemology, theology, logic, ontology, politics.|
|Occam's razor, nominalism|
William of Ockham was born in Ockham, Surrey in 1285 and joined the Franciscan order at an early age. It is believed that he studied theology at the University of Oxford from 1309 to 1321, but while he completed all the requirements for a master's degree in theology, he was never made a regent master. Because of this, he acquired the honorific title Venerabilis Inceptor, or "Venerable Beginner" (an inceptor was a student formally admitted to the ranks of teachers by the university authorities).
During the Middle Ages, theologian Peter Lombard's Sentences (1150) had become a standard work of theology, and many ambitious theological scholars wrote commentaries on it. William of Ockham was among these scholarly commentators. However, William's commentary was not well received by his colleagues, or by the Church authorities. In 1324, his commentary was condemned as unorthodox by a synod of bishops, and he was ordered to Avignon, France, to defend himself before a papal court.
An alternative understanding, recently proposed by George Knysh, suggests that he was initially appointed in Avignon as a professor of philosophy in the Franciscan school, and that his disciplinary difficulties did not begin until 1327. It is generally believed that these charges were levied by Oxford chancellor John Lutterell. The Franciscan Minister General, Michael of Cesena, had been summoned to Avignon, to answer charges of heresy. A theological commission had been asked to review his Commentary on the Sentences, and it was during this that William of Ockham found himself involved in a different debate. Michael of Cesena had asked William to review arguments surrounding Apostolic poverty. The Franciscans believed that Jesus and his apostles owned no property either individually or in common, and the Rule of Saint Francis commanded members of the order to follow this practice. This brought them into conflict with Pope John XXII.
Because of the pope's attack on the Rule of Saint Francis, William of Ockham, Michael of Cesena and other leading Franciscans fled Avignon on 26 May 1328, and eventually took refuge in the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV of Bavaria, who was also engaged in dispute with the papacy, and became William's patron. After studying the works of John XXII and previous papal statements, William agreed with the Minister General. In return for protection and patronage William wrote treatises that argued for emperor Louis to have supreme control over church and state in the Holy Roman Empire. "On June 6, 1328, William was officially excommunicated for leaving Avignon without permission," and William argued that John XXII was a heretic for attacking the doctrine of Apostolic poverty and the Rule of Saint Francis, which had been endorsed by previous popes. William of Ockham's philosophy was never officially condemned as heretical.
He spent much of the remainder of his life writing about political issues, including the relative authority and rights of the spiritual and temporal powers. After Michael of Cesena's death in 1342, William became the leader of the small band of Franciscan dissidents living in exile with Louis IV. William of Ockham died (prior to the outbreak of the plague) on 9 April 1347. He was officially rehabilitated by Innocent VI in 1359.
William of Ockham espoused fideism, stating that "only faith gives us access to theological truths. The ways of God are not open to reason, for God has freely chosen to create a world and establish a way of salvation within it apart from any necessary laws that human logic or rationality can uncover." He believed that science was a matter of discovery and saw God as the only ontological necessity. His importance is as a theologian with a strongly developed interest in logical method, and whose approach was critical rather than system building.
In scholasticism, William of Ockham advocated reform in both method and content, the aim of which was simplification. William incorporated much of the work of some previous theologians, especially Duns Scotus. From Duns Scotus, William of Ockham derived his view of divine omnipotence, his view of grace and justification, much of his epistemology and ethical convictions. However, he also reacted to and against Scotus in the areas of predestination, penance, his understanding of universals, his formal distinction ex parte rei (that is, "as applied to created things"), and his view of parsimony which became known as Occam's Razor.
William of Ockham was a pioneer of nominalism, and some consider him the father of modern epistemology, because of his strongly argued position that only individuals exist, rather than supra-individual universals, essences, or forms, and that universals are the products of abstraction from individuals by the human mind and have no extra-mental existence. He denied the real existence of metaphysical universals and advocated the reduction of ontology. William of Ockham is sometimes considered an advocate of conceptualism rather than nominalism, for whereas nominalists held that universals were merely names, i.e. words rather than extant realities, conceptualists held that they were mental concepts, i.e. the names were names of concepts, which do exist, although only in the mind. Therefore, the universal concept has for its object, not a reality existing in the world outside us, but an internal representation which is a product of the understanding itself and which "supposes" in the mind the things to which the mind attributes it; that is, it holds, for the time being, the place of the things which it represents. It is the term of the reflective act of the mind. Hence the universal is not a mere word, as Roscelin taught, nor a sermo, as Peter Abelard held, namely the word as used in the sentence, but the mental substitute for real things, and the term of the reflective process. For this reason William has sometimes also been called a "terminist", to distinguish him from a nominalist or a conceptualist.
