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OCKHAM ON THE COGNITION OF NON-EXISTENTS Ockham's nominalist ontology only allows for individual things which are actually existing in the world. The actual existence ofthings is presupposed in all intuitive knowledge. There seems to be no room for evident, true knowledge, i.e., for intuitive knowledge of individuals which do not exist. It therefore seems impossible to have intuitive knowledge of non-existent things. But Ockham claims that it is possible to have such knowledge without incoherence. And he provides good reasons for his claim. What looks like a paradox turns out to be a well-established argument within Ockham's nominalist framework of thought. Not all students of Ockham agreed with this judgment. As a matter offact his argument that we can have intuitive knowledge of non-existents caused strong disagreement, not only among his contemporaries . In this century some outstanding scholars like Michalski or Gilson saw in Ockham's argument a commitment to scepticism. In his own days it was implied in the catalogue of heretical propositions by Lutterell and the Magistri at Avignon. This paper is not concerned with the history of Ockham's argument but tries to clarify its theoretical background and its objectives. It is argued against Philotheus Boehner that the argument is central and significant in Ockham's account of human cognition. It is neither esoteric nor marginal although it does seem to be extraordinary. In order to elucidate the crucial tenet ofthe argument, namely God's conservation of intuitive knowledge, the paper takes into account some basic aspects of Ockham's theory of meaning. With the help of these aspects we may hope to resolve some of the difficulties which are still connected with Ockham's argument. 34WILHELM VOSSENKÜHL I. The Background of the Argument Let us first consider the background of the argument. Ockham, following Scotus, distinguishes intuitive from abstractive knowledge. We know immediately whether something exists or does not exist through intuitive knowledge. But we don't know anything about existence or non-existence through abstractive knowledge. Thus intuitive knowledge enables us to form a direct judgment about contingent individuals. Contrary to this, abstractive knowledge renders no knowledge about contingent facts. In general what we know and judge are propositions not things themselves. These propositions comprise subjects and predicates as incomplex terms. It is these incomplex terms that are the immediate objects of human cognition. Of the proposition 'Socrates is white' we first have knowledge ofthe terms 'Socrates' and 'white,' before we combine these terms to propositional knowledge. It is crucial that we can have both types ofknowledge ofthe same incomplex terms. Whatever is the object of intuitive knowledge is also the object of abstractive knowledge. But again, while intuitive knowledge implies knowledge of the existence or non-existence of individuals , abstractive knowledge abstracts from existence or nonexistence . Abstractive knowledge is void of all contingent conditions that can be predicated of things. Through abstractive knowledge we understand the connotation of incomplex terms. We understand that the term 'Socrates' stands for a name and 'white' for a colour. But there is neither evidence whether that name stands for a real person nor whether his colour is white. Evidence ofthis kind is only given through intuitive knowledge. Intuitive knowledge, Ockham holds, is the very basis of all empirical knowledge. It tells us that one thing, say 'white,' is inherent in another thing, say 'Socrates,' or that one thing, say 'red,' is spatially separated from 'Socrates.' This type ofevident knowledge primarily concerns things that are present. But Ockham insists that intuitive knowledge is not confined to existent and present things. He further explains that intuitive knowledge is not moved or initiated by its objects . He finally stresses again that intuitive knowledge is not biased against non-existent things but related to the existence as well as nonexistence of an individual. It should be noticed that Ockham does not see any problem in claiming that we do not have intuitive knowledge Ockham on the Cognition of ???-Existents35 of non-existent things. In order to buttress this claim he refers to Scotus ' statement that every effect depends on its essential cause. Essential causes are sufficient on their own for their effects. With this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 33-45
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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