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WHAT'S NEW IN OCKHAM'S FORMAL DISTINCTION? The question of what's new in Ockham's formal distinction is, for the purpose of this paper, specifically addressed to Ockham's relation to Scotus concerning the formal distinction. The answer this paper will give is "Nothing much." But, and this is what I hope to show, this "nothing much" is not as simple as it might seem. It is undeniable that Ockham's formulation of the formal distinction is very different from that of Scotus. What I hope to show is that the differences arenot so much indications of a change in theory, but rather reflect the difficulties Ockham has in relocating the theory into an ontology foreign from the one which originally accommodated it. The strategy of the paper will be to first briefly examine two positions between which this paper attempts to steer a middle course. Part II will present the relevant points of Scotus' formal distinction, and in Part III Ockham's theory and its relation to that of Scotus will be explored. Part IV will then summarize the case and draw the conclusions I believe to be supported by the evidence I. Two Interpretations of Ockham's Formal Distinction Concerning Ockham's debt to Scotus regarding the formal distinction , there have been primarily two different views. One view is that Ockham's formal distinction is significantly different from Scotus ', so much so that they scarcely deserve the same name. This view is found in Marilyn Adams (and, previously, in my own discussion of Ockham in my doctoral dissertation1). 1 Michael Jordan, Duns Scotus on the Formal Distinction (Doctoral Dissertation , Rutgers University, 1984). See especially Chapter 6. 98MICHAEL JORDAN Adams is quite clear on this point in her discussion of Ockham's use of the formal distinction. In a note to that discussion she says: ... it is misleading to suggest that while Ockham rejected the Scotistic formal distinction in every case but one, he followed Scotus's lead in applying that very same distinction to the doctrine of the Trinity. For Ockham's nominal definition of "formal distinction" diverges importantly from Scotus's. Nor does Ockham believe that he can avoid all transgressions offundamental logical principles by appealing to his own formal distinction. . . . The full significance of this passage will not be revealed until our discussion ofOckham, but one part of it should be clear enough to make the point in question. For Adams, the formal distinction in Ockham is not the formal distinction in Scotus. And, what is most important, the differences are not insignificant ones, the two versions of the formal distinction diverge importantly from each other. For Adams, Ockham may have taken his clue to a formal distinction from Scotus, but his (Ockham's) theory bears little resemblence to that of Scotus. A view which can be seen as opposing that of Adams has been taken by Philotheus Boehner (and, I think, by Hester Gelber, at least as I understand her through citations in Adams). Boehner's position is that Ockham's formal distinction is essentially Scotus' formal distinction , only with a more limited and reluctant application. Boehner says: The distinctio formalis is a safeguard of the formality of Logic. Ockham does not sacrifice Logic for a theological irrationalism. Instead he escapes into the only possible refuge, namely, the mystery of the Blessed Trinity itself. His guide is Duns Scotus, and his hiding-place is the distinctio formalis or the non-identitas formalis. Though Scotus did not actually introduce the idea of a distinctio formalis into Theology and Philosophy, he certainly is the most powerful and unrestricted defender ofthis greatly disputed distinction. Ockham is much less enthusiastic about this distinction, which is so difficult to understand; and if he had seen a way of avoiding it he would undoubtedly have abandoned it. But, rather than endanger Logic and the highest prin2 Marilyn Adams, "Ockham on Identity and Distinction," Franciscan Studies 36 (1976): 73, n. 176. What's Neu; in Ockham's Formal Distinction? 99 ciple of reason, the principle on contradiction, he preferred to follow Scotus.3 As with Adams, much of what Boehner says will be handled later. But his disagreement with Adams...


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