William of Ockham was a theological voluntarist who believed that if God had wanted to, he could have become incarnate as a donkey or an ox, or even as both a donkey and a man at the same time. He was criticized for this belief by his fellow theologians and philosophers.
One important contribution that he made to modern science and modern intellectual culture was efficient reasoning with the principle of parsimony in explanation and theory building that came to be known as Occam's Razor. This maxim, as interpreted by Bertrand Russell, states that if one can explain a phenomenon without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it, i.e. that one should always opt for an explanation in terms of the fewest possible causes, factors, or variables. He turned this into a concern for ontological parsimony; the principle says that one should not multiply entities beyond necessity – Entia non sunt multiplicanda sine necessitate – although this well-known formulation of the principle is not to be found in any of William's extant writings. He formulates it as: "For nothing ought to be posited without a reason given, unless it is self-evident (literally, known through itself) or known by experience or proved by the authority of Sacred Scripture." For William of Ockham, the only truly necessary entity is God; everything else is contingent. He thus does not accept the principle of sufficient reason, rejects the distinction between essence and existence, and opposes the Thomistic doctrine of active and passive intellect. His scepticism to which his ontological parsimony request leads appears in his doctrine that human reason can prove neither the immortality of the soul; nor the existence, unity, and infinity of God. These truths, he teaches, are known to us by revelation alone.
William wrote a great deal on natural philosophy, including a long commentary on Aristotle's Physics. According to the principle of ontological parsimony, he holds that we do not need to allow entities in all ten of Aristotle's categories; we thus do not need the category of quantity, as the mathematical entities are not "real". Mathematics must be applied to other categories, such as the categories of substance or qualities, thus anticipating modern scientific renaissance while violating Aristotelian prohibition of metabasis.
In the theory of knowledge, William rejected the scholastic theory of species, as unnecessary and not supported by experience, in favour of a theory of abstraction. This was an important development in late medieval epistemology. He also distinguished between intuitive and abstract cognition; intuitive cognition depends on the existence or non-existence of the object, whereas abstractive cognition "abstracts" the object from the existence predicate. Interpreters are, as yet, undecided about the roles of these two types of cognitive activities.
William of Ockham is also increasingly being recognized as an important contributor to the development of Western constitutional ideas, especially those of government with limited responsibility. He was one of the first medieval authors to advocate a form of church/state separation, and was important for the early development of the notion of property rights. His political ideas are regarded as "natural" or "secular", holding for a secular absolutism. The views on monarchical accountability espoused in his Dialogus (written between 1332 and 1347) greatly influenced the Conciliar movement and assisted in the emergence of liberal democratic ideologies.
William argued for complete separation of spiritual rule and earthly rule. He thought that the pope and churchmen have no right or grounds at all for secular rule like having property, citing 2 Tim. 2:4. That belongs solely to earthly rulers, who may also accuse the pope of crimes, if need be.
After the Fall God had given men, including non-Christians, two powers: private ownership and the right to set their rulers, who should serve the interest of the people, not some special interests. Thus he preceded Thomas Hobbes in formulating social contract theory along with earlier scholars.
William of Ockham said that the Franciscans avoided both private and common ownership by using commodities, including food and clothes, without any rights, with mere usus facti, the ownership still belonging to the donor of the item or to the pope. Their opponents such as pope John XXII wrote that use without any ownership cannot be justified: "It is impossible that an external deed could be just if the person has no right to do it."
Thus the disputes on the heresy of Franciscans led William of Ockham and others to formulate some fundamentals of economic theory and the theory of ownership.
In logic, William of Ockham wrote down in words the formulae that would later be called De Morgan's Laws, and he pondered ternary logic, that is, a logical system with three truth values; a concept that would be taken up again in the mathematical logic of the 19th and 20th centuries. His contributions to semantics, especially to the maturing theory of supposition, are still studied by logicians. William of Ockham was probably the first logician to treat empty terms in Aristotelian syllogistic effectively; he devised an empty term semantics that exactly fit the syllogistic. Specifically, an argument is valid according to William's semantics if and only if it is valid according to Prior Analytics.
