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WHAT REVISION OF REALISM COULD MEET OCKHAM'S CRITIQUE? William ofOckham makes an important contribution to the dialogue between realism and nominalism; indeed, a very powerful criticism of realism can be found in his work. I propose to consider and to evaluate a part of that criticism. My objective is to help answer the question whether Ockham's critique really calls for a revision of realism and, ifso, whether there is a revision which is still a realism worth having and, second, whether that revision can meet Ockham's critique. A large part ofthe considerations ofthis paper will be to elicit premises upon which the criticism rests. One wonders whether those premises are seeds ofrealism made explicit. Are they rather independent ofrealism but brought to bear against it? With respect to the first possibility it may well be that realism contains the seeds of its own destruction; critics as acute as Abelard and Ockham help make explicit what is indeed implicit. And with respect to the second possibility we would need assurance that the premises, brought in to sustain criticism against realism, are themselves well-founded. Such premises would in any case need to be cleared of the charge of mere question-begging. Before we take up a search for premises to Ockham's critique, I should perhaps make clear how realism is to be understood for the limited purposes of this paper. There are planks of realism which are more or less central. At the very center, as if forming the citadel of realism, is the plank that universals exist and are really distinct from particulars. As we leave the center, we find a diversity ofopinion among realists when they offer answers to the question what the relation is between universals and particulars. I shall view Ockham's criticism as criticism of a strong version of realism, namely that universals are independent of particulars for their existence. In light of this brief ex- 112RICHARD BOSLEY planation as to how realism is to be understood for the purposes of this paper let us turn to Ockham's criticism. There are two premises which certainly play an important role in Ockham's criticisms. They provide us with a good example of how we should proceed. The first premise is the principle that what is distinct is separable. For example, if a line and its length are distinct, it would follow that they are separable. This principle we call the Modified Principle of Atomism. The question arises whether this principle would be conceded by realists. If not, how is it to be grounded in a way which does not simply beg the question against the realists? The second premise is that any universal which is the essence or a property of a particular is part ofthat particular. The question again arises whether this premise should be conceded by realists. I suggested a distinction between internal and external criticism. In the first case a critic is not responsible for the premises of his criticism ; he presumably finds them in the thought of a realist. In the second case he is responsible. Justifying his premises is part of offering the world an alternative to realism, and Ockham must also be judged for the soundness and adequacy of his alternative. For even if his criticism of realism is not decisive, he may offer us a viable alternative. There would then be a final argument against realism: the ontology of the alternative is simpler and more evident. Let us begin by considering a class ofarguments—arguments which depend upon the premise that a universal is a part. It seems to me that some of those arguments are conclusive. If the premise is indeed integral to realism, then such formulations ofrealism are not adequate. In his Commentary on the Sentences Ockham writes: This opinion is simply false and absurd. I first argue against it thus: No thing which is one in number, nor varied nor multiplied, is in many supposita or singulars, nor in whatever individuals are created at once. But such a thing ifposited would be one in number; therefore it would not be in many singulars nor belong to their essence. The major is manifest...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 111-117
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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