William of Occam

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Related to William of Occam: Thomas Aquinas, nominalism, Occam's Razor

Occam, William of:

see William of OccamWilliam of Occam or Ockham
, c.1285–c.1349, English scholastic philosopher. A Franciscan, Occam studied and taught at Oxford from c.
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William of Occam or Ockham

(both: ŏk`əm), c.1285–c.1349, English scholastic philosopher. A Franciscan, Occam studied and taught at Oxford from c.1310 until 1324, when he was summoned to the papal court at Avignon to answer charges of heresy in his writings. He waited there until 1328 for a judgment. When it appeared that Pope John XXII was about to condemn his position Occam fled to the protection of Holy Roman Emperor Louis IV, whom he supported in his struggle with Pope John. He is thought to have died in the black plague that swept Europe in the middle of the 14th cent. Occam's teachings mark an important break with previous medieval philosophy, especially with the Aristotelian realism of St. Thomas Aquinas. A nominalist, he denied that the forms of knowledge corresponded to those of being. He saw our concepts to be naturally occasioned by the world, but thought could not be taken as a measure of being. Specifically, Occam denied the existence of universals except in our minds and in language. An empiricist, Occam disputed the self-evidence of principles of Aristotelian logic (like the final cause) and of Christian theology (like the existence of God). For this reason Occam severely restricted the province of philosophy in order to safeguard theology, denying the competence of reason in matters of faith. Just as he had maintained a distinction between our concepts and being, he saw creation not as a necessary consequence of the divine intellect, as Aquinas had, but as an expression of God's limitless will. In the area of logic, where he had great influence, he is remembered for his use of the principle of parsimony, formulated as "Occam's razor," which enjoined economy in explanation with the axiom, "What can be done with fewer [assumptions] is done in vain with more." Like Marsilius of Padua, Occam strongly opposed the temporal power of the pope and wrote numerous works on the subject. His Dialogus is a thorough discussion of political theories.


See his philosophical writings (tr. and ed. by P. Boehner, 1957); biography by M. M. Adams (2 vol., 1986); see also E. A. Moody, The Logic of William of Ockham (1935, repr. 1965); A. S. McCrade, The Political Thought of William of Ockham (1974).

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References in periodicals archive ?
English theologian William of Occam recognized this human tendency in medieval times and put forth Occam's Razor: "The simplest of two or more competing theories is preferable, and explanations for unknown phenomena should first be attempted in terms of what is already known." (1) This essentially means that the least complicated explanation of an event is usually the correct one.
In brief, in William of Baskerville the reader finds "Holmesian detective methodology with the philosophical and theological methodologies of Roger Bacon and William of Occam" (DelFattore 77).
A 14th century philosopher, William of Occam, formulated the principle ("Occam's razor") that the best explanation of observed phenomena is the simplest.
Part I, "Getting oriented", takes the reader on a journey back to the historical period of reference in question; chapter one, "The Middle Ages of the Mind--and of History" includes many fascinating canvasses on various events such as religion, demography, the arts, agriculture, business and social turmoil, for instance, as well as analysis of the lives of two Williams (William Marshal and William of Occam) whom Goodwin depicts as figureheads of the two hundred year period spanning from 1200 to 1400.