William of Ockham and his works have been discussed as a possible influence on several late medieval literary figures and works, especially Geoffrey Chaucer, but also Jean Molinet, the Gawain poet, François Rabelais, John Skelton, Julian of Norwich, the York and Townely Plays, and Renaissance romances. Only in very few of these cases is it possible to demonstrate direct links to William of Ockham or his texts. Correspondences between Ockhamist and Nominalist philosophy/theology and literary texts from medieval to postmodern times have been discussed within the scholarly paradigm of literary nominalism. Erasmus, in his Praise of Folly, criticized him together with Duns Scotus as fuelling unnessary controversies inside the Church.
The standard edition of the philosophical and theological works is: William of Ockham: Opera philosophica et theologica, Gedeon Gál, et al., eds. 17 vols. St. Bonaventure, N. Y.: The Franciscan Institute, 1967–88.
The seventh volume of the Opera Philosophica contains the doubtful and spurious works.
The political works, all but the Dialogus, have been edited in H. S. Offler, et al., eds. Guilelmi de Ockham Opera Politica, 4 vols., 1940–97, Manchester: Manchester University Press [vols. 1–3]; Oxford: Oxford University Press [vol. 4].
Abbreviations: OT = Opera Theologica voll. 1–10; OP = Opera Philosophica voll. 1–7.
The argument from miracles is an argument for the existence of God that relies on the belief that events witnessed and described as miracles – i.e. as events not explicable by natural or scientific laws – indicate the intervention of the supernatural.
One example of this argument is the Christological argument: the claim that historical evidence proves that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and that this can only be explained if God exists. Another is the claim that many of the Qur'an's prophecies have been fulfilled and that this too can only be explained if God (Allah) exists.
Defenders of the argument include C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton and William of Ockham.British philosophy
British philosophy refers to the philosophical tradition of the British people. "The native characteristics of British philosophy are these: common sense, dislike of complication, a strong preference for the concrete over the abstract and a certain awkward honesty of method in which an occasional pearl of poetry is embedded".Francis of Marchia
Francis of Marchia (c. 1290 - after 1344) was an Italian Franciscan theologian and philosopher. He was an ally of William of Ockham and Michael of Cesena, and opponent of Pope John XXII, in the struggles of the Franciscan Spirituals, leading to his expulsion from the order in 1329. He was commenting on the Sentences of Peter Lombard around 1320, but no longer closely bound to Lombard; for example he incidentally theorises on projectile motion, views now thought to be taken from Richard Rufus of Cornwall. He was nicknamed Doctor Succinctus.Isagoge
The Isagoge (Greek: Εἰσαγωγή, Eisagōgḗ) or "Introduction" to Aristotle's "Categories", written by Porphyry in Greek and translated into Latin by Boethius, was the standard textbook on logic for at least a millennium after his death. It was composed by Porphyry in Sicily during the years 268–270, and sent to Chrysaorium, according to all the ancient commentators Ammonius, Elias, and David. The work includes the highly influential hierarchical classification of genera and species from substance in general down to individuals, known as the Tree of Porphyry, and an introduction which mentions the problem of universals.
Boethius' translation of the work, in Latin, became a standard medieval textbook in European schools and universities, setting the stage for medieval philosophical-theological developments of logic and the problem of universals. Many writers, such as Boethius himself, Averroes, Abelard, Scotus, wrote commentaries on the book. Other writers such as William of Ockham incorporated them into their textbooks on logic.John Lutterell
John Lutterell (died 1335) was an English medieval philosopher, theologian, and university chancellor.Lutterell was a Dominican and a Canon of Salisbury Cathedral. He was Chancellor of Oxford University from 1317–22. However, he was so disliked by the regent masters at Oxford that he was expelled as Chancellor there.
John Lutterell went to Avignon in 1323 where he hoped to advance his career at the papal court. He carried with him a booklet of 56 errors taken from a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard by William of Ockham. Lutterell presented this to Pope John XXII. Lutterell may have been given the task of compiling a report on Ockham's views. Even though he was a Doctor of Theology, he demonstrated a poor understanding of Ockham's ideas. As a result, the papal commission appointed to examine Ockham was forced to revise the list of 56 errors prior to beginning its own inquiry.Lutterell believed that a reality (God's essence) can have rational differences (ideas). Opposing Ockham, he argued that these ideas cannot be created things. Instead these ideas are eternal and immutable, but creatures are not.
Ockham was questioned by Lutterell and five other theologians. They found difficulties with the young friar's ideas. He was not condemned formally but was forced to remain in Avignon under a type of house arrest.John of Reading
John of Reading (Latin: Johannes de Reading, Johannes Radingia, Ioannes Radingiensis; died 1346) was an English Franciscan theologian and scholastic philosopher. He was an early opponent of William of Ockham, and a follower of Duns Scotus. He wrote a commentary on the Sentences around 1320, at the University of Oxford. He argued for the unity of science.In 1322 he moved to a teaching position at Avignon, then the seat of the Avignon Papacy. Reading is buried at Avignon.Occam's razor
Occam's razor (also Ockham's razor or Ocham's razor (Latin: novacula Occami); further known as the law of parsimony (Latin: lex parsimoniae)) is the problem-solving principle that essentially states that "simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones." When presented with competing hypotheses to solve a problem, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions. The idea is attributed to English Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), a scholastic philosopher and theologian.
In science, Occam's razor is used as an abductive heuristic in the development of theoretical models, rather than as a rigorous arbiter between candidate models. In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives. Since one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.Occam (programming language)
occam is a programming language which is concurrent and builds on the communicating sequential processes (CSP) process algebra, and shares many of its features. It is named after philosopher William of Ockham for whom Occam's razor is named.
occam is an imperative procedural language (such as Pascal). It was developed by David May and others at Inmos (trademark INMOS), advised by Tony Hoare, as the native programming language for their transputer microprocessors, but implementations for other platforms are available. The most widely known version is occam 2; its programming manual was written by Steven Ericsson-Zenith and others at Inmos.Ockham
Occam or Ockham may refer to:
William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), English friar, philosopher and theologian
Byron King-Noel, Viscount Ockham (1836–1862), British peer
Peter King, 1st Baron King of Ockham (1669–1734), English lawyer, politician, Lord Chancellor of EnglandPlaces:
Ockham, Surrey, England, a village believed to be the birthplace of William of Ockham
Ockham Park, seventeenth century English country house in Ockham, SurreyOther:
HMS Ockham (M2714), one of 93 ships of the Ham-class of inshore minesweepers
occam (programming language), also named after William of OckhamOCCAM as acronym:
Observatory for Cultural and Audiovisual Communication in the Mediterranean, established in 1996 by UNESCO in Milan
Office of Cancer Complementary and Alternative Medicine, an office of the National Cancer Institute
Oxford Centre for Collaborative Applied Mathematics, a research centre at the University of OxfordOckham algebra
In mathematics, an Ockham algebra is a bounded distributive lattice with a dual endomorphism. They were introduced by Berman (1977), and were named after William of Ockham by Urquhart (1979). Ockham algebras form a variety.
Examples of Ockham algebras include Boolean algebras, De Morgan algebras, Kleene algebras, and Stone algebras.Peter Crockaert
Peter Crockaert (c. 1465–1514), known as Peter of Brussels, was a Flemish scholastic philosopher. Initially he was a pupil of John Mair and a follower of William of Ockham. Later he joined the Dominican Order, and became a supporter of orthodox Thomism. He taught at the University of Paris, and is known for a number of commentaries, on Aristotle and Peter of Spain as well as on Aquinas.Pope John XXII
Pope John XXII (Latin: Ioannes XXII; 1244 – 4 December 1334), born Jacques Duèze (or d'Euse), was Pope from 7 August 1316 to his death in 1334.
He was the second and longest-reigning Avignon Pope, elected by the Conclave of Cardinals, which was assembled in Lyon through the work of King Louis X's brother Philip, the Count of Poitiers, later King Philip V of France. Like his predecessor, Clement V, Pope John centralized power and income in the Papacy and lived a princely life in Avignon. He opposed the political policies of Louis IV of Bavaria as Holy Roman Emperor, which prompted Louis to invade Italy and set up an antipope, Nicholas V.
Pope John XXII faced controversy in theology involving his views on the Beatific Vision, and he opposed the Franciscan understanding of the poverty of Christ and his apostles, famously leading William of Ockham to write against unlimited papal power. He canonized St. Thomas Aquinas.Renaissance philosophy
The designation "Renaissance philosophy" is used by scholars of intellectual history to refer to the thought of the period running in Europe roughly between 1355 and 1650 (the dates shift forward for central and northern Europe and for areas such as Spanish America, India, Japan, and China under European influence). It therefore overlaps both with late medieval philosophy, which in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was influenced by notable figures such as Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham, and Marsilius of Padua, and early modern philosophy, which conventionally starts with René Descartes and his publication of the Discourse on Method in 1637. Philosophers usually divide the period less finely, jumping from medieval to early modern philosophy, on the assumption that no radical shifts in perspective took place in the centuries immediately before Descartes. Intellectual historians, however, take into considerations factors such as sources, approaches, audience, language, and literary genres in addition to ideas. This article reviews both the changes in context and content of Renaissance philosophy and its remarkable continuities with the past.Scholasticism
Scholasticism is a method of critical thought which dominated teaching by the academics ("scholastics", or "schoolmen") of medieval universities in Europe from about 1100 to 1700, and a program of employing that method in articulating and defending dogma in an increasingly pluralistic context. It originated as an outgrowth of and a departure from Christian theology within the monastic schools at the earliest European universities. The rise of scholasticism was closely associated with the rise of the 12th and 13th century schools that developed into the earliest modern universities, including those in Italy, France, Spain and England.Scholasticism is not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, as it places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation; a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents' responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponents' arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectical method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.As a program, scholasticism began as an attempt at harmonization on the part of medieval Christian thinkers, to harmonize the various authorities of their own tradition, and to reconcile Christian theology with classical and late antiquity philosophy, especially that of Aristotle but also of Neoplatonism. (See also Christian apologetics.)
Some of the main figures of scholasticism include Anselm of Canterbury (the "father of scholasticism"), Peter Abelard, Alexander of Hales, Albertus Magnus, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, Bonaventure, and Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas's masterwork Summa Theologica (1265–1274) is considered to be the pinnacle of scholastic, medieval, and Christian philosophy; it began while Aquinas was regent master at the studium provinciale of Santa Sabina in Rome, the forerunner of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Angelicum. Important work in the scholastic tradition has been carried on well past Aquinas's time, for instance by Francisco Suárez and Luis de Molina, and also among Lutheran and Reformed thinkers. The historical legacy of scholasticism lay not in specific scientific discoveries, for these were not made, but laying the foundations for the development of natural science.Sum of Logic
The Summa Logicae ("Sum of Logic") is a textbook on logic by William of Ockham. It was written around 1323.
Systematically, it resembles other works of medieval logic, organised under the basic headings of the Aristotelian Predicables, Categories, terms, propositions, and syllogisms. These headings, though often given in a different order, represent the basic arrangement of scholastic works on logic.
This work is important in that it contains the main account of Ockham's nominalism, a position related to the problem of universals.Theory of obligationes
Obligationes or disputations de obligationibus were a medieval disputation format common in the 13th and 14th centuries. Despite the name, they had nothing to do with ethics or morals but rather dealt with logical formalisms; the name comes from the fact that the participants were "obliged" to follow the rules.Several styles of Obligationes were distinguished in the medieval literature with the most widely studied being called "positio" (positing). "Obligational" disputations resemble recent theories of counterfactual reasoning and are believed to precede the modern practice of the academic "thesis defense." Obligationes also resembles a stylized, highly formalized, version of Socratic dialogues and precede other more modern dialogical accounts of logic such as Lorenzen games, Hintikka games and game semantics.
William of Ockham said Obligationes:...consists of this that in the beginning some proposition has to be posited, and then propositions have to be proposed as pleases the opponent, and to these the respondent has to answer by granting or denying or doubting or distinguishing. When these answers are given, the opponent, when it pleases him, has to say: “time is finished”. This is, the time of the obligation is finished. And then it is seen whether the respondent has answered well or not.Walter Chatton
Walter Chatton (c. 1290–1343) was an English Scholastic theologian and philosopher who regularly sparred philosophically with William of Ockham, who is well known for Occam's razor.
Chatton proposed an "anti-razor". From his Lectura I d. 3, q. 1, a. 1:
Whenever an affirmative proposition is apt to be verified for actually existing things, if two things, howsoever they are present according to arrangement and duration, cannot suffice for the verification of the proposition while another thing is lacking, then one must posit that other thing.
In basic terms, he was arguing against Ockham's razor by stating that if an explanation does not satisfactorily determine the truth of a proposition, and you are sure that the explanation so far is true, some other explanation must be required.William Crathorn
William Crathorn (fl. c. 1330) was an English Dominican philosopher, from Oxford. He was a philosopher who immediately followed in the intellectual tradition of William of Ockham and worked to strengthen his philosophical works. Crathorn created unique theories in the philosophy of language and psychology, as well as in epistemology by focusing on the claims of skeptics. Other areas of Crathorn's philosophy, which have not been extensively studied, show promise is revealing more about his life and his work.William of Baskerville
William of Baskerville (Italian: Guglielmo da Baskerville) is a fictional Franciscan friar from the 1980 historical mystery novel The Name of the Rose (Il nome della rosa) by Umberto Eco.